Wildlife Gardening in June

N.B. If your new to David’s monthly column then please be sure to read the ‘setting-the-scene’ opening piece first.

Orchids and Photovoltaic Systems

© David Beeson: Red-Legged Partridge

© David Beeson: Red-Legged Partridge

The cold winter and spring has indeed influenced the wildlife. Plants were still flowering later than I might have predicted for a typical spring and I suspect that it is a poor first brood for the local birds as the butterfly and moth caterpillar numbers seem to out of sequence with birds’ egg laying. Most baby birds need the rich supplies of protein delivered as insect larvae and a cold spring will delay their hatching and growth in the adjacent forest – with the obvious consequences.

Even the hawthorn / may failed to be in flower for the first of May, and only just showed itself by mid-month – perhaps two weeks later than I would have expected. But the garden’s meadows have been wonderful with masses of cowslips and bluebells. Now the bulbous buttercups are covering the Spring Meadow with a tablecloth of yellow, while common daisies and meadow saxifrage add an under story of delicate white blooms.

For the second time in recent years a pair of red-legged partridges are nesting adjacent to our B&B car park, and just 5m from my study. The clutch is currently 16 eggs but, as the female had not started brooding yet, more eggs have yet to be laid. The pair wanders into the area and the female dives into the shrub border to lay whilst the male stands guard a few metres distant. The scrape is amongst dried leaves and beneath a low leafy shrub.

Our previous brood had 17 live chicks, with three unhatched eggs left behind, and the parents took the babies off down to our meadow to find insects and other goodies.

We now must await and hope the adults can keep their nest safe during the 23+ days of brooding. Hedgehogs do frequent the area but foxes and stoats are uncommon around the gravel parking area.

Wild orchids

© David Beeson: Wild OrchidWild Orchids

© David Beeson: Wild Orchid

Wild orchids look to be about to have a good season. One of our local reserves had fly orchids in flower by mid-May and thousands of spikes will be opening over the next few weeks. This old chalk pit site was covered in swathes of spotted orchid leaves and the twayblades were uncountable. White helleborines and other orchids will follow later.

The site has, in the past, suffered severe rabbit pressure but now that nibbling is much reduced and the plants have been allowed to flourish.

The next location I explored was an old gravel pit – this had a few thousand green-winged orchids in bloom with more to follow. But the drought has reduced their stature and they looked sad.

The final site was an ancient meadow that had mostly never been fertilised. Here the more moist acid conditions allowed only a single green-winged orchid to bloom, but heath spotted orchid leaves were in abundance. However the plant that captured most of my attention was lousewort – a semi-parasite that was clearly inhibiting the growth of nearby vegetation. Lousewort is a plant of acid conditions and is uncommon in the chalklands of northern Hampshire.

The upper area of the meadow has had some added fertility in past years and shows less biodiversity than the purer lower part. Overall the area is hugely botanically diverse and a delightful location.

Badger trails laced the edge of the site, but tell-tail diggings were strangely absent for the worm population in the soil must be high.

Photo-voltaic Electricity

© David Beeson: Forest Edge Photovoltaic System

© David Beeson: Forest Edge Photovoltaic System

Our PV-system is now up and running. We have 12 x 210W panels installed within the roof and it cost £12.5K. Under the, now withdrawn, grant scheme we are given a £2.5K rebate: so the real cost was £10K.

The government pays us money for each unit of power generated and it is suggested that the panels will pay for themselves in 10 years. The other 15 years of guaranteed panel life expectancy will be ‘profit’.
Now how the finances work into the future we will have to see, but if the power grid fails on a sunny day – well we can still boil a kettle. But there is a certain pleasure in the greenness of the whole undertaking.

The first few days of the operation saw around 10 KWh generated each day – and the days were a bit dull and cloudy. The payment for this energy capture will be 10 x £0.41 = £4.10 per day – which could amount to around £1K during a full year. Clearly the solar energy input during the various months of the year will vary.

Our own panels face nearly due south, but the loss from east or west facing units is only around 10% – so the project is worth considering if your own roof orientates in those directions.

I will keep you informed on how the system performs and the actual gain of solar energy and ‘profit’ it generates.

I’m now cutting the stored wood gleaned from our hedges last autumn – this will feed into our open fire during the winter. An enclosed multi-fuel burner would be much more efficient than our current fire but sadly doubt one could fit into the available space.

David is an ex-lecturer in Environmental / Biological Sciences.
He has written for most of the UK gardening magazines, including the RHS.
Forest Edge’s garden has been widely covered in magazines and has been featured in a BBC’s Gardeners’ World special.
He also maintains a blog at https://nwhwildlife.org/