January has been a month of biodiversity firsts for me.
First New Year celebrated with Karin in our new home, quietly with friends and kids, plus the cats and chickens that are part of our personal biodiversity. I’m going to write a lot more about this notion of “personal biodiversity” later this year, but in short, we’re all of us directly connected to biodiversity physically and in the space we inhabit at home and work. Think about that next time you’re devouring a pot of Activia or watering the spider plant in your office.
The first paper (hopefully of several) from Sam Tarrant’s PhD thesis has finally been published in the journal Restoration Ecology online ahead of the print version. In this paper Sam compares the pollinator communities and available floral resources on restored landfill sites to those on nearby nature reserves. The landfill sites are just as good for pollinators as the reserves, a surprising finding that parallel’s Lutfor Rahman’s results in relation to bird communities on restored landfill sites . All of which has implications for how landfill sites might be managed after they have fulfilled their primary function. Opportunities for biodiversity conservation sometimes come from unexpected sources.
Another first was discovering some of our research cited in the recent United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s progress report on the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators. We were very pleased to see our work getting that kind of exposure on the international stage, regardless of what one may think of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The CBD is not without its critics as I recounted the first time I blogged, live from a CBD-associated scientific conference in Germany. This was later published in Bulletin of the British Ecological Society as “Blogging from Bonn“.
And I achieved a first by finally (after several years of trying) seeing a flock of waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) a bird that, whilst not uncommon, is one which you really have to be in the right place at the right time to observe. They are highly mobile and never in one spot for very long. A friend of mine who is a very keen birder and has been trying for 25 years to see them and only achieved that birding tick this year. One of our graduates, who blogs by the pseudonym of the Hooded Birder, has some great images of waxwings – take a look and you’ll see just what a beautiful bird this is, very exotic looking for a winter visitor to Britain.
At this time of year waxwings fly down from Scandinavia like avian vikings, marauding through the countryside devouring fruit from trees and shrubs such as rowan, hawthorn, apple, rose and any many others. It’s quite a sight to see a bird the size of a starling eating large rose hips in a single swallow. They are very approachable birds and we got quite close to them. Some years are marked by massive irruptions of these birds and are termed “waxwing winters”. The latest data from the British Trust for Ornithology suggest that this is one such year and the Northants Birds site has regular reports of their appearance around the county.
Although I’m not by any means a serious birder, bird watching falls into the category of cultural/spiritual ecosystem services that is clearly supported by biodiversity. Birding organisations are popular: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has over one million members and financial resources of almost £100 million, for example.
This weekend the RSPB will be running its regular Big Garden Birdwatch, a great example of citizen science in support of biodiversity monitoring. I’ll do my hour of watching on Sunday morning; the current cold winter weather has brought birds into the garden that are normally found out in the wider countryside. No waxwings yet but I live in hope.