Saturday, 1 August 2020

Back Yard Damselfly

A quick blog this evening but I wanted to share the news of our first Damselfly in the back yard! (for those of you reading this in the US, this is a concrete yard with walls and a large gate, not a garden - we have a garden at the front!)

Just before lunch this Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) spent time in the sun on various plants, including the fig tree before going to investigate the lavender and a plant pot! I think it is a female of the species.


I do wonder whether it has come from the school pond down the end of the street. At the moment we're fixing more long flower pots to the wall to increase the number of flowers we grow which will attract more insects into the yard and so then any more damselflies or dragonflies that come in will have more potential prey. 


Monday, 13 July 2020

Cycle Ride - Small Skipper Butterflies

On Saturday we cycled over to Askham Bog in the hope of seeing more dragonflies and damselflies. At the moment in the verges there are a lot of wildflowers, it shows what can happen if these are left to nature, and there are lots of Ringlet and Meadow Brown butterflies taking advantage of these.

The pool at Askham Bog, which two weeks ago had dozens of Azure Damselflies  was deserted apart from a few flies, but there was a Reed Warbler hopping around and singing like it wanted to imitate a children's wind up toy!

Across the road from the car part is a patch of wildflowers which extends across the other side of the A64 and up the road towards Copmanthorpe. Normally at this time of year we have seen Six Spot Burnet Moths here but maybe they haven't emerged yet. However, these past couple of weeks there have been plenty of Small Skipper butterflies (Thymelicus sylvestris) flitting around the flowers and grass stems.






Friday, 10 July 2020

Cycle ride - Comma Butterfly

I needed to go into York today for some ingredients for the Kimchi we are going to make from cabbages that are pretty much ready to eat in the allotment right now. There's an excellent Oriental supermarket on Rougier Street called Red Chilli (next to the restaurant of the same name) which is fascinating to browse round for the wide selection of interesting foodstuffs you have never heard of! I have never seen a Mooli before today, they look like radishes from hell, size of a rounders bat!
I picked up some Korean red chilli flakes, fish sauce, ginger and rice vinegar for the kimchi and tins of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots and some gluten free soy sauce for the store cupboard.

Anyway, along a lovely quiet road near Bilborough I watched a Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) singing on a telegraph wire, they give a brief burst of slightly scratchy song before moving a short distance to another perch and repeating the song (Lesser Whitethroats, which I haven't seen yet, live more in bushes). There were plenty of Meadow Brown and some Ringlet butterflies and lots of wildflowers in the verges.

On a patch of thistles I discovered this Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album) feeding on the flower heads. After severe declines in the 20th century, this butterfly is now quite widespread, we've had them along the path through the allotments from time to time too.
When the thistles go to seed, I'll be picking a few for the wildflower patch I am trying to start in the garden, there's a lot of them flowering on roadsides at the moment and plenty of insect life on them too.




Friday, 3 July 2020

Holly Blue Butterfly in the Allotment

Today started off very wet and has now got very windy. Quite unseasonal for the time of year to be honest, feels like late September with a gale like mid October! 

So, I popped up to the allotment this afternoon for an hour to pick more raspberries and the first of the blueberries, the latter of which have swollen up pretty well with all this rain, they love the damp conditions. 

Anyway, just before I came home I noticed a small blue butterfly flitting around the nasturtiums and with the new phone I have that has a much better camera on it, managed to get the following picture of it and have been able to identify it as a Holly Blue butterfly (Celatrina argiolus) 


Holly Blue butterflies are the type of blue butterfly most likely to be seen in urban gardens, although I have seen Small Blue butterflies at the allotment before now. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Lockdown Day 100 - The end of the beginning

This is the final blog of my lockdown series, little did I know that when I started these on the 24th of March that I would be still on lockdown and furlough at the start of July. The dreadful COVID-19 virus has claimed many hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide and the UK has had around 65000 of these. This high death toll could have been avoided here in the UK if lockdown had happened earlier and been stricter and if many elderly and vulnerable patients had not been discharged without being tested from hospitals to care homes. No doubt there will one day be Inquiries, Reports and maybe one day those in charge will be held to account, but as happened with the Hillsborough disaster, it may be that the true story is covered up for years.

I hope that my readers are still safe and well, and continue to be so, and I extend my sympathy and condolences to anyone reading this who has lost a loved one or friend to this awful virus.

We have been lucky, no one I know personally, no one in my family to my knowledge has been affected by the virus (although I have heard about others on the grapevine) but that does not mean we will stop being vigilant and taking what precautions we can for months to come. There is also the looming No Deal Brexit here in the UK which has the potential for serious disruption to supply chains just as maybe the UK economy is recovering and I will be continuing with actions and preparations as outlined in my small steps and prepping blogs, as well as of course the allotment and preserving the food we grow.

Whilst I spend a lot of time out in the countryside, this lockdown has given me a chance to identify more plants and wildlife, to spend "slow time" out in nature, to enjoy the peace and quiet with no traffic noise and just birdsong for company. We are lucky here compared to many people with countryside all around a few minutes walk or cycle from home, but even in the cities and former industrial sites there are many places where nature finds a home and my Edgelands blogs are an insight into that world in the margins of the urban sprawl.

It has also been a chance for me to delve into my photo library from many trips and holidays and my "Remembering" blogs have been a chance to relive many special wildlife experiences we have had in countries around Europe.



Whilst in many parts of the world, and indeed in the UK, there are many places where nature is protected, there are serious threats to this biodiversity all over the planet, whether through human destruction, pesticides and other chemicals and pollution, climate change, microplastics, road building and many other threats. It is so important that the recovery from COVID-19 is a "green" recovery, an attempt to "build back better" and a chance to change the whole economic model from one of excessive consumption and a throw away society to one where our needs are met through environmentally sustainable methods of production. There are unfortunately, many people, often excessively rich or with vested interests (such as fossil fuel) who seek to undermine this transformation for their own gain, who seek to influence governments and indeed the fabric of democracy and accountability itself. My "Road to Recovery" blogs were based on a letter I wrote in response to a request for feedback from a civil servant in the Cabinet Office in the UK Government. These are an attempt to show what needs to be done to achieve that more sustainable, democratically accountable and fairer society that we need if we have any hope of keeping our small blue and green world a habitable place for all the people and wildlife on it. (There is of course a particular focus on the UK in the blogs)

The allotment has had a lot of love these past few months and the fruits of this are being realised, quite literally, with now at least ten punnets of blackcurrants picked, several punnets of raspberries and strawberries, with blackberries and blueberries to come, along with apples, pears and damsons for later in the year. We've tried to create a home for nature too, leaving some nettles and wild poppies to grow, keeping the marigolds and nasturtiums and comfrey going and planting more lavender. At home we are trying to expand the number of flowers good for pollinators even though we have quite a small space to do this in, and given that today yet another front garden down the street was concreted over, more important than ever that we create that haven in our locality.

2020 will be regarded as one of those defining years in history where everyone can remember what they were doing when lockdown started and everyone will, unfortunately, end up knowing someone who has suffered or died from COVID-19, and everyone will have a lockdown tale to tell to a future generation when they are much older. I hope that the beneficial shifts we have seen in behaviour, whether such as more cycling and walking, using more local businesses and food, more home working, online meetings and collaboration to name but a few, will continue post lockdown. The desire for equality and freedom for discrimination for BAME people, and the toppling of statues has also been a defining moment in history and this fight will need to keep being fought given that there are many in our society both here and in other countries that are racist and intolerant, and this extends into positions of power too.

We need to move quickly in de-carbonising our energy supply and supply chains. We need to urgently reduce the amount of plastic being used and move to a more circular economy without excessive consumption. Deforestation and other environmental harms need to come to an end and habitats restored, there are already climate and environmental tipping points being approached or reached in the Amazon, Arctic and Siberia and serious harm being done in our oceans.



Our own contribution to improving the environment and making more sustainable choices may seem miniscule in comparison with the challenges we face. But consumer pressure works - the plastic bag tax has substantially changed behaviour, campaigns on fair trade, palm oil and many other things have changed the operations of big companies. Many governments have responded to the challenges of de-carbonisation and campaigns such as the opposition to fracking here in the UK have effectively brought a halt to this destructive form of drilling.

Everyone has local representatives, whether in local or national government. I've written to my MP on several occasions and had letters back from two different ministers via the MP. There's so many different charities and campaign groups out there for different human and environmental issues. For the next few months at least it will be even more important to support the vulnerable in our society and those that care for the environment in which we live as many charities have a very steep loss of income at present and the needs are still out there and increasing. Over the next few months pressure needs to be brought to bear so that the recovery from coronavirus, particularly any infrastructure spending, is sustainable and is in keeping with meeting our climate change mitigation commitments.



Auditing our own spending is worthwhile, whilst it is good to have a treat or two for time to time, do we really need the latest phone or computer, or spend a hundred pounds or more on an item of designer clothing made in a cramped factory with poor working conditions in the Far East? A lot of my clothes have come from charity shops in perfectly good condition, some even still new, we've bought crockery, books, furniture and many other things from charity and secondhand shops, supporting good causes and local businesses in the process as well as re-using goods that may have otherwise gone to landfill. Over time we've donated many things we no longer have use for to feed back into the circular economy and allow more money to be raised for charities.
There's many local craftspeople and local businesses that can supply new sustainable goods, again keeping money in local economies and the "fair trade" movement extends this out to many parts of the world to support particularly third world producers in a decent living.
There's many "green" energy tariffs out there and if you can afford it, the switch to electric vehicles or bikes, and perhaps your own household renewable energy generation is a possibility.

I hope you have enjoyed my blogs as much as I have enjoyed putting them together. I've learnt quite a bit about nature these past few months and had some lovely wildlife moments, as well as reliving some special occasions from the past. Everyone can do something for our environment, everyone can grow something for themselves, everyone can buy the things they need more sustainably, everyone has a voice in the debate and collectively we can change our world for the better.

Best wishes, stay safe and well and good luck!
Michelle
1st July 2020

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Lockdown Day 99 - Blackcurrants

I spent the morning again picking blackcurrants. Now that we have enough in the freezer for our jam requirements I have taken to bottling them in syrup for use on my porridge on a morning and perhaps on ice cream. There's still loads on the bushes to pick but it was lunchtime by the time I had picked two punnets, as well as a punnet of raspberries.



For the blackcurrants, I wash and take out any stalks and leaves from the crop. Then I boil up my sugar (350g sugar to 600ml water) whilst sterilising the Kilner Jars. The blackcurrants then go into the jars and the syrup poured over them. They are then heat treated in an oven at 150 deg. C for 35-45 minutes.

Tomorrow will be the one hundredth lockdown blog and, as it is likely that my furlough will be ending in the next week or two, it will be the last in this series and I will put together some thoughts and reflections on this rather strange and worrying period and some thoughts about the future and how we can produce a better, more sustainable world in the recovery.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Lockdown Day 98 - Rhubarb and Pumpkin Compote

Another rainy and grey day today, so I have been inside catching up on a few jobs. As we pick the berries we need all the freezer space we can get so I did a little digging and found a bag of rhubarb and some pumpkin from last year! It seems to have kept fine, albeit a little longer than expected so I have boiled it up with some sugar and some ground ginger to make a compote which I can use on porridge over the next couple of months.

I've planted some more pumpkins and expect to be able to do quite a bit of chutney later in the year, either ginger or spiced up with cumin and chilli powder. Ideal for putting on cheese or cooked meat sandwiches or as an accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes.

I also do courgette and onion chutney if the courgettes get too overwhelming!


I have two "go-to" books when it comes to preserving:



The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew published by Anness Publishing Limited

and




 The Preserving Book by Lynda Brown published by Dorling Kindersley in conjunction with the Soil Association