Life for wild creatures in our countryside has never been more difficult and the evidence is there for all to see – just look at the windscreen on your car after driving 50 miles. Do you remember 25 or even 50 years ago. The screen would require cleaning afterwards from all the smears caused by insects as they collided with your car. Mostly bees and flies but often butterflies and even occasionally a small bird.

There is no need now, the insects have mostly gone. Investigations continue but poisonous chemicals released into our environment are mostly to blame, along with intensive agriculture that kills off most of the life in soils which then causes further collapses in the food chain above. Habitats continue to disappear so that larger creatures such as birds and mammals cannot find a secure and peaceful place to breed. The only wildlife that flourishes are those that tolerate or even thrive around humans. Think grey squirrels and wood pigeons, magpies and collared doves.

There are two incidents that need to be mentioned in this context: one was the unhelpful cutting down of several dead alder trees for firewood. These trees were the preferred place for great spotted woodpeckers to feed and make their nests, after which the holes are often used by bats as overnight roosting spots and we need to mention the increasingly rare species of beetles that bore through dead wood as the larvae feed and mature.

The other was the discovery of a dead buzzard at the foot of the electricity sub-station at the end of the track to the river. Although grisly and perhaps upsetting to many, most young buzzards will actually not survive their first year. This one had learnt to its cost that landing on live wires can be lethal. So many hazards exist for wildlife today. Road casualties are easily seen and identified – a female polecat was found dead near Bransford bridge recently by myself, dead corpses of badgers are seen daily and young foxes are killed frequently when they love out of their home range. The losses suffered by hedgehog populations on our roads is legendary and one of the main reasons that they are now endangered.

So what can be done as the human population continues to expand and inhabit more and more of the habitat that was enjoyed by wildlife? The answer has been clear for years now. Where wildlife is protected in reserves, it can flourish and good examples can be seen in the 70 Worcester Wildlife Trust reserves – some are just a few hundred metres of land but vital to save the wild species that are disappearing from the countryside. Also concerned people can create wildlife reserves in their gardens by not cultivating a corner, making tunnels so the hedgehogs and other smaller animals can move between gardens and installing small wildlife ponds (without fish) where amphibians such as frogs and newts can breed.

Wild creatures need places to overwinter like log piles and compost heaps, not the tidy low maintenance gardens beloved by modern families. Because of the critical shortage of insect food in the spring many chicks die and so feeding programmes become vital. But above all, what wildlife needs is HABITAT (somewhere to live) and we need to oppose the tendency to use every bit of land and preserve old hedgerows and dead and dying trees because they are all places where our wildlife lives, feeds and reproduces.

Enough about death and destruction! The great news is that in many places around the Fold wildlife is thriving. Our new reptile refuges have revealed a healthy population of slow worms and grass snakes, whilst hedgehogs and bats are thriving on the Care Farm where NO CHEMICALS are used. The reduction in mowing has shown that butterfly and grasshopper populations bounce back very rapidly if left undisturbed and wild orchids have had an excellent year, along with glow worms and other insects.

A search goes on for ways to extend and improve conservation around the Fold, whilst preserving the access for visitors for which the Fold was partly established. The nature trail becomes ever more popular – how can we keep the wildlife in the face of increasing pressure especially from dogs and their owners? Where can funding be found for nest boxes and bat roosts? One new pond has been proposed but several more are needed around the area that are fish free so that amphibians can breed successfully.

Keith Falconer
6 August 2018