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Although the temperature has still not done much more than get back up to the mean for the time of year, many plants are finally responding. Plants love CO2. With most greenhouse crops, net photosynthesis increases by about 50% as CO2 levels rise from about 340 to 1,000 ppm. So perhaps one reason why Spring has seemed to be getting earlier and earlier throughout the 20th century is simply down to the fact that CO2 levels have increased. Another may well be that more people are looking more closely and recording data. Whatever the reasons, for us volunteers, and this week we were glad to welcome Dr. Michael Isaac, it means that we are at last having more to record – well just a little more. One of the ideas behind for instigating these walks is the hope that they will help us manage the site more sympathetically for biodiversity and to get some idea of what changes have taken place over the past 15 years or so since the Garden was first begun to be constructed. So how best to go about it?
Up until now the time of year and the coldness of the weather has meant this weekly blog has been sufficient, but it clearly lacks any scientific rigour. However, we are also keen to retain the voluntary and social side of these walks. So despite the allure of iphone and ipads we have opted for a clipboard and paper approach to start with despite the fact that on just one morning a week and with so few people we can only cover a very, very small part of the Garden. Which means that there is going to be so much that we miss. Thus on Saturday April 20th my wife and I were walking along by Spring Woods and spotted the first bluebell, and a few Swallows, or House Martins - difficult to see which it was - flitting past outside the Great Glasshouse. And this morning, as we were doing our walk, Terry Wells, who is the Regional Representative for the British Trust for Ornithology, informed us that a Blackcap had been singing away merrily all morning in the trees behind the Marquee.
Broadly speaking there are two aspects to our surveying. First finding out what is actually in the Garden, and second how it changes. But we aren’t dealing with a small back garden. Even to get a base from which to work is impractical except in very general terms. The best that we can hope to do on these walks is to use previous surveys to help determine any changes that have occurred – in population numbers, new species or the disappearance of others. But even to do that we need more help, we need more eyes and ears. So if anyone does see anything noteworthy we would like to know about it so that we can build up a picture throughout the seasons.
Unlike previous surveys, this Tuesday morning we started out at the Gatehouse. Still no Otter pictures, or Otter spraint but plenty of Canada Geese poo everywhere and a lot of territorial squabbling between several pairs on all 3 lakes. Throughout the walk bird song was far more in evidence including Nuthatch, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Robin, Wren and Willow Warblers. And Primroses are now in full bloom throughout the Garden, as they are through the country - a truly splendid sight. It was also good to see a Solitary Bee, so named because unlike Honeybees they do not live in colonies. There are more than 200 species of these bees in Britain. They resemble honeybees but can be distinguished by the bright orange pollen brushes under their abdomens. All solitary bees are excellent pollinators and should be encouraged into your garden.
In the course of our wanderings we saw many plants starting to bloom or about to. Golden Saxifrage, Common Dog Violet, Field Wood Rush, Ground Ivy, Barren Strawberry, Herb Robert, Bittercress, Comfrey, Lungwort, Horsetail, Stinging Nettles and Mint, to name just a few and to indicate just how big a task we face.
Along Llyn Canol we saw a pair of Grey Wagtails flitting around at the back of lake and the pair that we saw last week were still in the stream near the Waun Las entrance. This is where the scrub has been cleared and is now an excellent place to watch these birds and many others. The Willow Warblers we saw last week were still there and a new arrival in the shape of a male Blackcap stripping berries off the ivy.
Then, on up the hill past a splendid strip of Lesser Celandines which looked as if they had been carefully laid out and, just below the Bull, we found Badger poo. It’s rather liquid and, for those who can smell it – two of us couldn’t - it’s a bit like engine oil. Further up the Lady’s Smock which was in bud last week was just a wee bit more open.
Into the Great Glasshouse to see how the House Sparrows were doing. Well, they were very busy collecting nest material, but completely ignoring the nest boxes, nesting instead in the ivy as they usually do. Why alter a successful strategy?
Finally, off to the cafe for the usual chat but then, after we had finished our lunch and were returning to the Gatehouse, a pair of Tufted Ducks was spotted in the lake near the Aqualab. There are only 6,000 of these ducks in the UK. It breeds in the UK across lowland areas of England, Scotland and Ireland, but less commonly in Wales, so it would be great if they bred here in the Garden.
Thanks to John James for his photos and if any volunteer or member is interested in joining us, or even starting something similar on a different day, then send an email to Colin Miles - also if you see or photograph anything new in the Garden. If you click on any of the images in these blogs, or anywhere else you will see a larger picture.