The wildlife of an allotment site

by frankbeswick

While allotments are for cultivating plants, they are home to a variety of wild creatures.

As the cities of the world expand and humanity becomes increasingly urban, wild life has had to make the change to an urban lifestyle. There are places within the city that constitute a wild life oasis, and one type of urban oasis is an allotment site, ideally one with some nooks and crannies which can be exploited by wild creatures. The wild creatures of an allotment site are generally capable of co-existence with humans, though a few eat vegetables and are not close friends of gardeners.

Image courtesy of oldiefan

Mammals

The feathers have been lying there for a few days, as we have had little wind to disperse them, and the gardeners have displayed a Stoic acceptance of what  has happened. They belonged to a wood pigeon, one of those that roost in the avenue of trees outside the site, and they are mute testimony to successful predation by one of the allotment's permanent residents, a fox. We know where her earth is, one of its entrances being under a shed, where humans cannot disturb the ground. But she predates from a favoured place, a lush flowerbed next to my plot where she can lie in wait for an unsuspecting bird, and this is what seems to have happened with the wood pigeon. I have seen her sunning herself on a tarpaulin, ignoring the  crowd of clumsy humans watching,for she knows that she can evade us all. The fox keeps the grey squirrels, normally vegetable-eating pests, down to a minimum, and I see but few of them.  

Yet other creatures live alongside the fox. I was delighted to see an adult field mouse last year,with its long ears and and tail,  and even more pleased to see its tiny offspring, which had crawled into my greenhouse searching for food. When it saw me it remained motionless, its only defence against one that it did  not know would not hurt it and who was glad to see it and share the experience with some mentally handicapped people who were working on the site. 

It saddens me that wildlife lives in fear of humans. Once I opened an empty compost bin and found a family of bank voles [known as water rats] nesting in the bottom. We had had a wet winter and they had sought dry refuge  up above the soggy Black Moss where  they normally live. I put the lid back quickly, but to no avail, they were disturbed and fled. I have never seen them again. Sad,  for I wanted them to have a home. I have also encountered rats. I once had some rats, and then they vanished.Having told a colleague he informed me that a family of weasels had moved onto the site. When weasels arrive, rats depart in sheer terror. Simple! 

I am sad to say that I have seen very few hedgehogs. I was pleased that the borough council, who renovated the fence, allowed a little indentation under the metal mesh to allow hedgehogs to pass beneath. Unfortunately, the increasing rarity of these  creatures has led to my seeing but few, and at least one had been a victim of the fox. I buried the remains  in one of my vegetable beds to allow the earth to recycle its resources. 

At night pipistrelle bats emerge from their roosts in old buildings and revel in their nocturnal flittings as they take the insects that fly by night around the site. Shadowy figures flit by you in the gloom of the unlit site whose only illumination is moon and starlight and the glow  from street lights on Bradfield Road that runs by the site. 

In some parts of the country muntjac, dog-sized barking deer introduced from abroad and escaped into the wild, might get onto allotment sites if there is weak fencing, but the nearest sightings are twenty miles from where I live and I have never seen one. 

Fox

Fox
Fox
Creative commons

Other Vertebrates.

It is some time since I have seen the wren,and I can blame the town council for this, for sightings stopped when they renewed the fence and tidied the hedge where she nested. I miss her sudden dartings across my line of sight, a tiny creature, but a great source of enjoyment. But the robin compensates to some extent, for she is always present. This is a half truth, for over the years there must have been a succession of robins that follow my digging, snatching the opportunity to gobble unearthed  grubs, but keeping their distance. She never lets a human close. But the bird is definitely  a female, for she does not have the bright breast of her male counterpart, but an orangy-red one. In all my years there I have never seen  the male. I don't know why. Nor have I ever discovered where she nests, but robins are territorial birds so it will not be far from where she hunts. 

A variety of birds visit. In Britain the wood pigeons are ubiquitous and greedy for cabbages, so we need netting. We don't relish their predations, but their cuck-ercoo sounds form an accompaniment to our horticultural activities.  There are the ever present crows and rooks, intelligent corvids that have learned to live with humanity. We are short these days of starlings and sparrows, both of which were common in my younger years. Sparrows nest in old masonry, but there is not a great deal of it around at the moment, as houses are expertly refurbished and holes in masonry blocked up. 

Owls do not nest here, but they visit occasionally on their nocturnal journeys.My best sighting was of a barn owl, a pale shadow gliding through the early evening, silently ghosting down onto her prey. One and once only I heard the call of a long-eared owl, but saw nothing. We do not enjoy the presence of other raptors, as there is no livestock on site. 

I have a small pond, which every year is lush with frog spawn. In Spring it seethes with tadpoles, and sometimes you see small frogs, occasionally leaping from the pond. The frogs forage during the day on the compost heap,where they feast on slugs. Last year when I took my grand-daughter to the plot we managed to spot a frog grown large on vermin. She loves animals and was quite impressed with the experience as she was seeing in  the flesh what she had only previously seen in pictures. 

One point to make is that I have never seen a reptile on the allotment. Those reptiles that are native to Britain are, with the exception of the adder, confined to the south; and adders do not seem to have taken to town life. 

Insects and Others.

I have not been shutting my greenhouse door recently,the weather is so warm that I do not need to, but the real  reason is that an enterprising spider spins her webs across the top of the doorway. I have had fragments of her silk in my hair several times.  I think that it is a garden spider, which is very common. Recently I was privileged to spot some new-born garden spiders, this time not in the greenhouse, but swarming on a web attached to a raised bed. The neonate arachnids were golden in the sunlight, and it was a delightful  experience for me and some fellow gardeners whom I called over to see the creatures. They have spread far and wide now. 

Finding nests is not always fun, as a year or  ago I disturbed a wasps' nest and was stung four times for my endeavours. Precautionary medical advice was needed, but not all nests are dangerous. One year when weeding I found that ants were crawling over my hand. Puzzled, I noticed that it seemed to happen when I was working near to the wooden side of a bed. Lifting it up [it was not fixed, but merely a mobile divider, I uncovered a network of chambers and tunnels swarming with ants. I replaced the wood and let them be, for there is space on this earth for both them and me. But nests must be yearly replaced, and this year it is empty. 

Bees are regular visitors. We now have honey bees,courtesy of a Syrian refugee who has introduced hives to his plot. The bees feast on the purple flowers of my Welsh onions, perennial onions related to chives, which are nectar rich.  I leave the flowers for them intentionally, and they respond gratefully. As do the red mason bees and the various bumble bees.  Red mason bees are superb pollinators and they do not sting. Solitary bees, they build cells in soil and venture forth for pollen. So as great pollinator they are welcome guests on my plot.Once I found that bumble bees were nesting under a pile of old pallets,and in response and part-payment for their pollinating services I left the pile in situ, but next year they did not return. I know not why.  

We do not get a rich variety of butterflies,mainly cabbage whites.But to welcome butterflies I have a patch of nettles at the far edge of my plot. They serve partly to deter unwanted visitors from climbing the fence, but the nettles are a great butterfly food.

There are visiting insects. Shortly after I filled my pond I had a visit from a water boatman, an insect whose broad pads on its feet allow it to walk on water, taking advantage of he surface tension to support its weight. It must have blown in  from somewhere, I know not whence it came and whither it went, for I saw it but once. 

But some insects are  regulars, such as the ladybirds, beasts popular for their beauty, but fierce predators of aphids, the greenflies that damage fruit plants. As a keeper of fruit trees ladybirds are great favourites of mine. 

You would need to be an entomologist to account for all the insects and other mini-beasts that either dwell on allotment sites or visit on occasion, and I am no expert entomologist, so a brief account of the most common ones will  suffice. We need to enjoy experiences in their totality, so while I value producing food, the experience of cultivation allows me to encounter nature and relish it, not only in the visual experience, but the auditory side, the songs of birds and the sighing of the wind. 

Updated: 06/08/2018, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick on 06/26/2018

British ants are harmless, though some people are annoyed by their presence. I am not annoyed, as I don't regard the world as being there just for me. Our ants do not destroy wooden structures or sting. Strangely, though, on the South Coast, Britain had a colony of termites, which destroyed a wooden holiday shack. The South Coast is the place for intruders/visitors from warmer climes, but they find it hard to spread north from there. We get occasional birds from warmer countries there.

dustytoes on 06/26/2018

I don't know much about ants, but we have fire ants here, and believe me, you would be very happy for those to go away permanently! Are yours nice ants that don't sting or destroy wood structures?

frankbeswick on 06/26/2018

Something has puzzled me. The ants deserted their nest spot for two years, but on checking yesterday I discovered that they have returned. I cannot explain the pattern of their behaviour.

frankbeswick on 06/15/2018

I spotted an insect that I have never seen before, a black and yellow longhorn beetle, which I observed in the area near the pond, which I keep wild. I am wondering whether Storm Desmond, which struck day or so ago [and did one of my plots some damage] has blown this beetle in.

frankbeswick on 06/14/2018

There is a sign that says public footpath. They are marked on maps. There are also permissive paths, which are open due to the goodwill of a landowner. A bridleway is a path on which horses maybe ridden. There are also, mainly in the south, green lanes. These are ancient roads with an earth surface, which are not an active part of the public road network and which are mainly for walking and riding, though many are overgrown. Some disused railway lines have been turned into foot paths and cycleways. These have been very successful.

I have to say, though, that the paths vary in their quality and state of maintenance. One problem is motor cyclists using paths which are only suitable for walkers and churning them up.All of these paths are designated rights of way, which is a legal term.

dustytoes on 06/14/2018

That is interesting. I certainly would love to walk some of the footpaths I've seen mentioned.

frankbeswick on 06/14/2018

In the United Kingdom we have a network of public footpaths that go through private property such as farm land, which count as roads, and anyone is free to walk on them, but that does not stop some landowners from obstructing them.The local authorities are responsible for keeping them open,but some local authorities are in league with the local landowners,so they don't do much to help. There is a footpath society that comes along and unblocks paths. In recent years the rules have been changed to widen access to allow non-destructive passage for walkers. In Scotland there has been a long tradition of public access to land.

Farmers can be prosecuted for allowing a dangerous bull to be free on land with a public footpath. Deliberately obstructing a footpath is a crime, though not many are prosecuted for it.

My account of the rules is a simplification of a complex set of laws.

dustytoes on 06/14/2018

Ha ha... yes the things we are capable of at 18! So you are allowed to walk through land that belongs to someone where cows are grazing?

frankbeswick on 06/14/2018

The only really dangerous animals of which we must be wary are wild boar, which were kept behind steel fences in farms until some lunatic animal rights activists freed them. Others escaped after a serious storm. So far no human has been harmed by these creatures, though some dogs have come off worse in an encounter. But there are none near where I live and they prefer to avoid humans. But they have sharp teeth and tusks and the males can reach 350 pounds in weight. One fool of a journalist spoke of getting the shotgun to deal with them when they raid gardens. Crazy. A shotgun only stings them and gets them mad. It is either a high powered rifle or a hasty escape.

It is considered risky to walk through herds of cows, as some walkers have been trampled,occasionally fatally. A farmer told me that dairy bulls are the dangerous ones, but trampling by cows is more common than bull attacks. Once when I was eighteen [nearly fifty years ago] I was charged by a cow in a walk in the Chiltern hills in southern England. I vaulted a gate mighty fast! One foot on the lower rungs, then over! But you can do that at eighteen.

dustytoes on 06/13/2018

I had no idea hedgehogs were nocturnal. Since this page is about wildlife, I'm wondering if there is anything you are wary of when you take walks / hikes? In New Hampshire bear and moose (although I never saw a moose, just the tracks) and even the deer (they can be big and would stand and stare at me!) gave me pause when hiking / walking. Also skunks - being sprayed must be one of the worst things.


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