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Wildlife in Kingston

Tuesday 30 November 2010

The last job I had in Natural England was advising the public on how to make gardens more wildlife friendly.
We produced a range of material in various media on all sorts of habitats of value to wildlife in a garden, from ponds to hedges. Sadly, the axe fell on this work even before I retired in 2008 (the organisation is now being positively savaged, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, given that the Government has just committed itself to new targets under the International Convention on Biodiversity) and we didn’t get round to the subject of lawns.
Many people in the village will have seen green woodpeckers on their garden lawns but few, I imagine, will have seen as many as the five that one fortunate resident saw on St Pancras Green one morning last month. This area is, of course, identical to a garden lawn in every important respect except its size and in this instance (as elsewhere in life?) size does indeed matter. Only a large grassy area is likely to bring in the gulls and mistle thrushes that are also often in evidence here although other birds are not so fussy, blackbirds, song thrushes, starlings and pied wagtails being among the main species that may be satisfied with just a small patch of grass. What attracts all these species (and hedgehogs, foxes and badgers too) is of course earthworms, perhaps the most important species in the history of the world, according to no less an authority than Darwin. Crows, rooks and jackdaws, too, feed in grass, probing for grubs like leatherjackets. So, however dull and uninspiring they may look, lawns are very important for wildlife.
At 3 Bramleys, there have been no green woodpeckers at all this month, although we have had some interesting birds fly over the house including buzzard, a surprising cormorant and an even more surprising lapwing (on 9 November). This wasn’t quite the first lapwing since I saw a group from the garden about 12 years ago but it’s the first since then.
A little further afield, a rare shore lark made an appearance at Cuckmere Haven, obliging many a grateful birder and amazing some casual visitors by its approachability. First to see it were fellow Kingston birders Lionel and Sylvia Ward. Its presence was very soon posted on the Sussex Ornithological Society web site but I went to Cuckmere in complete ignorance and found it by chance, although the presence there of about 30 people with telescopes was a bit of a clue that something was up! Shore larks breed in the Arctic
and in mountainous areas in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In summer, they have elongated feathers on the head, giving them their alternative name of “horned lark”. Between 1960 and 1996 (when the most recent Birds of Sussex was published) only 55 individuals had been recorded in Sussex, all of them in winter.
Have you seen anything of note? Let me know, please.

- Steve Berry