Pond Arrivals

Never has the old adage “Build it and they will come” been more true of anything than of building a pond. Our new pond went in at the beginning of February – seems a world away now, given everything that has gone on in the world since then. The human world may be in chaos and despair, but for everything else life goes on and a new pond is a beacon attracting wildlife from all around. Every week if not every day something new finds its way to our pond. We’ve not been able to finish all the landscaping or get all the plants I would like to have got due to various restrictions, but it seems the wildlife doesn’t mind at all.

Quite a wide variety of insects have already found their way to the pond. A few tiny beetles whizzing around were the first we spotted, followed shortly by a lone water boatman. We suspect there are now more water boatmen, but since we only every see one at a time we can’t be sure. Both of the above have so far proved too fast to photograph.

Of course small flies and mosquitos were soon flitting over the surface of the water laying eggs, which soon hatched in large numbers into wriggling larvae. These will hopefully provide plenty of food for larger animals further up the food chain, so are a very welcome addition to the pond.

Within a couple of weeks our first pond skater arrived, followed by several of its friends! These insects are great to watch scooting across the surface of the pond in search of food. They regularly battle each other, that or they get very frisky, we’re not sure which. Apparently they use the middle legs for propulsion, the back legs to steer and the front ones for grabbing their prey.

Next insect to appear was this diving beetle which flew in and plopped into the pond while we were sitting watching. These diving beetles come to the surface and collect a bubble of air to breathe, so he or she pops up to the surface quite often.

Since then we have spotted numerous medium sized beetles whizzing around the pond, all adding to the food chain.

The biggest excitement though was the arrival of our first damselfly – a Large Red Damselfly to be precise. Hopefully this will be the first of many damselfly and dragonfly species to use the pond and I can do a full post on them soon. In the meantime here is our first one.

Other insects have been using the pond in other ways; a Holly Blue caught drinking from the pond, an Orange Tip butterfly nectaring off the cuckooflower and this snazzily striped hoverfly buzzing all over the place. The hoverflies have clearly been making whoopee as we’ve already started finding their larvae – the delightfully named rat-tailed maggots in the pond. Wriggling and semi-transparent these are very difficult to photograph, the best I could do was this short video.

Spiders have also moved in amongst the stones at the side of the pond, nipping in and out to catch unsuspecting insects.

The birds have of course continued to make good use of the pond (drinking, bathing, catching insects), to the point I feel they are annoyed with me for hogging it by sitting there for so long. My favourites so far are this pair of young magpies, exploring the world for the first time. They go everywhere together and particularly like the pond, squabbling one minute and then looking to each other for reassurance the next – a typical pair of siblings.

Sadly all the frog activity we saw in March came to nothing and we didn’t get any frog spawn this year. It’s not too surprising as the pond had literally only been in for a couple of weeks before their mating season. We’ve yet to see a toad around the pond either, but the newts have come up trumps. The first newt (they are Smooth Newts) arrived early April and since then there seems to have been more each day. I shall do a full newt blog soon as they’ve provided lots of photo and video opportunities, but here’s a taster.

Sometimes the things you don’t get to see in person can be the best though. Our hedgehogs have been making good use of the pond, carefully tiptoeing down the sloping beach that was put in specifically for them to access the pond. Obviously we rarely see them directly, but the night cameras pick them up regularly. This video shows 7 separate visits to the pond by at least 3 different hedgehogs over the course of one night. Shows the value of providing a drinking source for your hedgehogs, especially in hot weather.

 

I am so glad that we got to make the pond before the world went into lock-down. It has provided interest, relaxation, welcome distraction and so much more – we have spent an awful lot of time in the last 3 months gazing into the pond, grateful for having a garden we can sit in while staying home and staying safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nesting Update

Back in February, I blogged about my hopes of finally getting a blue tit nesting in the bird box with the camera. A male blue tit seemed to have taken to roosting every night in the box and I started to get my hopes up. In March things were progressing well and he had a lady friend who would pop in, albeit it briefly, to inspect his choice of nest site. Her visits were generally so fleeting at this stage that most of the time they barely registered on the video feed, so here are a couple of stills taken from the video and a very brief video clip.

 

This carried on for quite a while; the male roosting at night and occasionally his lady friend popping in during the day to inspect. Then on 17th March, bits of moss started appearing in the box. My hopes continued to rise.

For the last few years I have tried to help the birds along by putting out nesting material. I use two hanging baskets tied together to make a sphere and stuff it with moss and grass. The blue tits are always very quick to find the sphere and make good use of it. The female was soon taking the moss, sorting through my offerings to find the bits that were just right. I can see the ball of nesting material from our window and for a while everything was going swimmingly. I could watch her take a beak full of nesting material and fly off with it towards the nest box. Seconds later she would appear inside the nest box and I could view it on the camera.

 

So everything was going well and I was getting excited at the prospect of blue tit eggs, when sometime around the beginning of April they decided the nest box wasn’t really suitable after all. I have an old nest box on the apple tree near the moss ball and for a while they seemed to be trying that out, before abandoning that too. She was still coming for the moss, but was then flying off and out of our garden with it. One of our neighbours has probably got a very lovely blue tit nest in! Here’s a compilation of some of her nest collecting activities.

 

For the last 2 years I have also added some dog hair. My sister’s yorkie-poo Pip very generously donates his hair trimmings to the cause. He has lovely soft hair (that’s not been treated with any chemicals for fleas etc.), ideal for lining a nest.

Blue tits apparently make their nest with moss and straw etc. first then line it with softer stuff like hair and spiders’ webs afterwards. So initially the blue tit ignored Pip’s hair and just went for the moss. The jackdaws had no such qualms; they went straight in for the nice soft hair. Somewhere there is a very cosy jackdaw nest.

Although the blue tits weren’t nesting in our garden, she did eventually deign to take the dog hair too. Here’s a brief clip of her getting a beak full of the good stuff.

 

So it seems my hopes that Peter the blue tit and his mate were going to nest in our nest box have come to nought; I must console myself knowing that they are at least nesting somewhere and that is what is important. Once again they are using our garden as a supply stop – good for food and nesting material but apparently not residentially appealing. The same seems to be said for many of our other birds. We’ve seen robins pairing up and feeding each other in their courtships. Dunnocks have been flirting with each other and lots of birds have been helping themselves to the nesting material, but they all seem to do their actual nesting elsewhere. I think it must be because we don’t have the large trees they like.

So I had just about given up hope of finding a nest in the garden, when I became aware of a lot of rustling in the bay tree at the front of the house. Closer inspection revealed a pigeon’s nest. I would probably rather have had a robin or a blackbird, but beggars can’t be choosers and I am now very happy with our pigeon nest. Here is the proud mother pigeon watching my GoPro watching her.

So far the parents have sat steadfastly on the nest and I have been unable to see any eggs, but I assume there are some there. Hopefully once the chicks hatch I might get a glimpse of baby pigeons. Apparently there’s an internet thing where people query that you never see baby pigeons – well finally I might get to do so.

The birds may be refusing me nesting viewing opportunities, but I can always count on my hedgehogs for interest. They have all emerged from hibernation and are back romping round the garden again. Thankfully they are not as awkward as the birds and are quite happy to use the hedgehog house with the camera in it. I’ll do a full hedgehog update soon, but in the meantime here’s a short clip of Freda, last year’s rescue hog, having a bit of a yawn in the hedgehog house. Enjoy!

 

Pond Update

It’s the first day of Spring and it’s been about 6 weeks since our new pond went in. Although there is still work to be done on it, the wildlife has already started to move in. The pond still needs more plants and those that are there need to grow a bit to provide more cover. It’s a bit early in the season for many of the pond plant suppliers to have much stock. So as an emergency measure I’ve been chucking in bags of organic watercress from the supermarket! I also need to replant the area around the pond as it’s looking a bit bare at the moment. Hopefully this will all come together as spring gets going and we (finally) get a bit of sunshine. But in the meantime, here’s how the pond is looking now.

The birds were the first to really start making use of the pond. They love the shallow “beach” for drinking and bathing. The blackbirds and sparrows in particular have really taken to it, although we’ve also seen pigeons, robins, blue tits, starlings and magpies making use of it. The sparrows seem to like having a bit of a wash then jumping onto the big rock at the edge to dry off. Here’s a video of some of them enjoying their new splash pool.

The frogs soon found the pond and I got very excited that we might get some frog spawn. But despite a lot of croaking there’s no sign of any spawn yet. Maybe there isn’t enough plant cover to tempt them yet and we’ll have to wait until next year.  I’m never very good at night-time photography so the best I’ve managed is this grainy shot of a couple of them.

I have created “Toad Hall” using some old roof tiles buried into the soil that was excavated for the pond. Eventually it will be completely covered in branches and planted up. Hopefully it will appeal to some of our amphibian friends as a suitable home with en suite pond.

We may have drawn a blank with getting frog spawn in the new pond, but the old pond on the allotment has produced the goods. It may be a tiny pond, but it has been stuffed with frog spawn this spring. They are now starting to develop and a few tadpoles are even hatching. Here’s a short video from earlier this week:

Of course it wasn’t just amphibians we hoped to attract to the pond, any animals would be very welcome. So we were very pleased to get a fox checking the pond out within a few weeks of it being dug. So far we’ve only caught it circling round the pond, but hopefully soon it will view it as a suitable watering hole and take a drink.

The highlight for me so far has been this next video though. As spring slowly creeps in, hedgehogs are starting to emerge from hibernation. So I was really thrilled that this one has already incorporated the pond on his nightly meanderings. The gravel beach was put in specifically with hedgehogs in mind – easy access to the water and a means of getting out should they fall in. And this one seems to have got the message.

The final feature added to the pond is an indulgence for us rather than the wildlife. It’s the old bench from my grandfather’s pub, recently renovated by our ever-useful friend Gwyndaf. The perfect place to watch the wildlife in the pond while perhaps sipping a glass of something chilled. Roll on summer!

National Nest Box Week 2020

It’s National Nest Box Week again, a time to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their gardens if they can. You can find out more and get lots of useful tips at: https://www.nestboxweek.com/

We have several nest boxes in the garden, although they don’t seem to get used much sadly. Knowing it was National Nest Box Week coming up, I decided to plug in the camera we have in one (so far unused) blue tit box. I hadn’t checked this particular box for a while as nothing ever seemed to happen in it. So I was thrilled when I connected the camera one evening last week and got this:

A blue tit was using the box as a night time roost. We thought maybe it would just turn out to be a one-off event, but he or she has been back every night since, which is fantastic. Every night it arrives around 5pm just before it gets dark. The camera trigger is too slow to capture it actually coming in through the hole, but it catches it settling in for the night. Initially there’s always a bit of bobbing up and down and checking round the box, presumably as it decides whether it is still a safe place for the night.

The nights themselves aren’t as restful as I imagined they would be. There is an awful lot of fidgeting about and preening, but I suppose it’s a safe time and place to be doing that.

In the morning there is always a bit of stretching and bobbing up and down. It looks as if it’s trying to peer out of the hole to see if it is safe or perhaps just listening for any threats, before it hops up, has a final look around then flies off for the day.

The nights are still pretty cold for a small bird in an uninsulated box. The blue tit copes by fluffing up its feathers to create insulating air pockets. When the bird arrives in the box each night it starts of looking fairly sleek with feathers smooth against its body. As it settles down it fluffs up its downy under feathers – in the next video you can pretty well see it increasing in size as it fluffs up until it is an almost round ball of feathers. Another trick to keep warm is that it then tucks its head under a wing while it sleeps.

So of course now our Blue Tit (we’re calling him Peter after Blue Peter) is visiting regularly, we’re getting our hopes up that perhaps this will finally be the year we capture nesting action on video. We live in hope, but at least if nothing else we have provided a safe roosting space by putting up the nest box.

We’ve got a couple of new nest boxes to put up this year thanks to our lovely gardener Gwyndaf. One has a small hole in a solid front for blue tits or similar and the other is more open fronted – ideal for robins. Just need to find suitable spots to put them out of reach of the neighbours’ cats.

Further afield we are once again sponsoring a nest box through Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Rent-a-Nest scheme. We’ve been sponsoring the same nest for a couple of years now. The first year it had a family of blue tits that successfully fledged. Last year it was empty, but at least the money went to support the reserve it’s on (Knapp & Papermill Reserve) so still worth it. Fingers crossed it gets used this year though.

Although National Nest Box Week is primarily aimed at birds, I see no reason not to include other types of nest box – hedgehogs of course! If you’ve got space in your garden why not consider putting in a hedgehog house. Provide a safe dry house for them to build their nests in.

You can buy ready-made hedgehog houses (lots of online options or larger pet shops) or you can build your own. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has an excellent leaflet with designs for building your own:

Hedgehog Homes

Watching a hedgehog making use of a home you’ve put out for it has to be one of the most rewarding things to do in your garden.

New Pond!

Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel this week – we’ve got a new pond! I’ve been promising to do it for years now and finally we’ve done it! When I say “we” it is in the loosest sense of the word – as in it wasn’t me at all. Our lovely friend and Cycling Gardener, Gwyndaf came and did all the hard work while I flounced about the garden excitedly but pretty much ineffectually. Let’s hope the wildlife appreciates all Gwyndaf’s hard work.

So here is the obligatory “before” photo – a fairly sunny spot near the fence in an area that had once been a veg patch but has long since been a weed patch.

Unusually for one of my ideas, I actually tried to do a bit of research rather than just launching into the pond without a plan. All the books explain the need for plenty of shallow areas, with perhaps a small deeper section. I even drew up an actual plan, although I don’t think I’ll win any awards for my draughtsmanship.

Fortunately Gwyndaf managed to interpret my messy scrawls and set to work digging our dream pond. Here are the various stages of digging.

Once dug, the area was checked for any sharp objects, then the pond lined with sand to hopefully prevent any rogue stones poking through.

Next a layer of white underlayer to further protect against punctures, then the final EPDM rubber lining. It was a big relief when the lining was down to find we had measured up correctly and got a big enough liner.

Next essential element was of course water. All the books say to avoid tap water. We emptied the water butt which provided just enough water to fill the central deep section, but little more. I was terrified some poor animal would fall in and get trapped at this stage, so rigged up some hessian “ladders” so that anything falling in could crawl out.

Fortunately we live on the beautiful Malvern Hills – famous for their spring water, so we figured we might as well make use of our local resources. There is a handy well – The Cowleigh Spout – just up the road from us, so I made a few trips filling every available water container to fill the pond a bit further.

The UK was then battered this weekend by Storm Ciara, bad news for a lot of people, but good news when you’re trying to fill a pond. The downpours not only topped up the pond directly, but repeatedly filled the water butt again.

The pond now has the all important sloping beach one end, to allow anything that falls in to climb back out again. I’ve been particularly worried in case any of our hedgehogs took a dive, but now they should be able to get out easily. There are shallow areas for birds to bathe in and (fingers crossed) for amphibians to get loved up in.

We wanted to plant the pond up with native plants to give as natural a feel as possible and promote as much wildlife as possible. Although there are lots of online suppliers, it turns out February is not a good time to be buying pond plants as most are dormant for the winter. We did manage to source some Hornwort, which floats about oxygenating the water. A few others we’ve got as tiny plug plants – Purple Loosestrife, Flowering Rush, Marsh Marigolds and Woundwort and Brooklime. Still waiting for a few more to arrive, but hopefully we should end up with a good mix of marginals, floating and emergent plants to encourage an equally good mix of wildlife.

So here it is in all its half finished glory:

There’s still a lot of work to do finishing it off – hiding the liner edges, more planting in and around the pond, but hopefully by the summer we should have a proper wildlife pond again. In the meantime we’ve had our first wildlife visitor to the new pond. It may only be a pigeon, but it’s using the pond and it’s made me very happy!

Expect to see a lot more pondy posts!

2019 – The Year of the Moth

2019 seemed to flash by in the blink of an eye; but then it probably says something about my age that the whole twenty tens decade seems to have whizzed by too. So before my 2020 year’s wildlife adventures kick off, here’s a bit of a review of some highlights of 2019.

As usual the moth trap has been out most weeks for the Garden Moth Scheme and National Moth night and often just for the hell of it. Over 220 moth species graced our Malvern garden with their presence this year. This included over 30 new ones, bringing the total number of moth species recorded in our garden, since we started trapping, up to 368 species! Even better some of the new ones were ones I’ve been wanting to see for a while – Antler Moth, December Moth, The Playboy Bunny Moth (yes really – Ypsolopha sequella) and a Lobster Moth. But best of all, and possibly my best moth find ever – a Bedstraw Hawkmoth. And I was not alone getting excited by this moth – 4 moth watchers came over to the house just to see it. I doubt I’ll ever top this, hence 2019 being the Year of the Moth!

Continuing on the mothy theme, a couple of individuals laid eggs while I was photographing them. An Eyed Hawkmoth laid 2 eggs, one of which I managed to successfully rear to pupation. The chrysalis is now dormant and I’m hopeful that an adult moth will emerge in the spring.

The cameras have of course been out in the garden (and the allotment) throughout the year, recording mammals, birds and amphibians. As always hedgehogs stole the show (and my heart) with plenty of drama. We’ve had the highs of successful releases and hoggy courtship and  the lows of underweight and injured ones needing rescued. We’ve got a new hedgehog house with built in camera, which gave us great views until a hog packed the house so full of nesting material that it blocked the camera! We’ve also got a new illuminated feeder outside the patio doors so we can watch them come to feed from the comfort of the sofa.

 

A fox has also become a semi-regular visitor to the garden – thankfully there is enough food that it hasn’t bothered the hedgehogs. On the allotment, I was thrilled to get a badger drinking from the pond. The pond was also crammed full of frogspawn in the spring with plenty of newt and frog action throughout the year.

 

Beyond the garden, we’ve been out and about with the cameras. Back in April we finally managed to get over to the Lugg Meadows near Hereford to see the Snakes Head Fritillaries. Beautifully little flowers bobbing about on a blustery day.

We had a lovely week’s holiday down on Exmoor in the summer and between that and a trip to Wales, we’ve managed to “bag” three more butterfly species – The Marsh (shown below), Heath and High Brown Fritillaries.

A poignant event for me last year was that we had to sell my Dad’s house in Herefordshire. It was the house my sister and I grew up in and it was a sad day to see it go, but needs must. It had a large garden full of wildlife – not because Dad was a wildlife enthusiast, more because it was pretty much untouched (this is may be where the Too Lazy to Weed mentality came from). The remains of an old orchard, a stream running by and swathes of unmown grass. We left the new owners with a hedgehog house as a welcome gift and instructions to “be careful” when mowing. I shall miss this garden very much.

So every year I make some wildlife oriented New Year’s Resolutions and every year I manage to fail on most of them. 2019 was no exception. So here were last year’s targets:

  • The Red Kites at Gigrin in Wales – success with this one. We finally got round to going last January and it was spectacular.
  •  See 3 new butterfly species – success again, with Heath, High Brown and Marsh Fritillaries.
  •  Visit 5 new nature reserves – I think we succeeded although not with the local ones we’d planned. We did go to a few down in Exmoor and one in Wales and found a new walk in Malvern. But could definitely do better next year.
  •  Video some rock pools using the GoPro camera – failed on this one but not for want of trying. We visited the North Devon seaside, but picked a stretch with no decent rockpools. Did get some nice footage of fish in the River Barle though.
  • Garden pond – still not done it although we have started clearing a space for it. When I say “we” I actually mean our eco-friendly Cycling Gardener – Gwyndaf.
  • Moth tattoo – epic fail again, although the Bedstraw Hawkmoth is looking like a likely contender if I ever do get round to it.

So now to 2020s possibly unrealistic resolutions:

  • The pond – absolutely determined to put a new pond in the garden this year!
  • Create a Moon Garden. We do pretty well for moths as it is, but I’ve decided to create a Moon Garden with even more moth-attracting night scented flowers.
  • See 2 more species of British Butterfly. We’ve now seen 50 of the 58 species, but the last ones will be getting harder, so only aiming for 2 this year.
  • Visit 5 new nature reserves.
  • Rockpooling.
  • Go and see some wild Ospreys.
  • The moth tattoo!

 

 

Fungal Foray

For the last week or two we’ve been seeing some fabulous fungi photos on social media, from around and about Worcestershire. We’ve never really gone out specifically in search of fungi, but spurred on by mushroom envy, we set out for Monkwood. Monkwood has been a favourite place for butterfly watching in the past, but we’d never been out of season, so it was interesting to see it at a different time of year. The wood itself of course looked totally different, the trees resplendent in their autumnal colours.

We’d barely stepped out of the car before we realised there were mushrooms and toadstools everywhere (apparently there is no scientific difference between the two of these, people just tend to call the poisonous ones toadstools and the edible ones mushrooms). There were fungi growing out of the ground, from dead wood and from living trees. Single specimens and bigger colonies were everywhere.

As complete novices we took photos of everything with a view to identifying them when we got home. Thankfully there are some very helpful people on https://www.ispotnature.org/ who identified all but the blindingly obvious ones which we managed ourselves. Unfortunately we hadn’t realised that to identify a lot of the fungi, you really need to take photos of the stem and the gills underneath, not just go for pretty photos of the cap. So a lot of the fungi we photographed couldn’t be fully identified. We’ll know better next time. Despite this we (well mainly the kind people on iSpot) managed to identify 13 species. Not bad for a first attempt.

We saw several types of bracket fungus – fungi that form shelf-like ledges usually growing out of wood. We only managed to get 2 identified to species. The first is this Turkeytail, which fans out from branches or logs, with concentric rings of different colours.

Next is the brilliantly named Hairy Curtain Crust. This grows in more varied wavy shapes, with the upperside distinctly hairy.

Some of the fungi grew up in short spikes rather than forming the more typical cap. This one growing out of dead wood is called Candlesnuff Fungus, but also know as Stag’s Horn.

This next one is called Crested Coral and looks just like a piece of marine coral that has somehow found its way into the middle of a woodland.

We spotted 3 types of jelly like fungus, in varying colours. The Purple Jellydisc is pretty much self explanatory.

The Crystal Brain Fungus doesn’t look particularly brain-like, but I do like the name – maybe because it reminds me of the Indiana Jones title!

This Yellow Brain Fungus is also known as Witches’ Butter and was indeed a beautifully buttery colour. This specimen was too small to really look like a brain but apparently when they are bigger they get more brain-like wrinkles.

On to the more “traditional” looking mushrooms. This one is called the False Death Cap – apparently unpleasant tasting but not totally poisonous like the real Death Cap. We have no intentions of trying any of the mushrooms though – not worth the risk when our identification skills are still in their infancy!

Next up the Common Puffball or Devil’s Snuffbox. It’s a small round mushroom, which as it ripens develops a hole in the top through which the spores puff out. The latin name is Lycoperdon, which comes from Lycos for wolf and perdon for breaking wind – hence another name – Wolf Fart Puffball.

The next one is a Trooping Funnel. They start of with flat caps which gradually turn funnel shaped. They can occur in large groups or Troops and can form fairy rings.

We did come across one very large Fairy Ring (or Elf Circle or Pixie Ring) of mushrooms (not sure what species) in the wood. It must have been at least 5 metres in diameter, the mushrooms growing around the perimeter. It was too big to get in a single photo, the best I could manage was this section of them growing in a line.

Next up a pretty little cluster of Sulphur Tuft. These are apparently a common sight on decaying wood, often forming large tightly packed clumps.

While many of the fungi seem to have devilish names, this next one has gone the other way – the Angel’s Bonnet, is a dainty little thing growing on dead wood.

The final fungus is the one that most intrigued us from the social media photos we’d seen – the Green Elf Cup. We’d seen photos taken in Monkwood the week before of really stunning bright green elf cups, which is why we’d chosen this wood for our first fungal foray. Sadly we couldn’t find the same cluster, but we did spot this small group of them. Not quite as vivid a green (in fact looking more blue here) as we’d seen online, but lovely to find all the same.

Hopefully this will be the first fungal adventure of many and we’ll get better at photographing and identifying them. I’ve loved finding out all their names. Fungi names often seem to have mystical connotations – elves, fairies, devils  and death seem to feature strongly. Fungi are present in a lot of old folklore, being associated with both positive and negative spirits.

Although we spent the morning hunting for mushrooms, this Speckled Bush Cricket had climbed an old stump and was crying out to be photographed. I was surprised to see such a fine specimen so late in the year, a reminder of the summer gone.

One Year or a Thousand

This isn’t one of my usual posts with pretty photos of moths or hedgehogs. Instead I’ve got photos of bits of plastic decomposing, or not, in our garden. This may not be the most aesthetic post, but it does touch on something we should all be concerned about. We subscribe to a few groups who send us magazines and I am also partial to the occasional wildlife or the odd foodie magazine. Many of these publications arrive in single use plastic covers. With everything in the press and on our minds of late over the use of these plastics, I was particularly pleased, when a year ago, our magazine from the Butterfly Conservation charity arrived with the following note:

Our magazine was wrapped in a bag made from biodegradable or compostable potato starch. Why can’t all magazines come like this?

So maybe I need to get out more, but I thought it would be really interesting to see just how long it would take for this starch bag to decompose. I decided to put the potato starch bag outside and document its hopeful decay. Old lab habits die hard though and I felt the need for a “control” subject, so fished a real plastic magazine bag out of the bin and placed it next to the starch bag for comparison. So here we have on the left a traditional plastic bag and on the right the compostable starch bag from Butterfly Conservation.

I laid them side by side on the patio, weighted down with stones. Of course the starch bag should really have gone in the compost bin to degrade quicker, but then I wouldn’t have been able to monitor it. This way I could compare how the starch bag changed while the plastic magazine bag remained the same.

Initially I was a bit over-optimistic and planned to photograph the bags every week, expecting rapid change. Clearly these things take longer, especially when just sitting on a concrete patio! So after 3 weeks there wasn’t much change, apart from various bits of crud having landed on the bags.

By May this year though there were the first signs of decomposition of the starch bag in the top right corner.

By September, the starch bag was really starting to break down, whereas the plastic bag on the left looked pretty much the same.

By November, a year since I put the 2 bags out, the starch bag has almost completely disintegrated. The plastic bag on the left looks pretty much the same as it did when I laid them down originally. Cleaned up the plastic bag on the left would still be very much recognisable, the starch bag on the right is barely there.

They say a regular plastic bag takes anywhere between 10 and 1000 years to decompose (depending presumably on which “they” did the research). The thought that a plastic bag that was used solely to cover a magazine that we read once, then discarded, could still be here any time up to 1000 years from now, is fairly horrifying. If Butterfly Conservation can distribute their magazines in biodegradable starch bags, surely there can be no excuse for any other magazine not to be doing the same?