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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Back to back bulbs and bats

Ludwell Life woodland action morning Sunday 23 Oct
Wild About Gardens bat event Monday 24 Oct 

Rain. Downpours over the last couple of days will be good for the wildflower bulbs Ludwell Life planted on Sunday, but were not so welcome for our Wild About Gardens bat talk & walk on Monday evening. The silver lining had more than its quota of accompanying cloud.

Ludwell Life's October practical task saw a dozen of us enhance the woodland area alongside the Panny watercourse. When originally planted over 20 years ago, it wasn’t foreseen how the Norway maple would self-seed so prolifically, blocking out the understorey for most other species and the underlying ground flora.
Sweet sweet bulbs: clearing patches for planting

The first step was to remove Norway maple seedlings, leaving space for the field maple, holly, and surviving elms to grow. Underneath these we planted clumps of wildflower bulbs for next and future springs: wood anemone, wild daffodil, snowdrops and native bluebells, at their various spacings and depths. These flower early in the season, before the overhead leaf canopy casts dense shade. Some hopefully will put on a flowering display next spring and attract all sorts of early butterflies, bees and other insects; others may take some years to establish.

We ran out of water by the end, but the Sunday evening weather took care of that. 

Future monthly activities at Ludwell are to continue: November’s will include tree planting. All volunteers are very welcome at these friendly events; details will be posted on the Ludwell Life website in due course.

On to Monday evening, and Wild About Gardens Week's theme this year was bats: how to encourage them with garden planting schemes, ponds and logpiles, which support invertebrates, aka bat food. Also through providing roosting sites around the home, via the various different sorts of bat box, bat tiles, tubes, soffit boxes and bat bricks. And finally understanding, on the larger scale, how hedges, watercourses, lines of trees, and darker areas free from artificial light enable bats to find their way around the urban landscape.   
Half a dozen hardy souls braved the misty gloom, armed with bat detectors. What might have been detected was our thoughts on whether October was a good time of year for a bat event. But in the damp and drizzle, we were able to see how some of these ideas have been put into practice in DWT’s Cricklepit Mill wildlife garden.

Street and leat bat detecting    Photo: S Butcher
Night-scented plants, such as soapwort, bladder campion, catchflies, night-scented stock, tobacco plant, evening primrose, jasmine and different honeysuckles, which will flower in sequence through the year, are good for attracting moths, a key food item. Alongside midges, gnats and flies, of which bats can consume some 3000 a night, there are also some perhaps surprising non-flying, aquatic and diurnal invertebrates on the menu, such as spiders and the odd millipede and earwig, according to a Mammal Review paper (N Vaughan 1997 The diets of British Bats, vol 27 (2), pages 77-94).
It reflects a diverse range of foraging techniques, not just in flight, but also gleaning from leaf and water surfaces, and would explain why generic wildlife gardening features, such as ponds and logpiles, as well as providing habitats for insects and other wildlife, also benefit bats at the same time.   
Just after dusk, despite the unpromising drizzly weather, we were joined by 5-6 soprano pipistrelles, flitting around the edge of the tree canopies on Cricklepit street and leat in characteristic flight pattern. At the this time of year bats will be needing to feed at every opportunity, evidently tolerating some light rain and lower temperatures in the run up to hibernation. We can do a bit to help in our gardens and open spaces, and maybe a damp October evening was not such a bad time to think about our local bats after all.    
Some more information

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