Snippets from this week’s gardening news stories…
Big Butterfly Count
Butterflies’ dwindling numbers have been in the news a lot recently and we also posted a few articles on how to encourage butterflies into your garden. This week sees the start of the Big Butterfly Count, the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. All you need to do is visit the website, download a butterfly ID chart, find a sunny spot to sit in and count how many butterflies you see in 15 minutes. The survey runs from 20th July until 11th August and you can count butterflies as many times as you like and then submit your results online.
British trees threatened by deadly diseases
Ash dieback has dominated the news in recent months, but now oak trees are being affected by acute oak decline. The bark in the trunk of the tree develops cracks from which a dark, sticky fluid ‘bleeds’. Another symptom is a thin canopy (tree top), a sign that the tree may soon die. Scientists are currently researching the cause of the disease, which may be bacterial. It affects both mature species native to the British Isles, the pedunculate and the sessile oak, but it is as yet unknown whether other oak species will be affected.
Acute oak decline has already been recorded in thousands of trees throughout East Anglia, the Midlands and South East England. The Forestry Commission is asking members of the public to be on the lookout for signs of the disease and to report suspected cases, either via the tree alert form or the tree alert app.
If you’re not sure which tree is which, the Woodland Trust has a comprehensive guide, giving all the information you need to be able to identify them.
Slugs causing havoc in wildflower meadows
Field slugs are the subject of recent research into their impact on hay meadow restoration at Newcastle University. Initial findings have shown that the field slug is particularly fond of red clover among others, an important plant in wildflower meadows because of its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil for the benefit of other plants around it. This is a bit of a blow to the recent campaigns to increase wildflower meadows in the UK, including the Coronation Meadows Initiative set up by HRH The Prince of Wales.
The study found that the slugs’ favourites were red clover, yarrow, creeping red fescue, Yorkshire fog, and rough-stalked meadow grass, many of which are being grown in wildflower and hay meadows up and down the country. Slug populations increased massively after last year’s wet summer and this year’s boggy spring, with gardeners facing a daily onslaught of the slimy critters.
There are several pest control methods, both chemical and natural. Beer traps and used coffee grounds offer some protection, organic and child and pet friendly slug pellets are available and very effective. Nematodes – microscopic organisms that are watered into the garden in spring and autumn – seek out any slugs living underground and kill them within 3 days and are completely safe for use around children and animals.