Sunday, 13 January 2019

How A Council Estate Like Ely Can Be A Haven For Wildlife

Gardens in Ely

Small Tortoiseshells on Butterfly Bush (Photo: Pixabay)

The Ely council estate in Cardiff can be a great place for wildlife as I found out when I lived there for 24 years. The gardens attract a lot of birds, butterflies, moths, amphibians, and at least one reptile, which is the Slow-worm. "Slowgies" the local kids used to call them. This legless lizard was very common in gardens and you even saw them in the streets at times. They are no longer so commonly found in Britain.

Slow-worm (Photo: Pixabay)

Many of the species that can be found in Ely are now recognised as being in an alarming decline in the UK, so anywhere they are still thriving is important as a conservation area. Anyone who is actively helping these creatures is doing a great job in helping preserve the world of nature. Gardens can easily become mini nature reserves! You just need to grow some wildflowers, leave some parts untended, and a garden pond always works wonders! A Buddleia Butterfly Bush will help attract these pretty insects and other pollinators as well.

Choice TV showing of my house and garden back in 1998

When I lived in Ely, I had a makeshift pond I created from an old bath that had been thrown out. I sunk it in the ground in the back garden and within a couple of years it supported a colony of Common Frogs as well as Palmate Newts.

A pair of Common Frogs in my hand (Photo: Steve Andrews)
I know Common Toads could be found fairly near where I lived too because a man I knew called Graham used to complain about male toads strangling his goldfish, which can happen. The unattached male toads will grab onto anything they think might be a female of their species.

A mated pair of Common Toads (Photo: Pixabay)
The Common Toad is one amphibian that is known to be experiencing a decline in Britain and elsewhere. All amphibians are under threat worldwide though, due to loss of habitat, pesticides and herbicides, pollution, invasive species that predate on them, and Climate Change. I am proud to be a member of SAVE THE FROGS! Charity set up to help these creatures.

Steve Andrews with SAVE THE FROGS! banner (Photo: Kerry Kriger CEO of SAVE THE FROGS!)
One of the last times I was in Ely I went to visit Parker Place the street I used to live in and was saddened to see that what used to be my front and back garden had been ruined by the Council workers, who had removed the hedge, tree, lawns and flower borders in the front, as well as the Virginia Creepers I had growing on the wall. In the back my pond had gone, as had trees I had been growing for the many years I was there, as well as a grape vine that used to attract flocks of starlings, as well as blackbirds that used to eat the fruit each year. My nettle patch for butterflies had, perhaps not surprisingly, also been removed. It was very sad to see how all my work in helping wildlife had been wrecked but I was heartened to find that Jess, who had been my neighbour, was still there and she told me she now had a pool in her back garden. It was good to know I had helped inspire this!

Moths and Butterflies

Garden Tiger Moth (Photo: Pixabay)
It is a well-known fact that many species of British butterfly and moth have been doing very badly in recent years. Once common species, such as the pretty Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly and the large and gaudy Garden Tiger Moth are no longer commonly seen.
Small Tortoiseshell (Photo: Pixabay)
They need all the help they can get. I used to have Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral caterpillars on a patch of Stinging Nettles I had growing at the bottom of my garden. I also had Painted Lady larvae feeding on Hollyhocks I had growing in the back and front. Garden Tiger Moths needed no help then and I often saw the large furry “Wooly Bear” caterpillars and the striking orange, creamy-white and chocolate-brown moths with dark blue-black spots on their hind-wings.

Cinnabar Moth (Photo: Pixabay)
The attractive day-flying Cinnabar Moth with red and black wings and orange caterpillars striped with rings of black were a common sight. They feed on Ragwort and Groundsel, both of which were common weeds. The Cinnabar has been declining as well over the past decade. I also remember having Comma Butterfly caterpillars one year on my gooseberry bushes, and Common Blue butterflies used to frequent the front lawn of one of my neighbours, who had Bird’s-foot Trefoil growing in the grass. Now I live in Portugal I often see the same species doing well on lawns between housing blocks in built-up areas. The reason being they find trefoils, clovers and Sorrel (Oxalis species) growing amongst the grass. Butterflies need food-plants for their caterpillars and nectar from flowers for their adult stage. If we supply both we will probably attract butterflies to our gardens.

Are all the species I have mentioned still to be found in Ely? I don’t know because I no longer live there but if they are, then residents of the estate can help them survive and can have something to be proud of. I am sure there must be lots of people in this vast estate who are interested in nature. Perhaps a local group could be set up? Ely is also surrounded by some excellent countryside for wildlife, with Plymouth Woods being a deciduous forest that used to have a pond and marshy area. I know frogs and newts used to live there and many birds are attracted to the wooded parts and undergrowth. Ely is an example of a council housing estate that I know, and that I also know could make a great contribution towards nature conservation. The same conceivably goes for all the other estates in the UK.

Young people need to learn about the wonders of the natural world. It gives them something to take a real interest in, and interest that can stay with them for life. All the famous naturalists, like Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham, began learning about nature when they were children. I started when I was four! I hope this article encourages more people to learn about plants and animals living on their doorsteps, so to speak, and most importantly to help conserve the natural world by making their gardens wildlife friendly.

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