Going Wild on the Allotments - by Joe McSorley April 2012
Growing fruit and veg for our larder is the primary reason most of us have allotments and the cycle of preparing our soil, planting seeds, nourishing them through their growth stages until harvesting them gives immense pleasure whether you’re 8 or 80.
There are other benefits to having a little patch in the middle of the city and one of those is the chance to encounter some of the wildlife that shares our outdoor space.
We all appreciate our local Robin popping in to feast on the larvae and grubs that our digging exposes or the Slow worms unearthed on our compost heaps with their metallic copper hues. Perhaps most intriguing of all are the foxes that emerge at twilight reminding us that it’s time to go home after an afternoon's labour and leave the site to its night time residents.
These individual experiences brighten up our days on the allotment and there are many more besides but in an effort to add a bit of science into the mix Bristol City Council and Avon Wildlife Trust undertook a survey of allotment sites across Bristol and the results provide some startling insights into our wild neighbours.
Birds are perhaps the most obvious visitor to our site and the survey shows 36 different species recorded across Bristol allotments. Some of these will be individual sightings (for example I don’t expect a pheasant to appear on our site soon) but we have had visits from a good 25 or more of the recorded species including sightings of Peregrines hunting over the allotments, Green Woodpeckers nesting nearby, and winter influxes of Fieldfares and Redwings.
Mammals we’re not short of at HDAA either with Foxes being the most obvious given their size and often gregarious habits but there’s plenty of other mammals around as well including Badgers, mice, voles, shrews, squirrels, Hedgehogs and Rats. Fortunately we’re free of lettuce eating Rabbits and Roe Deer who’ve been recorded at other allotment sites. Also worth keeping an eye out for are the Pipistrelle Bats that help keep the insect populations down around our allotments – they’re particularly active along Donkey Lane on summer evenings.
Frogs, Toads and Newts are common across the allotment sites but most obvious in the Spring months when they visit our ponds to reproduce. The rest of the year they’ll often be found on our plots hoovering up bugs, grubs and slugs.
With the exception of the cabbage white it’s always a pleasure to see a bit of colour on our plots from the butterflies that visit in search of nectar. Holly blues in spring give way to Common Blues in summer and Peacocks, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells, Brimstones and Speckled Wood are all regular visitors to our plots. Along with the bees they provide a key service when they pollinate our plants for us.
Overall we have a good range of wildlife at HDAA which matches well against the survey with at least 80% of the recorded species visiting our site. Partly this is down to the mature trees and hedgerows that form our boundaries provide and ideal refuge for lots of species but our ponds, nettle patches, compost bins and wildflower borders to our plots also help to make our allotment space a great wildlife habitat and in turn provides us with the chance encounters that can make a days digging that little bit more special.