Rethinking garden biodiversity part 2
When ecologists talk about relaxing in the garden, they often mean something quite different to other people. From an ecologist’s point of view, relaxing can mean more than one thing. For example, when we think about land management, relaxing can mean slowing down or completely stopping intensive management, in order to benefit some species, or even as an experiment to see what happens next. So, if you have a garden or other outdoor space at home, reducing fertiliser application or cutting or weeding are examples of relaxing your approach to ‘traditional’ gardening.
Of course, you can combine the two approaches, as in the picture below, which shows an ecologist benefitting from not mowing his garden, which has made him feel much more relaxed – the appeal of this is very easy to appreciate.
The benefits of a hands-off approach
The benefits of relaxing the amount of management you carry out can be as enjoyable and therapeutic to see as any amount of weeding your borders. This approach, of building in a bit of relaxation, is coincidentally a really good reminder for our normal ecology work, where we have so little thinking time (even though this is probably the most important part of decision-making). Ecologists often feel that decisions often have to be made without sufficient time for weighing up all the pros and cons – perhaps gardening can help?
Leaving things to develop through natural processes can bring some really interesting changes – over the years, your garden will develop different communities each year, each with its own beneficiaries. Plant communities will have species which come and go, with other species reflecting this. For example, in our meadow area, we have seen birdsfoot trefoil and yellow rattle both dominate for a year, then appear only as a footnote to the rest of the vegetation, hanging on in corners, only to re-emerge in later years as part of an entirely new community. This is a very useful reminder of the fact that the habitats that we survey and try to conserve as part of our work are also changing, and that flux in vegetation communities is to be expected and welcomed, not treated as a negative process. The pictures below show knapweed (purple) and wild carrot (white), to other species which have changing fortunes in our garden.
A garden test-bed?
Gardens are also great places to test ideas – you can usually spend much longer watching them than you can doing surveys, and you can go keep going back to the same place over and over again to see trends over time. Bat and bird boxes can be checked regularly, and different cutting regimes can be tried on a small scale to help make better, informed and confident decisions elsewhere.
Although ecologists are very good at predicting some outcomes, you never really know the full range of impacts of any management regime – we never have all the data that we need. It is good to be reminded about this, to keep us on our toes, and to help us to keep an open mind at all times. We have seen the results of this ourselves in our garden, with the appearance of such unexpected species as snipe, grey wagtail and banded demoiselle damselflies.
As always, if you would like our advice and support for any aspect of your work, including use of vegetation surveys and management, please get in touch.
If you are involved in a development project, we can provide expert guidance about planting schemes and habitat management, as well as compliance checks and monitoring of planting schemes.
If you are an ecologist, we offer 1-1 and small group mentoring, as well as formal training, both face to face and via webinars.