The Wonders Of Wildlife

Reading Pro-Vice Chancellor, Professor Mark Fellowes, tells CONNECTED how people can use lockdown to discover the wonders of wildlife in their own back garden. 

Being stuck at home during lockdown could be a golden opportunity to reset your connection with nature. Now is the opportunity to go into your back garden or visit your local park – respecting social distancing measures, of course – and enjoy the beauty of nature. They are a tremendous resource for biodiversity, and they’re perfect places to observe and reflect.

Spring into nature

Professor Fellowes, Professor of Ecology in Reading’s School of Biological Sciences, advises that you start with birds.

“Globally, around a fifth of all bird species are found in urban areas, and they are the entry drug to a world of natural history wonder. Take time to just sit, watch and learn.”

Almost half of UK households feed birds at some point and spend millions of pounds doing this each year. And it’s just not blue tits and robins that we’ve fed. In Reading, Professor Fellowes has found that around one in 20 households have enticed red kites into gardens with offerings of meat, bringing a bird of prey that was once almost extinct into the heart of British domestic life.

Citizen scientists can also use their time during lockdown to collect data often central to biodiversity research. Indoor bird watchers have helped reveal the inner lives of garden birds, and there are ample opportunities for budding urban naturalists to do the same for butterflies, hedgehogs, toads and frogs during this lockdown.

Early spring is a good time to start your research. Chiffchaffs, among the first spring migrants to the UK, have arrived from southern Europe, and the peak migration period is about to begin. Even the earliest butterflies have emerged, including the sulphur yellow brimstone which is perhaps the easiest species to spot as it patrols gardens. On top of this, queen bumblebees are busying themselves with nest building, and the sunrise chorus is building as the blackbird, great tit and robin songs can be better heard with less morning traffic.

Look after your garden

If you can get out, why not also tend your garden so that it benefits wildlife? Not only does gardening have mental health benefits for adults, but it also helps to reconnect younger people with nature, increasing their knowledge and leaving them happier in the long run. Professor Fellowes says:

“Keep going – some of the greatest insights into animal behaviour have come from watching garden birds. There is much to learn from the species we tend to overlook.”

Now is the time to return back to nature and make the most of the natural, green and open space available to explore wildlife and all its beauty.

Study after study promotes the physical and emotional benefits of engaging with the natural world.

“At the very least, gaze out the window. Embrace the moment to connect with a different pace of life. Breathe. During this lockdown, you are prescribed a dose of garden nature, taken daily, as needed.”

Top tips

Professor Fellowes shares his top tips for connecting with wildlife during lockdown:

  • If you have bird feeders, observe and record the number of bird species (there are online guides that can help) on the different feeders. Try to track when they feed and for how long. If you don’t have bird feeders then simply watch what’s flying overhead.
  • When darkness falls, try night-watching for hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, deer, bats and owls. The first three can easily be enticed down the garden path with a little cat or dog food. Daytime grey squirrels may be non-natives but they are still entertaining and easy to spot.
  • More exciting still, if you have access to remote cameras then you can bring close encounters with nature indoors, or you can watch live footage of wildlife from the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. You can even install a nest box cam to watch small birds like blue tits.
  • Get hold of some easy-to-grow flower seeds. With these, children can see springtime nature firsthand. If you can’t obtain seeds then carefully transplant soil with young seedlings from the garden to a flowerpot. Even a few handfuls of garden soil, if kept moist in a pot or maybe a jam jar, will soon produce seedlings, fungi and mini beasts – just the stuff to keep young minds active.

Find out more about Professor Fellowes’ research.

This article was first published in The Conversation on 7 April 2020.