This Sunday (08/05/22) marks a very important milestone for Ealing Wildlife Group: it’s the day we will officially open EWG @ Costons Lane to the public and we’re oh – so very excited about it.
There is still a lot we want to do with our reserve to keep it flourishing, but we’re dedicating the whole day to celebrate how much we have achieved so far and to finally share the progress and benefits of the reserve with the wider community.
We would be delighted to see you there so we can show you around, tell you a bit more about our plans for the reserve and perhaps interest you in some activities (and coffee!).
The big day will be 8th May 2022, from 10 am to 4 pm. We are off Ruislip Rd right across the road from Lidl. For a location map please click here.
tours of the reserve
more info about EWG and our work
activities for the kids (pond dipping, face painting, building a bug hotel, and a wildlife treasure hunt!)
Refreshment table with cakes, coffee, tea, and juice
1pm: Ribbon-cutting ceremony
2pm: Opening of our bird hide
What is EWG @ Costons Lane?
Back in 2020, EWG took over the old allotment site at Costons Lane with the objective of turning it into a nature reserve and education centre.
With the help of our amazing volunteers, we were able to transform an unused green space into one full of wildlife (we’ve already spotted different butterflies, spiders, newts, slow worms, bats, solitary bees, and even some frogspawn!).
One of the biggest thrills of spring is when the beautiful and acrobatic swifts return to the UK after a long and perilous journey from Africa. They tell us that summer is on its way soon and that all is well with the world.
The sad fact is that Ealing’s swifts, like swifts across the UK, are in serious decline. Swifts spend their winter in Africa and return to the UK in April with their lifelong partner and offspring to breed in the same area as last year. Swifts are used to living alongside humans, but modern building design and the refurbishment of old buildings have been depriving them of the nooks and crannies that they use for nesting sites.
The Saving Ealing’s Swiftsproject is to combat the decline of swift nesting sites. Ealing Wildlife Group is planning to erect 150 nest boxes to boost existing colonies of swifts and attract new colonies. The nest boxes will be sited on public buildings across the borough, with signage to tell the public about these wonderful birds. The project will boost biodiversity in our borough & engage local communities with the conservation of these birds.
The swifts will be returning in April and May 2022, and so we hope to have the swift boxes erected by March, in plenty of time to help protect and conserve this iconic species for future generations. Can you help by making a pledge to our fundraising effort? We need to raise £10,000 in total, including £5000 from our followers which will be matched by Future Ealing. Every little helps and you can pledge at www.spacehive.com/savingealingswifts. If you are not able to contribute, there are other ways you can help, by offering your time to support some of our work by volunteering.
Thank you all for your ongoing support and for making Ealing such a great place for wildlife!
“Conservation work involves the protection, preservation or restoration of nature and biodiversity, not a task one would immediately associate with Instagram or TikTok. However, more and more we are utilising social media platforms to share ideas and information, organise events and have conversations with one another regarding wildlife and the environment. It’s blending our very primal need to be one with nature with our newly evolved reliance on technology, and in most cases, it is working to the benefit of the natural world.
In the case of releasing endangered captive-bred harvest mice back in Ealing we have Instagram Stories to thank. No, really.
I have followed Dr Sean McCormack and Ealing Wildlife Group on social media for a while. I was inspired by the passion and innovation of both and drawn back each time on my phone by the community spirit and the sharing of wildlife photographs and information.
When Sean posted on his Instagram about a new project to return harvest mice back in a suitable habitat and monitor their population I paused my Netflix show, put my glass of red wine back on the coffee table and furiously began constructing my reply. I had to be involved.
I work as an Animal Keeper and Education Officer at a small zoo in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. We care for a very successful breeding group of harvest mice and had been on the look out for a while for a project to introduce our mice back into the wild, as we were reaching maximum capacity in their enclosure.
We had explored options in the past, but nothing seemed to work out or last. I wanted a project that Calderglen could fully get behind and believe in, and that gave our Scottish mice the best chance at surviving.
After talks with Sean I knew the area chosen for their release and the people involved offered the harvest mice the best chance at restoring a wild population in Ealing. A species that hasn’t been recorded there since the late 1970s. It was time for that to change.
After a couple of months of more conversations and planning with Sean the morning arrived for the long journey down to London. I plucked the fittest mice from the safety of their captivity, clinging unknowingly to their corkscrew hazel branch and silently wished each one good luck as I placed them into the travel box, awaiting a life of freedom only wild animals understand.
It’s not lost on me the control humans have over non-human species and even though in my heart I knew I was doing the right thing for the conservation of harvest mice, looking at each individual twitching face, I also battled with doubt if it was what they would want.
It may seem silly, after all how could a mouse possibly understand the concept of consent and the importance of its little life in the preservation of its entire species, but it certainly picked at my moral compass regardless.
It’s why I take so much comfort in Ealing Wildlife Group’s project because out of the many that have been reviewed by Calderglen this one surpassed expectation.
It was a lovely evening when I met with members and volunteers of Ealing Wildlife Group and I quickly felt I was with ‘my people’. Our enthusiasm and passion kept the chat flowing as the sun started to dip and the smiles and laughs just got wider and louder even after we stopped recording videos on our phones. Everyone was excited to be there, everyone wished for the success of the project, and everyone believed it was the right thing to do to give back to nature.
We let Calderglen’s mice go in thickets of grass and flowers, with a small shelter and some food left behind for a short-term resource if they should need it. I watched one particular brown and white fuzzy ball dart immediately from the travel box and wind its way gracefully into the foliage.
A bubble of emotion rose in my throat as I again wished it a silent good luck. As I uploaded the video to my Instagram with the caption ‘They’re free!’ and watched the mouse get lost behind stalks of green and fade from view, my doubts vanished. The harvest mice were home. “
Animal Keeper and Education Officer
(All photo credits to Council ranger James Morton, who accompanied us on this release alongside fellow ranger Jon Staples to whom we are grateful for collaborating on this project)
We’re very excited to be partnering with Battersea Children’s Zoo and their sister zoo, New Forest Wildlife Park, both of which will be providing us with captive bred harvest mice to release in Ealing over the coming years. I recently visited Battersea and was astounded by their beautiful Harvest Mouse exhibit, which showcases just how busy (and adorable) these little mice are. Here’s what Head Keeper, Jamie Baker, has to say about the partnership:
“Battersea Park Children’s Zoo has always championed British native species. Alongside our conservation work with other BIAZA and EAZA facilities on European Endangered Species breeding programmes we have always worked to put our own native species at the forefront of our work. As one of most successful zoos working with the Scottish wildcat breeding programme, producing 5 kittens over the last couple of years, we also collaborate on reintroduction projects for native hedgehogs and of course, Eurasian harvest mice, which are increasingly threatened in Britain.
We currently have one of the largest harvest mouse exhibits in the country and actively breed mice at the zoo before transferring them to reintroduction projects up and down the country. Education is key in providing a future for our native species, so our dedicated harvest mouse barn is a great opportunity for our yearly 8500 school children to connect with these relatively unheard of creatures.
We are excited to have struck a new partnership with Ealing Wildlife Group and can’t wait to shine a light on their amazing work to restore wild places in London and reintroduce native species. Our curator Jason and head keepers Jamie and Charlotte had the pleasure of welcoming Sean to the zoo recently to discuss our joint passion for harvest mouse conservation and we look forward to providing captive bred harvest mice to Ealing Wildlife Group’s upcoming release projects. Joining forces to rewild some amazing habitats in West London.”
The team at Battersea and New Forest are also keen to come help us survey for harvest mice to monitor how well the reintroduction project is going over the coming years. There will also be opportunities for volunteers to help with this important work. Exciting times!
As the growing season winds down, people are starting to tidy their gardens and prepare them for winter. For wildlife friendly gardens and gardeners however, things are a little different, it’s far less tidy, and far better for the wildlife! Here are 10 things a wildlife gardener can do to prepare the garden for winter that benefit both the garden and the wildlife.
1. Clean feeders, feed the birds!
It’s always important to keep your bird feeders as clean as possible and this time of year is a good time to do it as it the feeders will be very busy over the next few months! Then fill the feeders with fat balls, fat blocks, coconut shells filled with fat, fat pellets, fat filled with berries, mealworms, peanuts! Lots of fat! Don’t use the plastic nets though as birds can get caught in them with tragic consequences! (Also we don’t need more plastic) Don’t forget seeds and fruit, and I was today years old when I found out you can leave out cheese and bacon bits as well (probably go sparingly so you don’t attract too many rats!) A firm favourite with my birds are sunflowers seeds, I think just about everyone likes them, I get the shelled ones, waaaay less mess! Don’t get cheap seed mixes though, they are often made with cheap grains that are too big for anything other than pigeons to eat, I learned this the hard way!
2. Keep water available!
Keep small bowls of water on the ground and/or bird baths available as it’s just as important for wildlife to access water in the winter as at any time of the year. If you have a pond and should it ice over (not super likely in London but it could happen), melt a hole in the ice so the critters can get in and out and drink, and to make sure your pond doesn’t become oxygen starved. Use a pan filled with hot water to melt a hole, do not bang on the ice to break it as this sends out painful shockwaves that can hurt wildlife. (I’m imagining being inside a ringing bell, not a pleasant thought!)
3. Watch out for Hibernating Animals!
Check bonfire material for hibernating animals such as toads, hedgehogs, and frogs before lighting! (Better yet only build the bonfire when you are ready to light it, then nothing can get into it) Be careful turning compost as it’s warm and could be full of slow worms, grass snakes, toads, frogs and other lovely things you want in your garden!
4. Make homes for the animals!
Don’t bag up all your leaves, spread them on the flower beds, it’s good for your soil and it provides shelter for frogs, and insects, and gives Blackbirds and thrushes, and Violet Ground Beetles a place to forage for food. Leave some pots and piles of bricks laying around for newts and toads ( they like the greenhouse too so watch out for them if you are tidying, I have frogs in mine!) Make or buy some bug hotels for the leaf cutter bees and other insects such as lacewings and ladybirds, or just drill some holes in a log! Place clay roof tiles in the pond for the frogs and newts that may be overwintering in the pond.
5. Leave the Soil alone!
If you can help it, avoid digging your garden beds, as many spider eggs and insect larvae (especially moths) overwinter in the soil.
6 Plant some Winter Berries!
Shrubs that feed wildlife in winter are great for gardens because they also provide beautiful flowers in the spring and summer, lovely foliage in the Autumn and striking berries and stems in the winter! I wrote another post with a list of native berries here (such as hawthorn, rowan, guelder rose etc) but other good non-native garden shrubs for wildlife are Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Barberry (Berberis), and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) although be careful with the last one, it can get invasive if not carefully controlled!
7. Leave it Wild!
Avoiding trimming ivy and don’t cut hedges until at least March. Both provide much needed food and shelter for overwintering wildlife. Leave all the herbaceous plants untrimmed until early spring. Leave it messy! Many insects overwinter in hollow stems, ladybirds will all snuggle up on a stem for the winter and if there is one thing you really want in your garden, it’s ladybirds! When you do finally cut the stems down in spring, set them aside in stacks until May so the insects can emerge safely.
8. Clean Ponds!
Winter (Oct through January) is the best time to clean your pond as it is the time of lowest activity. However there are still active critters in there so be careful! Always stack the weeds and debris you clear from a pond on the edge for a few days so things can crawl out and back into the water. Having a little poke around and giving some of the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, other invertebrates, newts, frogs, and snails a helping hand back into the water is nice too.
9 . Clean out Nest Boxes!
In late winter clean out the nest boxes for the upcoming spring nesting season. Also be aware that some birds will roost communally in nest boxes in the winter to stay warm, especially wrens and house sparrows so making sure they have nest boxes or roosting pouches in you garden in winter could be very beneficial!
10. Help the Butterflies!
There are five species of butterfly in the UK that hibernate in winter as adults, the brimstone, comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell and red admiral. Two of these, the Peacock and the Small Tortoiseshell usually overwinter in a shed or garage, and if you see them there, leave them be. Sometimes though they will try to hibernate in your house, which would be fine if it didn’t get so warm. When the butterflies get warm they wake up and think it’s spring, and that is not going to be a good time for the poor butterfly when it’s still winter and there is no food in sight. So if you find an awake and confused butterfly in your house, the Scottish Wildlife Trust suggests the following:
The best thing you can do if you see a butterfly flying about in your house in the middle of winter is to help it relocate to a cooler spot. Put it in a cardboard box for a while to calm it down and then leave it in your shed, garage or another suitable location. Somewhere cool and dry is ideal. Remember to set it free when spring arrives!
Laura Preston, Scottish Wildlife Trust
So there it is, ten ways to help make your garden a safe haven for wildlife this winter! You will be rewarded come spring with an abundance of helpful creatures to keep your garden ticking along as well as the knowledge that you are also helping them to survive and thrive when so many are in shocking rates of decline across the country. Gardens make up one of the largest green spaces in the UK so we can have a huge impact on the future of wildlife, one garden at a time!
Long time EWG member and nature photographer extraordinaire Nigel Bewley has put together two photography tutorials for us! This one is about Wildlife in its Environment and the previous one is Birds in Flight . Thanks Nigel!
Take a step back
It’s lovely and impressive to fill the frame with your subject and make a photograph that is a close-up portrait full of detail but without much of the environment – the place where your subject lives. Just by showing a little of the environment puts the photograph into context. Two goldfinches on a feeder? We know straight away that it was likely to have been taken in a garden with the inference that goldfinches are garden birds.
Set The Scene
If you have wildlife in your garden, set yourself up with your camera, make yourself comfortable and be prepared for a wait. It could be that your subject has become used to you or is so busy that it doesn’t care about your presence.
Try using a piece of material to cover yourself as a disguise. It is always a good idea to keep quiet, move slowly and don’t wear perfume or aftershave. Foxes, amphibians in the pond, birds flying into nest boxes or even rats make great subjects that are right on your doorstep.
Use Props And Build A Set
For this photograph of a coal tit I set up a wooden carry-box and various garden tools and scattered some peanuts. Wait for the right light – you will know when the sun makes its way around the garden and is behind you. Some wildlife photographers can be a bit sniffy about this technique and don’t consider it “proper”.
Many, many successful, published wildlife photographs use props and bait. A fox investigating a tipped-over dustbin? A kingfisher perched on a sign that reads “No Fishing”? A squirrel looking through a camera’s viewfinder? All artifice, guile and imagination.
Go Wide In The Wild
Composition often plays a key role in environmental photographs. Get away from placing your subject in the middle of the frame. A successful environmental photograph may simply be a landscape shot where the subject plays an important role in acting as a focal point.
By including some of this red deer stag’s habitat the image tells more of a story about the animal’s relationship with the environment. We can immediately see two things: it’s a stag and it’s in the mountains.
You don’t have to go to the Cairngorms for this kind of photograph. A nearby green space will works just as well. There’s plenty of wildlife around – like this muntjac. Go and look for it. It will be there.
Wildlife exists alongside us and we exist alongside wildlife. Our lives should be in balance with nature. It never ceases to amaze me how wildlife can be part of our lives – it’s all around us and it’s quite valid to document that with people or buildings etc. as part of the photograph. Wildlife, people and buildings. It often works very well.
Tell a story
Consider a series of photographs of the same subject taken over a period of time to tell a story. It could be of a particular tree seen over the year from bare branches to full leaf, a family of foxes and their cubs or the adoption of a nest box – not necessarily by birds – with their comings and goings.
Use your imagination. Use your love for wildlife.
Please obey and respect the current lockdown rules and advice.
Long time Ealing Wildlife Group member and nature photographer extraordinaire Nigel Bewley has put together two photography tutorials for us! This one is about Birds in Flight and the next one is Wildlife in its Environment. Thanks Nigel!
Getting To Grips With Photographing Birds In Flight
Start with Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority.
Select a shutter speed fast enough to “freeze” the bird’s wings in your photograph. Go for at least 1/1000th of a second to 1/2000th of a second. Even faster is better, if possible.
Select an aperture of around f/8. This aperture is likely to be the lens’s “sweet spot” where it is sharpest and you will also get a decent depth of field.
Set an ISO that will allow for the above combinations of shutter and aperture. On a bright and sunny day, start with an ISO of 250.
The most accurate focus point is the central point but it’s tricky to keep this centred on the bird. Activate all of the focus points or at least a cluster in the centre of the frame. Set your camera’s focus to continuous focus. The camera will continuously focus with the flight of the bird. Canon calls this function “AI Servo”. Nikon calls it AF-C or Continuous Servo.
Your camera’s meter will be trying to expose for the bright sky. The bird that you are trying to photograph is not as bright as the sky so dial in around +1 EV of exposure to fool the meter into exposing for the bird and not the sky. If you are photographing a white bird such as a swan, you may need to dial in around -1 EV to stop the bird “burning out” in the photograph.
Look for a plus/minus button and dial in under or over exposure compensation
The dark plumaged lapwing needed +1 EV but the bright, pale barn owl needed -1 EV for a correct exposure
Lots of practice in the garden or, if lock down allows, in the park.
Having treated myself to a camera bird box for Christmas in 2018 I was disappointed to get no visitors to it on my 4th floor balcony in 2019, but can’t say I was very surprised. Too high for a discerning tit or sparrow, I resigned myself. This Spring I took it to my pal Nigel’s place, where Blue Tits regularly avail of his nest boxes to raise a brood. And he kindly agreed to host the box for the 2020 season, as well as edit and post any footage we managed to capture.
Well for the last few weeks we’ve been on tenterhooks as we’ve been teased by a pair of Great Tits at first, soon followed by a charming little Blue Tit pair inspecting the box and deciding whether or not it might make a nice home.
Let me tell you things have well and truly heated up in the Blue Tit family planning department in recent days, and nest building is underway.
So everyone’s in lock down, confined to their homes for the most part. Every Nature Nerd’s favourite programme, BBC Springwatch, is hanging in the balance of whether it airs or not this year. So we thought it was vitally important to provide you with regular updates of our own little Springwatch experiment here.
Check out the action to date in this, our first #EWGtitcam video, and stay tuned as we’ll be providing more footage of this industrious little pair’s antics in the weeks to come.
While we’re all confined, I’ve noticed so many more people taking the time to watch and observe the beauty of nature around us. It’s a pleasure to see people posting about it on our social media channels. Getting outdoors daily and connecting with nature is just so vital for all of our well being in general, but especially right now. Whether you’ve got a balcony, window ledge or a garden, there are many things we can all do to encourage wildlife to visit. Then sit back and enjoy watching wildlife going about their business as usual!
1. Feed the birds
Birds benefit from having food provided all year round, and the more variety you can offer the more species you’ll attract. Peanuts, sunflower seeds, niger seed, fat balls and dried mealworms will bring in a huge range. Don’t forget a shallow dish of water too. Place feeders near some cover if possible so the birds feel safe stopping by, not out in the middle of a lawn or patio. If you don’t have a garden, not to worry, you can also get suction cup window feeders which will allow you to see your feathered visitors up real close. And everyone has a window!
Buy some wildflower seed packets or a seed bomb online, and sow on a bare patch of earth, or in a pot, container or window box according to pack instructions. These usually contain a mix of native and ornamental flowering plants that are just perfect for pollinators like bees, hoverflies and butterflies. So not only do they create a wonderful display of colour, they also benefit some of our most threatened insects. You can get various mixes that suit woodland shade, full sun, dry or damp conditions so choose your spot and get sowing now.
Any water in your outdoor space will act as a magnet for thirsty wildlife like birds, insects and mammals. And it doesn’t have to be a massive pond. Why not try making a pond in miniature using an empty plastic container, plant pot (with no drainage holes) or an old half barrel. Any water tight container will do, and you can do this on a windowsill too. You’ll be astonished what comes to visit; damsel and dragonflies, lots of microscopic water creatures if you look closely, and if you’re lucky maybe even a newt, toad or frog!
Put your feet up and forget about lawn mowing this summer. Not only is it terrible for the environment, we’re running out of grass in urban areas, especially gardens, as people use decking, paving and (cringe alert!) Astroturf instead. Not good for flooding risk either, all this hard landscaping. But it’s also an ecological desert for wildlife. So to counteract it, what if we all left even a portion of our lawns unmown this year? Wildflowers will spring up and the long grasses with their attractive seed heads provide cover and food for an abundance of insects, including lots of butterfly and moth species. Insects are the bottom of the food chain, so with all this new bug life you’ll get more bats and birds and other creatures too.
If you haven’t already put up a nest box for birds, get cracking. The avian property market is hot, hot, hot right now so you need to be quick. There are various designs available online; blue tits, great tits and sparrows like circular hole fronted boxes (a different diameter for each, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm respectively). Robins, wrens and wagtails will use open fronted boxes. An old teapot or boot placed deep in a hedge can even turn into a robin des res, just be sure to place the teapot spout down and boot toe down for drainage! And if you have a nest box that’s been up for ages and never used, change it to a different location this year. They need to be out of direct sunlight, ideally facing between north and east. Hole fronted ones on a tree or wall 2-4m high. Under 2m high in dense cover for an open fronted robin box.
Don’t forget to tune in across our social media channels for what happens in our Blue Tit camera nest box!
Blue Tit in our camera nest box, hosted by Nigel Bewley
6. Build a log pile or compost heap
Find logs, branches or even woody cuttings from shrubs and trees in your garden and pile them up in a quiet area, leaving a few spaces in between. Rotting wood is an important habitat for insects and other invertebrates, which feed lots of other creatures in your garden ecosystem. Log piles also attract the nationally rare Stag Beetle, whose larva feeds on dead wood. London and Ealing are hotspots for this impressive insect, so the more dead wood you can provide in the garden the better. You may also attract newts, toads, slow worms and even hedgehogs if you make a teepee style pile! Log piles for the win!
Volunteers Richard, Jane & Alex build a logpile by Sean McCormack
7. Dig a pond
If you’ve got the space, I can’t recommend installing a pond highly enough. It’s the single most beneficial feature in any wildlife garden. You’ll have hours of entertainment peering into its depths and marvelling at the number of creatures it draws in to drink, feed or breed over the years. So yes, it’s a bit of hard work to dig and install, but it will repay you ten times over. We’d love to see your efforts if you decide that this is the year you finally put in a pond! Great resources here to help you:
You can buy one online, or make one yourself from scrap wood, boxes or old plastic bottles and stuff them full of hollow bamboo sticks. Place on a sunny wall and watch as various solitary bees use it to raise their young. You can also help the more familiar bumblebees by sinking and upturned terracotta pot into a sunny bank or border filled with dried grass or straw. More detailed instructions here:
Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides line the aisles in garden centres all over the country. These are poisons, killing far more than their target pests and diseases. So please ditch the weedkiller, go chemical free and stop the slug pellets. Poisoned slugs are no good for amphibians, hedgehogs, song thrushes that rely on them for dinner. Use biological controls, like nematodes which are just as if not more effective and eco friendly. You can order biological control for many common garden pests online as well as organic options for many plant diseases.
Leopard slug by Rachael Webb. These ones eat other slugs!
10. See the small things
We’re challenging you to go out in whatever outdoor space you have access to and spend an hour just looking at the ground, the leaves, the world around you. ONce you stop to watch and really observe what’s happening down at ground level in your lawn, or under a stone, or in the edges of a pond if you’re lucky to have access to one, you’ll discover lots of life. Take a snap of what you find, and post it on our social media using the hashtag #seethesmallthings.
We’re delighted to be hosting a couple of guided tour talks and walks at Paradise Fields to explain our proposed beaver reintroduction project at Paradise Fields. We expect to see and hear lots of wildlife.[...]
We’re delighted to be hosting a couple of guided tour talks and walks at Paradise Fields to explain our proposed beaver reintroduction project at Paradise Fields. We expect to see and hear lots of wildlife.[...]
We’re delighted to be hosting our friends from Beaver Trust to give an evening talk followed by a panel discussion to answer some of the questions and concerns arising from our public consultation on beaver[...]