Have you seen one of these yet?

Painted Lady Butterfly
Painted Lady Butterfly

Earlier this year there was an invasion of Painted Lady (vanessa cardui) butterflies in the UK which had migrated up from the Mediterranean.  The eggs laid by these migrants have hatched, the caterpillars have pupated and now, we are told to expect billions of these butterflies in the coming month prior to them migrating back to sunnier and warmer climes to start the life cycle over again.  For more information about these visitors please visit the Butterfly Conservation website and record your sightings.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that for something the size of a butterfly, which looks incredibly delicate, to fly down to the south of Spain is pretty incredible.  I don’t want to do that and I could get on a ‘plane.  When you add in the fact that these often appear in quite large numbers, are attracted to gardens, particularly those with buddleia or verbena bonariensis (i.e. mine) then I think they are pretty special.  They are also fantastic to look at and photograph, staying pretty still for quite a while (unlike those pesky large whites which rarely settle and lay their caterpillar-bearing eggs all over my brassicas).

Let’s just hope the sun comes out again.

Gardening for Wildlife (and photography)

We have a small front and back garden which have completely different conditions and uses. Whilst the back is an extension to the house, the front is in full public view.  With this in mind the back was designed by James to be tranquil and shady, with quite a few trees, and, although there are some flowers, this is not the focus.  The back also has a pond, and is designed with both wildlife and us in mind.  The front is another story!

The front garden is south facing and is blasted by the sun for much of the day.  It is also not at all sheltered and can have the wind whipping across it.  It has been designated as a place for flowers, and, hopefully insects.  I am therefore packing in as many flowers, colours and as much  movement in as possible.  The hope is that I will be able to take photos of both the flowers and the insects that they attract, but also have something vivid that will eventually work through all the seasons.

I started the garden a year ago, and have a few plants that have really worked well.  One of these is verbena bonariensis.  I have tried growing this for a few years from seed, but never got any to germinate.  I was therefore over the moon when my mother-in-law gave me three small plants that had seeded in her garden.  Last year they attracted the white butterflies, as well as the occasional tortoiseshell.  This year?  Well, it is a good year for Painted Ladies, and the good news is that they have found my garden.  Saturday was the first sunny day in a while and we had three Painted Ladies in the garden, all on the Verbena.

As I was hoping it would attract insects I planted it next to the path, this makes photography easier.  I took a few photos yesterday, but the wind made it a little difficult at times, but the Summer is hopefully young and I will get some good shots at some point.  Here is one of my better shots – have you seen one of these this year?

Painted Lady on Verbena
Painted Lady on Verbena

Have you seen any strange, green lights recently?

I saw a tweet at the weekend stating that it was high season for glow worms.  So, I hear you ask, what about them?  Exactly, I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about glow worms, so I decided to do a bit of research.

There are two species of glow worms in the UK, but one is very rare and restricted to only a couple of sites.  The common glow worm, Lampyris Noctiluca, (in common with other glow worms) is a member of the beetle family, and is dark coloured with three pairs of legs at the head end of the body.  The green bioluminescent light is emitted by the flightless lady glow worm as a way of attracting any male glow worms flying by and wearing their light-sensitive goggles.  (Male and larvae are only faintly luminescent.)  As is so often the case in the insect world, the female is larger than the male coming in at between 15 and 25 mm.

(As they say on the TV, now for the science bit, for those of you interested, the glow is caused by the oxidation of luciferin.)

Once the green light has worked its magic the female glow worm turns off her light, lays her eggs and dies.  The larvae look like the female, but have small light coloured spots.  They feed on small slugs and snails, hanging about under rocks and bark for a couple of years before the adult emerges which then has a lifespan of only 14 days (this is cut tragically short by the adults’ inability to eat).

Glow worms are mainly found in the south of England, and favour chalky or limestone areas.  (I am therefore not surprised that I haven’t seen any in Daventry because a) this is the land of claggy clay and b) I have never looked for one and, until researching this article, did not know what one looked like.)  Disused railway lines are apparently cool places for them to hang out, although they are often seen in gardens, June and July being the optimum months.

There is quite a lot of information out there for those of you interested in learning more about glow worms, the most useful that I found being:




So, have you ever seen a glow worm?

Slugfest! A Veg Garden Update.

Just a quick update about the garden. First the bad news: Pak Choi , all eaten, brassicas, almost all gone, coriander and parsley – just about holding on – all the victim of slugs and snails.

French Bean Flower
French Bean Flower

On the positive side, the chillis are still growing well, and the blackberry has been prolific, providing lots of great opportunities to improve my bee photography skills, the first of the berries have just started to blush.
The French beans and courgettes have managed to survive various slug attacks and the beans are starting to flower.

Rainbow Chard
Rainbow Chard

I have popped a few chard plants in the back garden which I have grown from seed as the ones I sowed directly do not seem to have grown. We will see if they survive a rainy night and a visit from Mr Slug and his army of friends. This is in contrast to the front garden where three of the chard seeds that I planted have grown well and survived the ravages of wind, rain and the aforementioned slugs. I decided to grow rainbow chard after seeing them growing every winter at Ryton Organic Gardens, unfortunately, I have never tasted it, never cooked it and am not sure what I am going to do with it. Still, I have popped a few more seeds in and am hoping it will brighten the front garden in the gloomy winter months.

Conducting an Internal Energy Audit.

I decided that following on from the surveys conducted by external agencies, I should start doing regular audits / walkrounds of the site. The aim is to find ways of saving energy and money as well as checking the general housekeeping of the site. I had downloaded some guides from the Carbon Trust website, but, as with so many things in life, never got round to reading them. I had a browse through them today, but found nothing profound and so came up with the following plan:

1. Divide the warehouse into 5 main areas; main office, warehouses, plant control rooms, other occupied areas (such as tea room, other offices, maintenance workshop) and the outside. ( I will freely admit, I left the outside for another week as it was raining.)

2. Look at lighting, heating or cooling, appliances and good or bad practices.

3. Create a sheet for each area with sections for comments and observations of things for further investigation. I will see how these work out and change them if I feel the need.

OK, nothing earth shattering there, but the Carbon Trust didn’t have any better ideas. I am going to try to do a walk round at different times (today was lunchtime) including weekends, and obviously, at different times of the year.

So, the survey. I have been round the site quite a few times in the last 10 years, so was not sure I would find many unexpected things. Unfortunately, as expected the main issues I found were all down to employees’ inability to switch anything off!

Every light within a 10 mile radius of the plant seemed to be on (OK, slight exaggeration, I had turned my office light off) – in fact I only found a couple of areas where the lights weren’t a-blazin’. How many people were working in the plant rooms – zero. In fact, in one of the areas someone from the maintenance team suggested motion detectors to control the lights because they were incapable of turning them off!

In terms of heating and cooling, I wasn’t expecting too many issues as the temperature was mild but only in the low 20s outside. So I found one large portable cooling unit left on whilst everyone was on lunch, a fan going in the plant room which no one occupies unless they are doing maintenance and, almost as worryingly, the air conditioning on in the conference room – I don’t think there had been any meetings in there for at least a week!

Appliances – no surprises here. It seems as though each indivdual had their own radio – I came across at least 7 and only two of them were near anyone who was working. Other than the radios, there were computers not in use that were left on, and torches left on charge.

So, nothing major that I could find on a quick survey, and, nothing, that couldn’t be changed, it justs needs some employee engagement, timers and power down adapters for docking stations (oh, and some motion detectors and a big stick!).

I do have a number of other things that I need to understand better such as water purifiers and compressors which are on all the time, whether we need them or not, as well as the health and safety implications of adding in motion detectors in parts of the building. My next step though is to quantify the potential savings and relate them to profits – after all, £25 a year wasted by leaving a photocopier on doesn’t sound like much does it?

Lighting – do we have too much?

As mentioned in a recent article, we have had a couple of surveys conducted on the site, and both immediately singled out lighting as an area where we can cut our expenditure / consumption.  This is an obvious place to look really as we are a large warehouse with a lot of lights. 

As a brief intro, we essentially have 5 warehouse areas built over the last 20 years or so, of different heights, lit by fluorescent tubes for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; such is our working pattern.  In addition, we have a few office areas that are, in the main, occupied only during office hours. 

Whilst I will admit there is plenty we can do to cut our lighting bill, I think those auditing the site are under the impression that it is a bigger problem than the data actually suggests. The Carbon Trust report estimated that lighting accounted for 27% of our electricity consumption, and this is what I have discovered to date.

  1. We have over 500 tubes of varying sizes on site.
  2. If a room lit by fluorescent tubes is unoccupied for more than 9 minutes it is more energy efficient to turn the light off.
  3. Getting people into the habit of turning off lights when leaving a room is difficult, but not impossible – I deem this a work in progress.
  4. Two of our warehouses which were built in the last 10 years were fitted with daylight sensors – these warehouses have higher roofs and are generally lighter.
  5. These sensors are in an unsuitable place, and in failing to control the lighting acceptably they have been covered up.
  6. There are no light switches for these warehouses; the lights are on all day, every day.
  7. Indoor lighting is responsible for approximately 11% of our consumption, with outdoor lighting on a sensor and adding about another 0.5-1%.

As stated at the beginning, there are measures we can take, but at only 11% of consumption, they will have a limited effect. I will update you with the results of these efforts at reducing our lighting bill in a later post.

Bitterns – booming good news.

When I was younger I heard various references on the television to booming bitterns (I watched quite a few nature programmes as a child). I have never seen or heard a bittern, but, as I don’t live near a reed bed, I am not surprised or too disappointed (although I have seen reports of one at Brandon Marsh, so maybe one day…).

I have always thought of them as secretive and elusive, but never as incredibly rare in the UK, which is what I discovered when reading an article in the June 2009 issue of British Wildlife. The RSPB website estimates that there are 75 breeding (booming) males, but the magazine article puts the number of nest sites as closer to 40. So, why the interest? There are two reasons.

Along with many other species of animals and birds, bitterns used to be quite common, and, yes, you’ve guessed, they used to be regulars at the dinner table. However, bittern pies and the decline in suitable habitat (reedbeds) led to their extinction, although they resettled in the 1950s and have been making a slow and steady comeback.

The second reason is linked to climate change. By far the majority of the current breeding population is in Suffolk – that LOW lying part of the country. There is a fear that the increased possibility of storm surges in this part of the country poses a major threat to the reed beds that are frequented by bitterns. (Did you know that the Thames barrier, when first built in the 1980s was operated approximately once a year, more recently it is in use 6 times each year because of increased storm surges.) The worry is that saltwater incursion from high tides and storm surges will make the reedbeds uninhabitable for many species, including the bittern.

However, there is some good news. Bittern numbers have increased since a major initiative was launched to safeguard their habitats, and, at a faster rate than was initially hoped for. The RSPB, Natural England and the Wildlfe Trust are joining forces to make new habitats for the bitterns away from the coast. It is hoped that by siting these close to current nesting areas some pairs will move over. They are also trying to make sites which have booming males but no evidence of nesting activity a little more attractive in the hope that the forlorn male will have more chance of attracting Miss Right – more fish maybe.

In addition they are allowing nature to take its course – some sea defences (shingle banks) which were naturally formed have been buggered about with by well intentioned people resulting in a change of profile. This was in the misguided hope of boosting sea defences, but it hasn’t worked, the water has still breached the defences, vegetation hasn’t colonised and the water hasn’t been able to percolate away – bit of a mess really. At last common sense has prevailed and we are learning that nature made something for a reason.

So, fingers crossed for the bittern and its associated friends that live in the reed beds, hopefully we will soon know how many and where they are and give them a chance of survival, if not a sea view.


I spent a short amount of time in the garden today trying to photograph bees.  I have found that looking through a macro lens makes one study insects much more closely and reveals a fantastic level of detail.  So much so that I can be distracted from pressing the shutter button.

Bombus lapidarius on a cornflower
Bombus lapidarius on a cornflower

I was particularly interested in a bee with an orange behind, which, I am assuming was a red tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius) and wanted to get a shot of it on a cornflower due to the contrasting colours.  I took some shots and then it flew off.  I then noticed it on some yellow flowers, time for another shot.

Bombus lapidarius on yellow flower
Bombus lapidarius on yellow flower

It was whilst I was sitting watching the bee and waiting for it to emerge from the midst of the flowers that I noticed another bee on the cornflower.  Whilst observing both of these bees, it became apparent that one preferred the orange and yellow flowers, whilst the other was only interested in the cornflowers.  Is it the case that individual bees prefer certain colours or types of flowers, or had, for example, cornflower bee already visited all of the yellow flowers and so was avoiding them?  Should I be growing as many different types and colours of flowers as I can?

Pig Business

Last night, encouraged by a myriad of twitters and tweets, I tuned in to watch Tracy Worcester’s ‘Pig Business‘, an exposé of the pig industry.

For those of you who did not see it, Pig Business was a relatively objective film highlighting the activities of Smithfield, one of the US‘s largest suppliers of meat, as it started up operations in Poland, where it has bought up a number of farms and meat processors in the post communist era.

The film concentrated on two main themes; surprisingly, animal welfare did not seem to rank as highly as the Industry’s impact on human health, or the loss of a traditional way of life for Poland’s many small farmers.

Human health issues were linked to the practice of spraying the pig excrement onto nearby fields from a series of lagoons, a method that is now banned for new facilities in the US due to the ill health suffered by nearby residents; needless to say there were similar complaints in Poland.

Predictably, the number of independent farmers was also on the decline, as they cannot compete with the sheer scale of the operations and were, in the main, not prepared to house their livestock in similar intensive conditions. An interesting point made by an American campaigner, suggested that this competitive edge would be seriously eroded if the intensive producers had to pay the full environmental cost of their operations; a point coming into sharper focus in most industries today.

On the lack of sentimentality I would like to applaud the film makers as many people are unconcerned by animal welfare standards or the resulting quality of the intensively raised food. As Tracy stated in the film, food has started to become a commodity: people are only interested in the cheapest price, and this is a point on which I can become quite agitated if drawn into a debate.

Over the last few months, and particularly during the European elections, there has been a lot of dissatisfaction with eastern European immigrants coming over here and taking our jobs.

Why do people not equate their purchasing decisions, and the constant drive towards price reductions, with the loss of jobs in the UK? This film made it plain to me that it’s these same decisions that prevent the same immigrants from making a living at home, unemployment was very high: jobs in agriculture have plummeted to realise the efficiency gains needed to provide us with cheap food.

Why can we not accept that food should have a minimum cost, buy a little less, eat a little less, keep people in jobs, and enjoy better quality food. Paying more might make us think twice about throwing things away.

Capitalism is a double edged sword, and it is easy to blame everything on evil Corporations, but the truth less comforting: they have to sell what we as consumers will buy. If we change our behaviour we would surely all be winners?