Some Dos (and Do Nots) to Protect Nature (and Yourself), by Julien Waite
What is Biodiversity?
What most of us think of as “a wasp” is one of two species. The classic “bee”, the honeybee, from which we obtain honey, is just one species. In actual fact, in the UK alone, there are 270+ species of bee including 27 species of bumblebee, and over 9,000 species of wasp. Plus, the males and females of the same species may look quite different. Bumblebees, dragonflies and many birds are good examples of this.
Roughly speaking, biodiversity is the variety among living organisms from all sources (e.g. land, marine and freshwater), plus the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. An ecosystem consists of the living (biotic) plants and animals, and the non-living (abiotic) components such as soil, water, air, light, temperature and the climate.
Why is Biodiversity Important?
Every species on the planet has a value and a right to exist, whether or not it is useful for humans. That said, the importance of biodiversity from a human standpoint is…
- economical – raw materials for consumption and production (e.g. crops, livestock, fishing, timber)
- ecological – life support supplying oxygen, clean air and water; plant pollination; pest control
- recreational – e.g. birdwatching, hiking, camping, fishing, tourism
- cultural – many plants and animals have enduring symbolic significance, appearing on national emblems or in folklore legends (e.g. kangaroo for Australia, giant panda for China, lion for England!, unicorn for Scotland!!!)
- scientific – a wealth of ecological date that helps us understand the natural world and its origins
In the National Curriculum for Science, although biodiversity isn’t mentioned in name until Year 10 (when 14-15 year-olds start their GCSEs), the groundwork for this topic originates in Reception (4-5 years) via minibeasts, plants and animals, then continues in Year 1 (5-6 years) via identifying and naming common species and Year 2 (6-7 years) when habitats and food chains are covered.
So, in addition to the mental and physical health benefits of connecting with wildlife, by engaging your child in nature at an early age you’re giving them a great head start in their schooling.
Keeping it Local
What can we do on a local level to look after the biodiversity on the Barbican Estate?
I’m not going to talk about the evils of pesticides, weedkiller or fertilisers here, but how all of us (adults and children) can help protect and maintain the range of habitats (e.g. grassland, woodland, buildings, lakes) and microhabitats (e.g. bushes, trees, ponds, under logs, window-boxes) throughout the Barbican Estate simply by how we interact with them.
When teaching schools at London Wildlife Trust nature reserves, before going outside we always have a quick chat about how to stay safe and respect the wildlife. I’ve incorporated those rules below, along with some other suggestions.
- Walk, don’t run so you don’t hurt the wildlife or yourself.
- Animals will be more scared of you than you are of them so no need to squeal or scream.
- Be quiet! That way you’re less likely to scare away the animals and can listen to the birds. It’s even possible to identify the species from their songs. Like most of us, animals prefer peace and quiet and will move to live elsewhere if continually disturbed by noise or invasions of their homes.
- The Barbican Estate is blessed with a large variety of wild bird species, in no small part due to the no pets policy. (Dogs chase and cats kill.) Improve your mental health by visiting the gardens and watch the moorhens, crows, magpies, robins, blackbirds and more go about their daily business.
- To take your bird-spotting to the next level, check out the bird-hide in the Barbican Wildlife Garden and write down the birds you spot on the whiteboard.
- It’s fine to feed small amounts of bread to ducks, but if you can feed them sweetcorn, porridge oats, peas or bird seed instead that’s a lot better as, like us, ducks need a varied diet to stay healthy.
- If you have the luxury of observing minibeasts in private rather than with 29 other schoolchildren, there’s no need to collect them in pots. Lift a log and then watch them in their natural habitat, remembering to put the log back after you’ve finished. (Don’t roll the logs around the meadow!)
- Be gentle! Minibeasts can easily be squashed or crushed if not handled carefully.
- The Barbican Wildlife Garden is not a playground but the home to wildlife that you are visiting. Unlike a zoo, the animals are not in cages so they can leave if they are unduly disturbed and we then won’t be able to enjoy them anymore.
- Keep out of the bushes (where blackbirds and other animals live) and avoid stepping on sprouting bulbs.
- Stay on the paths when in the Barbican Wildlife Garden.
No Pick No Lick
- Do not pick the flowers. As soon as you do the flower dies, it takes food away from bees and other pollinators and prevents other people enjoying them. It may be ‘just one flower” but if everyone thought that way there soon wouldn’t be any flowers left.
- Leave frogspawn and tadpoles in the pond. It may look like there’s plenty to spare but of the 2,000+ eggs laid by one female frog, as few as 10 eggs become adults.
- Some minibeasts do have venomous bites (e.g. spiders, centipedes) or stings (e.g. bees, wasps) but unless you’re allergic they are harmless and will leave you alone if undisturbed. (The two times that I was stung by wasps when little was because I was bothering them!)
- Don’t eat anything or put fingers in your mouth before washing your hands as lots of plants are poisonous and some are deadly.
- Different species of mushroom can look very similar and should always be treated as poisonous. The only safe place to pick mushrooms is in a supermarket!
- Do not forage for blackberries, apples or other fruits in the Barbican Wildlife Garden as that’s food you’re taking away from the wildlife. And the garden isn’t an allotment either so no more potatoes please!
- Washing hands was important well before Covid came along, as both soil and pond-water can contain diseases and some plants are poisonous, but hand sanitiser doesn’t just kill bacteria and viruses, so minibeasts should not be handled after using it.
Not Gotta Catch ‘Em All!
- Record what you’ve seen and take photos so you can refer to them at a later date.
- iNaturalist is a useful app to help identify what you see, but it’s not always correct and you can’t trust everyone who provides an ID.
nAn unidentified record is better than a misidentified record.
- It’s not Pokemon! You don’t need to catch ‘em all. Being able to correctly identify a few species is more useful than incorrectly identifying lots of species.
If we can all abide by the above guidelines to the best of our ability it will help protect, maintain and even improve the biodiversity of our neighbourhood.
Enjoying nature’s gifts from the perspective of some of our younger residents
The Barbican Wildlife Garden is a real haven for the City’s biodiversity. It has a number of habitats, including ponds, complete with frogs; and a meadow, which in summer, has some spectacular wildflowers, attracting all sorts of bees and butterflies. There are a number of rarities too, including the Lesser Stag Beetle, which can be found among the piles of dead wood brought in from Epping Forest, and surprisingly, visitors can often see birds of prey, such as Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons swooping over the garden! The bird hide provides an excellent spot to watch the many species of birds found in the Barbican’s gardens, including House Sparrows, which have severely declined in the City.
All of this amazing wildlife is on your doorstep, and now is a great opportunity to start recording it. Recording species contributes towards vital conservation work, and helps us to understand the distribution of different species in a certain area. There are a few easy ways to record wildlife: you can download the British Trust for Ornithology’s BirdTrack app, and submit your sightings of birds when you are out in the Barbican’s gardens. You could also submit sightings of wildlife on Greenspace Information for Greater London’s website, and if you need help identifying a certain plant or animal, download the iNaturalist app and submit a photo of the species you would like to identify. There is so much wildlife to enjoy around the Barbican, so start recording your sightings! Kabir Kaul
|How old are you?||13||12||9|
|How often do you go into the gardens?||2-4 times a week||2-4 times a week||Every day|
|What do you like best about the gardens?||The variety of animal species that we see there.||I like the meadow and the different terrains found in the garden. I also like the variety of wildlife in the gardens.||IT’S GREEN AND THERE IS LOTS OF ANIMALS AND I LOVE PLANTS AND ANIMALS, THEY MAKE ME FEEL HAPPY AND CALM.|
|At least 40 different types of birds have been seen in the gardens. Can you think of any you have seen?||feral pigeon, wood pigeon, goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, robin, house sparrow, blackbird, dunnock, sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon, carrion herring gull, black headed gull, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, kestrel, thrush, parakeet and Woodcock||blue tit, great tit, coal tit, greenfinch, goldfinch, house sparrow, thrush, blackbird, dunnock, carrion crow, magpie, peregrine falcon, robin, mallard, heron, black headed gull, herring gull, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, wren, kestrel, woodcock, parakeet, sparrowhawk and chaffinch||BLACK BIRD, ROBIN, PIGEON, BLUETIT, MAGPIE, KESTREL, PEREGRINE FALCON|
|What is your favourite bird?||coal tit||Coal tit||BLUE TIT AND PEREGRINE FALCON|
|At least seven different types of butterfly have been seen in the gardens. Can you think of any you have seen?||red admiral, small white, green-veined white, meadow brown, large white||Red admiral, meadow brown, small white, cabbage white, green-veined white||I HAVE SEEN 3 BUTTERFLIES BLUE, WHITE AND BROWN|
|What is your favourite butterfly?||meadow brown||Red admiral||BLUE|
|At least seven different types of damsel fly have been seen in the gardens. Do you know what these are and where you would see any?
Have you seen any?
|Yes, I have seen red, green and blue damsel flies in the gardens.||Damsel flies are aerial insects that are found in freshwater habitats. I don’t know the names but I have seen ones that are green, turquoise and red in the wildlife garden.||YES, THEY ARE CUTE, I HAVE SEEN A RED ONE AND A BLUE ONE|
|Have you seen any foxes or squirrels in the gardens?||I have seen grey squirrels a lot in the gardens and foxes a few times.||Yes. I have seen many squirrels lurking in the trees and I have seen some foxes and fox Cubs in the wildlife garden.||YES! I HAVE SEEN THE FOX 12 TIMES! I LOVE THE FOX! I KNOW WHERE IT LIVES, I CLIMB THE TREE AND WAIT FOR IT TO COME OUT.|
|Have you seen any bugs or worms in the gardens?||Yes, I have seen bees, wasps, spiders, beetles, flies, dragonflies both and worms in the gardens.||I have seen beetles, bees, spiders, dragonflies, worms, damsel flies and dragonflies.||YES, WORMS ARE VERY IMPORTANT. BEES ARE VERY IMPORTANT TOO, PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE SCARED OF BEES AND SHOULD NOT KILL THEM.|
|If you had a wish to have a new animal or bird in the gardens, which one would you wish for?||tree sparrows||Flamingo||HEDGEHOGS|
The Snail in the Toilet
By Matteo Hegarty
One day I went to bathroom and saw a cute snail in the toilet.
I was very surprised!
How did the snail get in the toilet?
I wished the snail could talk and tell but he just looked at me with his big eyes.
I called my mum.
She said, “I’ve put the snail in the toilet because it was eating the plants!”.
“Mum, we need to rescue the snail”, I said.
Mum said, “Let’s take it to the wildlife garden” It was slimy.
I was not so scared and I picked the snail up and put it in a glass.
The snail started to climb the sides of the glass.
“No, stay inside!”, I said to the snail.
But the snail did not listen to me and almost escaped.
“Quick!”, I said, “We need to take it to the wildlife garden”.
Mum and I put jackets on and off we went.
Out in the garden it was very, very, very, very, very DARK!
I could not see where I was walking and I fell down and dropped the glass with the snail.
“Oh no!”, said mum.
I felt very sad – my snail was gone!
Suddenly I felt something wet and slimy crawling on my hand. It was the snail!
I was very happy.
I carried the snail very carefully and slowly until I arrived the pond.
The pond was still and quiet.
The frogs were sleeping.
I thought we should put the snail away from the pond so that the frogs do not eat the snail.
“Let’s hide it in the nettles”, I said.
“That is a good idea”, said mum.
And so we did.
“Bye, bye little snail”, I said, “and live happily ever after”.