Words and Photos by James Duncan
Nature is declining at an unprecedented speed.
Whenever I speak to naturalists of my own generation, an almost universal pessimism about the future prevails.
They see all too clearly just how much wildlife we have lost in the past few decades.
In my local area I can remember the abundant wildlife we had in the 1960s when farming practices were different to what is practiced today.
One of my favourite walks at any time of the year was round the Auchencarroch – locally known as the ‘Horseshoe’.
An 8-mile circular walk surrounded by mixed farmland.
In early Spring you could watch the lapwings in their nests in freshly tilled fields.
The familiar ‘pee-wit’ cry could be heard on almost any bit of farmland as pairs swooped, their iridescent wing colours catching the light as they tilted in aerial acrobatics.
I always took with a pinch of salt old-timers’ stories of going into a field and filling a pail with lapwing eggs.
I imagined they were exaggerated.
But when I visited a farm outside my local area, I was excited to see a sitting lapwing in a field close to the road.
A few seconds later I spotted another and another.
In the end I counted seven birds sitting on nests and since the field they were in contained a large area of ’dead ground’ it seems quite likely there may have been more!
Another wader who came inland to breed was the curlew, a very large, tall wader, about the same size as a female pheasant.
Its haunting display call ’cur-lee’ is unmistakable.
Snipe, ringed plover, oystercatcher, skylarks, meadow pipits, yellowhammers and reed bunting plus many more species were common on this walk until the 1980s.
Not so nowadays.
Farming practices, global warming and climate change have altered dramatically over the last 50 years.
The area now has just a few sheep with many fields left unoccupied.
No seasonal crops, ploughed fields or dairy farms.
Gone are the brown hares, roe deer, hen harriers, kestrels and many more species.
Gone are the curlew, snipe, cuckoo, tawny and barn owls and sparrowhawk.
Gone are the dragonflies, butterflies, bees, trout and sticklebacks from our burns.
So, what can we do to help our native wildlife?
A decline in natural habitats mean our gardens are more important than ever for our wildlife.
To attract birds, your garden needs to be attractive to them all year round.
A bird-friendly garden not only offers food, but also water, shelter, nesting sites and protection from predators.
Bird tables are suitable for many species and most foods.
A simple tray is perfectly adequate, with or without a roof.
A large number of birds eat seeds and will be attracted to your garden by a peanut or seed feeder.
Although winter feeding benefits birds most, food shortages can occur any time of year.
By feeding all year round, you give them a better chance to survive food shortages whenever they may occur.
Sunflower hearts are a great all-round option.
They contain the same high calorie content as sunflower seeds, but don’t have husks, so no mess.
If you can provide a range of foods, you’re likely to attract a wider selection of birds.
For the greatest variety leave out a seed mix, a fat-based product such as fat balls, and a protein-rich source such as mealworms.
Goldfinches, chaffinches, siskins, robin, blue, great and long-tailed tits, dunnocks and wren are just a few of the birds visiting our garden.
Above all else enjoy, and watch what your garden will bring to your wellbeing and happiness – a gift from nature.
And nature needs your help – now!
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