Appreciating nature around you – through cuckoo spit

Earlier this month, I took part in a local ‘bioblitz’. A bioblitz is an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Anyone could take part. All I had to do was download an app, take pictures of everything I saw and that stayed still long enough for me to point my phone at it, take a guess at what it was (though the app really helps you out) and upload it. Your identification then gets verified by someone else, and your data gets to be part of a bigger scientific dataset. Citizen science!

For those two days in June, I walked around desperately slowly or sitting in random places with my eyes peeled in desperation of finding anything that moved. At times, I became slightly obsessed, if not cross-eyed, but I found an awesome array of living things that I never realised I shared the same space with.

Earlier in lockdown, I wrote a blog about how it was making us appreciate the value of things that were local. The bioblitz had the same effect. It made me realise the biological value of everything around me – from the tiny green shield bug to the huge sycamores in the nearby woods. Ignore those who say we don’t have any interesting wildlife in our country, compared to the moose roaming around Canada, the bears of Russia or the elephants of India. We have shimmering blue dragonflies that dart around delicately defying gravity with their dances. We have spittlebugs that lay their offspring in a spit-like foam on grass stems to keep them safe until they are ready to emerge and face the world.

It totally re-kindled my love for nature as I spent the best part of two days finding any excuse to go out for a walk, take pictures of plants and find out their names and histories. My eldest child, who came with me, was pretty impressed to learn that every living thing we saw had an identity and a name. We learned how spittlebug foam was called ‘Cuckoo spit’ because it appears in late spring when the cuckoos start to call. We learned that the plant we like to call ‘sticky willy’ and a friend of ours calls ‘goosegrass’ can also be called ‘catchweed bedstraw’. We looked up what other plants had funny names and found this great list, by Kew. We talked about how other languages had different descriptions for things. My Dutch mum, for example, translates wisteria as ‘purple rain’ – a pretty good description of what it looks like. Same for ‘golden rain’ – a laburnum.

Last year, we gave over a 1m wide strip of our small garden to wild flowers. The soil quality was rubbish – perfect for wild flowers that thrive best on poor soils. We threw in some wild seed mix (a colleague of mine advised us to use local, native seeds, as it supports native wildlife) and waited.

Here is what is looks like today. It’s a bit straggly, but if you stand next to it, it buzzes with life:

I’m not sure if any one else has noticed, there seem to be a lot more wild flowers in public places in recent years. I’ve often wondered whether this is intentional (is it part of Fife Council’s biodiversity ambition?), or coincidental (has grass cutting fallen victim to budget cuts?), but the fact that I am seeing this amazing colour buzzing with life is truly welcome. Here is a strip on local playing field:

From cursory research, it appears to be intentional, with some help from Plantlife’s Road Verge campaign (thanks!), so council deserves a pat on the back. Mind you, not everyone is happy about it, as you can see from the ‘significant levels of complaint’ the council received recently.

Yes, I can hear some of you say that what do the little things matter when acres of rainforest are being destroyed every second? Absolutely, but my view is that a global appreciation for nature starts with a local one. If we can’t appreciate what’s on our doorstep, where can we start?

What are your experiences? Have you tried, or would you try growing your own wild flowers in a patch of your garden? Does your council cut its grass in a way that’s sympathetic to nature? As ever, feel free to comment below.

What YOU can do

  • Consider dedicating a corner of your garden to wild flowers, scrape the top soil off it and plant some native wildflower seeds
  • Download an app to help you identify and name the nature around you
  • Support Plantlife’s Road Verge campaign to get councils to protect wild flower areas on road verges

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