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January 2007

Bird Brains

By Heather 13 years ago

Jackdaws are stunning little birds. They are unobtrusively black, admittedly, but their superficially, easily ignorable demeanour becomes something special with a second glance. As the breeding season looms their cranial plumage takes on a strong grey hue – a pattern not unlike that described as ‘black and charcoal’ in a Karrimor walking boot! They strut (the birds that is not the boots) with a sense of acute purpose, whilst scrutinising every blade of grass and flipping over animal droppings in search of an unfortunate morsel. The relationship played out by a flock of jackdaws perusing around a flock of sheep is amongst many similar scenarios in our countryside. Occasionally one bird will launch its self onto another and a raucous scrap will ensue with the others in the group enthusiastically beating up the individual in the losing seat. Suddenly all will go back to the way it was with the group fastidiously fixing on all that wriggles with their beautiful bright blue eyes. I’m inclined to think that this must be a means of maintaining the pecking order and penance for attempting to pilfer the stronger birds crop filler!

A neighbour of ours reared a juvenile jackdaw last year that had found itself grounded and at the mercy of their pet cat. It was not uncommon for children to have pet jackdaws when I was a child, infact they make great companions. They learn to adapt very quickly and a strong bond between boy and bird can easily develop. The problem is that their reliance on humans can lead to all sorts of problems when they decide to go further afield! Whilst such relationships today are rare, so are jackdaws in many parts of the country . The memory of walking across a meadow and having the animal that I reared by hand swoop down and land on my shoulder whilst coughing in my ear for a treat that it might pluck delicately from my lips is enough to send a reminiscent shiver of joy though my spine.

by Richard

Read More Posted in: jackdaw

Mark's Here!

By Heather 13 years ago

Mark (Eccleston) is here with me at The Wiggly Office. Along with John Harding he often comes up with stunning photography for the Wiggly Catalogue. In fact if you want to buy a limited edition Mark Print click here

Planting a Hedge for Wildlife

By Heather 13 years ago

In our world of farming hedges are really important. Primarily native hedges were planted by farmers with many thorny species to make stock proof barriers. However, they also make a wonderful habitat for all sorts of insects and birds, and the flowers and berries provide a year round feast.

In our gardens we have tended to choose fast growing conifers or a fence, but planting a native hedge will be one of the most easy and inexpensive ways you will make a difference to the wildlife in your garden, and the surrounding environment.

It really is very simple:

What to plant:
You can choose a native single species (purple beech looks wonderful) but for the best option for wildlife habitat go for a traditional mixed species native hedge.
A Bareroot Blackthorn Plant
When to plant:
Plant your hedge between November and March, when the ground is not covered in snow or frozen.

Preparing the area:
If you are planting into soil - relax. Otherwise dig over your length - a spade's depth and 12 - 18 inches wide. Remove the weeds and dig in compost, worm casts or manure.

Planting your hedge:
Plant 6-8 plants per metre in a staggered row so as to achieve a dense, predator proof, wildlife-friendly hedge. Each of our hedgepacks contain planting instructions and an identification sheet. You need to ensure the hole is as deep as the length of your hedge root. Back fill the hole and firm the soil with your heel. Water well. (If you have a rabbit problem consider tree guards). Add a mulch to help suppress weeds.

A Blackthorn in Flower

Managing your hedge:
Water your hedge through its first summer and keep weeds under control for the first couple of years. Trim your hedge between November and February. Its best for wildlife if you leave sections of the hedge to be cut at different times so that some areas are undisturbed. There is a debate in the world of farming of what is best for the hedge, the stock, the farmer, and the wildlife in terms of how often the hedge is cut. You choose, trim a little every year or leave for three years. If you want to hear more about this have a listen to Podcast 16!

Sloes (Blackthorn Berries) being enjoyed...they make wonderful Sloe Gin for you too!

Nuffield Scholarship

By Heather 13 years ago

As those of you who listen to the Wiggly Podcast know I applied for a Nuffield Scholarship
This is what its all about...

Nuffield Farming Scholarships invite enthusiastic individuals to explore topics of their choice in agriculture, land management, horticulture or the food chain. They provide individuals with the unique opportunity:

  • to achieve personal development through study and travel
  • to stand back from their day-to-day occupation and study a topic of real interest to them
  • to access the world's best in food and farming
  • to deliver benefits to UK farmers and growers, and to the industry as a whole
Funded by the agriculture and food industry, charities with agricultural objectives and past Scholars themselves, the NFST awards around 20 new Scholarships each year to enthusiastic people who are 45 years old and under, and who fulfil the criteria laid down by the Trust.

I wanted to study Social Media/Web 2.0 and how this can be applied to farming and rural business.
With grateful thanks to San at Wiggly Wigglers, Tim Kidson
and Chris Hillyard from NFU Mutual for helping me apply and giving me a reference, I am very pleased to say I have made it! Yippee! I am now a Nuffield Scholar and have been awarded The Beckett Scholarship for entrepeneurs and innovators. (I'm particularly pleased about this as Alan Beckett is himself a Nuffield Scholar who has gone on to sponsor an award) The next step is training at the end of February which will start an 18 month personal and professional journey which I will record here.

If you have an idea that will fit the criteria above why not apply for a scholarship yourself?

Wet Wet Wet

By Heather 13 years ago

Richard says:

"After the warmest January night on record the prevailing bands of persistent precipitation continue to top up our depleted groundwater supplies and keep our chocolate coloured rivers bank high. My water butts are positively brimming, the holes that have rusted through, acting as incidental overflows gushing forth in several of the decrepit receptacles surrounding ever conceivable roof . Funny stuff water; we kind of take it for granted, that is until the local water board impose a hose pipe ban or when, for example, Thames water are advertised as thinking about filtering brackish water straight out of the Thames estuary to sustain an ever overpopulated land mass. Harvesting water is so very simple and figuring out cunning irrigation strategies in the garden adds a whole new dimension to things. I adore being inundated with water butts and in many respects collecting water is very much a part of ‘Gardening for Wildlife’, using that which naturally occurs in an unadulterated form to keep the garden positively pulsating right through the year. For me water is precious; the clarity that epitomises the inundations of recent weeks which changes to the mosquito and midge larvae infested, algae enriched puddles, in the midst of our driest months, is a prize worth catching."

And so the moral of the story is please buy your water butt now - remember last year? Squillions of folk tried to buy one in July when there was no rain and in fact the whole of Europe ran out of WATER BUTTS!

Bokashi and Cat Litter

By Heather 13 years ago

I got a letter from Bill in California earlier today. I've added some Bokashi to Noah the cats' litter tray Bill's right you know - he is.

"Dear Heather and Wiggly team:
Here's a comment for the kitty debate. For better or worse, we have two house cats. They have never roamed free outside and don't know any different. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest problem with house cats is the "waste management" , particularly that heady bouquet of cat urine that wafts from a shared litter box a few days after changing. It's easy to conclude that not having to worry about waste management is a major reason people are happy to let their urban cats outdoors.
Since starting to listen to your fabulous podcast (thanks, SF Chronicle) I got interested in EM and Bokashi. As a side use, I've been putting Bokashi bran in my litter box for a couple of months and it makes a huge impact on "odour" reduction. We use basic clay granule cat litter and I start with a handful of bokashi in the bottom of the litter box, then add another handful mixed in with the litter. The EM's absolutely chew up the urine smell in a most wonderful way. I thoroughly recommend bokashi to anyone who has a litter box and doesn't want to spend vast amounts of cash on exotic chemical-loaded litter formulations.
I live in California, in a city 20mins south of San Francisco. Richard might be pleased to know that there is, at least in our area, a predator that actively enjoys moggy. Last summer we had a coyote come out of the hills and it took an unlucky local cat. ...Well, it MOSTLY took the cat. The coyote left the front half on a neighbor's lawn, reminding us that "nature" is still just a few blocks away!
Anyway - please plug this wonderful use of bokashi - it certainly makes keeping a house cat easier. Thanks for your wonderful work with the podcast. I hail from a rural background in east Kent, and listening to you all is a pure joy.