I have always wanted to have a closer look at the wildlife on our allotment but usually when I am there there is a lot of other work to do. However, in February I have started a regular bird survey to record all birds I can see and hear on a circular walk through the site. I have done this three times now and so far have recorded 19 species and on average 90 individual birds. These are good numbers for one site and it certainly reflects the many different places for birds to find shelter and a place to breed and food of course. Particularly good habitats for birds are the thick hedges along Pendlebury Drive, where a colony of house sparrows lives (very difficult to count and the numbers are only an estimate from what I can hear!), and along the Washbrook but also the stand of old fruit trees in the middle of the site. Some birds, such as Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds, breed in sheds where they can get in or in “weedy corners”. Unfortunately, I disturbed a Robin’s nest recently when clearing grass tussocks on my plot. There are still a lot of other patches of rough grass and I hope they have started a new nest.
There is of course also a lot of food available for birds on the allotment, like worms in the soil or insects in compost heaps. They also eat the crop gardeners grow. And where weeds are left to grow, to produce flowers and set seeds, they are a good food source too! These plants are food for a range of invertebrates that in turn are then food for birds. Many of these plants can flower all year round, even in winter and are particularly important in spring when many insects come out of hibernation and not much else in flower.
During the current lockdown for my daily exercise, I have started to spend more time looking at the plants and insects. On one weedy patch of approximately 6m2, I was amazed to find 27 plant species. Most of these are annuals, which means they grow from seeds every year. Many of them try to produce as many flowers and seeds as they can before someone comes with a hoe or spade. This is plenty of food for birds and insects. As long as this patch will not be disturbed, I will go back and see what insects feed on them. Some of these plants flower all year, even in winter and start flowering very early when nothing else does.
Birds and insects have declined dramatically in the countryside through agricultural intensification which includes the use of insecticides and herbicides and almost eradicated weeds. Allotments are obviously a place for growing food and this works best on weed free soil. But understanding the importance of weeds and that they produce food for birds , bees and butterflies, should make us look at them in a more relaxed way and allow them to grow where there is some space. Allotments have never been so important: a place where we can grown food locally, support and enjoy nature at the same time, exercise and meet friends while keeping a safe distance.
A more complete list of the plants found on the unweeded patch since February 2020
Annual Meadow-grass, Borage, Cleavers, Common Chickweed, Common Field-speedwell, Common Poppy, Cornsalad, Cut-leaved Dead-nettle, Dandelion, Groundsel, Hairy Bitter-cress, Hedge Mustard, Ivy-leaved Speedwell, Opium Poppy, Perennial Rye-grass, Purple Toadflax, Red Dead-nettle, Scentless Mayweed, Small Nettle, Sow-thistle, Spear Thistle, Sticky Mouse-ear, Sun Spurge, Wall Speedwell, Wood Avens, Wood Forget-me-not
Birds recorded on the Washbrook Allotment since February 2020
Blackbird, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Gull, House Sparrow, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Robin, Song Thrush, Starling, Woodpigeon