S3E30 This week Steve is in Surrey at RHS Garden Wisley with Principal Entomologist Dr Andrew Salisbury. Andrew sits down with Steve in the brand new wildlife garden outside their new laboratory building to tell us about the work the RHS do and how we can improve our gardens for wildlife including bats.
This week we also have a piece of nature writing by James Gilbert. James creates 'thumbnail' pieces and tweets them out and he's created a longer piece especially for BatChat called "Made with Echoes".
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Hi, and welcome to BatChat. This is the podcast where we bring you the stories from the world of bat conservation. We're continuing series three with a couple of guests this week. I'm Steve Roe, a trustee of the Bat Conservation Trust. I've been involved in bat conservation for over two decades. And in that time, I've come to learn that there are some really great projects and stories out there. If you're a regular listener of the show, it's great to have you back with us. And if this is your first time in joining us welcome along. Episodes in this series are being released every second Wednesday from now through to the spring, and you can join the conversation online using the hashtag BatChat. that's all one word. As we meet each of our guests, you'll hear from people working to make a difference in the world of bat conservation. People who care about individual species, people who concentrate on one particular part of bat ecology, and people who are working with bats at a landscape scale. As well as keeping up with the latest news and hearing from people in the world of bats. We hope that you'll be inspired to get involved because bats need our help. Now to start us off this week we've got something a little bit different. During the first set of lockdowns, I came across a Twitter account belonging to James Gilbert. James was tweeting thumbnail bits of nature writing he's created. So I sent him a message asking if he'd write us something for BatChat. He was understandably a bit cautious as a longer piece might dilute his style, but he's made a lovely piece for us. It's narrated by Morgan Brind, who recently co hosted the BCT batty awards for talented achievement. This is 'Made with Echoes'.Morgan Brind:
At the toe of a sweeping hillslope, beneath sheep trails and terracettes, alder trees stand gracefully beside gliding waters Their conical crowns wane of fine summer detail, as the dark grows. A song thrush madly sings; clear, bright notes ring out, as the crescent moon creeps low across the parish skyline. Alas, this beautiful sound is short-lived. Soon in the absence of his voice, a pipistrelle bat breaks into view against the flame-blue sky—as if the thrush’s last note was her call to motion. Fast-beating wings carry her back and forth along the ribbon of alders, neatly tied to the riverine contours. She flitters beside the landward fringes that overreach into vacant pasture, just beyond the river’s murmur. Shallow swoops, sudden turns; wing tips at times close to clipping branches. Yet she is flying a calculated path, precision-made with echoes, through the stilled lee of the trees, where gnats and midges gather in dizzying numbers. Vague figure-of-eights are drawn in piercing these dipteran clouds, floating in the warm, riparian air. Moments pass and she changes course, rising up, veering away behind a break in the canopy layer. There, she is merely glimpsed through leaf-edged interstices; a flickering shape, reminiscent of flipbook animation. Then seconds later, gone. As darkness advances, the hillslope weakens in definition against the sky. A medieval church lies at the valley-hill divide, overlooking the river’s floodplain. The clean, dark outline of its prominent tower and saddleback roof, sharply contrasts with the gently curving ground. A driveway, formal and flanked by shapely lime trees, leads to the church’s porch entrance. Presently lamp-lit, a miscellany of moths flutter in the light spill. A bird-like shadow races across the loose stone. Eyes are at once drawn upwards and meet with a fast-flying bat, propelled on long, pointed wings. The most fleeting impression, yet enough to discern a noctule bat, making a laser-straight pass across the white glow, before shrinking into the almost black, as the church bells chime nine.Unknown:
That was made with echoes by James Gilbert. A huge thanks to James for creating that beautiful piece which conjures up some really strong imagery, and describes the fleeting glimpses and the action of bats. Well, something that can be hard to capture in words. You can find lots more of James's work on his Twitter account, there's a link in the show notes. If you've got a piece of writing or poetry that you'd like to share with us, drop us an email to the address in the show notes and you never know it might be featured on a future episode. Now, back in August, I was invited to RHS Wisley as part of their Hilltop Live series, along with Shirley Thompson, who features in our first ever episode of BatChat and Bat Conservation Trust staff. We gave a talk to members of the public who were visiting that day in the new Hilltop building, which is the RHS home of gardening science. Whilst we were there for the day, I managed to speak to our next guest who is Dr. Andrew Salisbury, the principal entomologist for the RHS. And I had no idea that the RHS eve had entomologists. As you'll hear in this interview, we're sat outside the Hilltop building in the wildlife garden. So I asked Andrew to introduce himself and tell us why the RHS have experts like himself.Andrew Salisbury:
Okay, I'm Andy Salisbury, principal entomologist is the title I have these days. I'm part of what's known as the plant our team for the RHS. And we're here to provide exactly advice and research on garden insects and other animal life really. So it's not actually just entomology. There are honoree insects that come in there as well things the wood lice, and the millipedes and centipedes, and spiders are all part of our work as well. Occasionally, we talk about deer, mammals bats, even on the odd occasion. And we're providing advice on more and more about encouraging wildlife and the biodiversity that gardens support. But we are there also to provide advice and things that people don't really want to their gardens to so we do talk about slugs and lily beetles, and things like that as well.Unknown:
And like I said, I've never been here before. And it's a really large site, I was warned by your colleague Helen when I came that you'll never walk around at all in a day. How long has the site been here? The RHS took on the site in 1904. So the RHS has had RHS Wisley for over 100 years. But it was a garden before then it was actually that's when it was donated to the society. Okay, and we're now sat, where we're sat next to what is called the Hilltop building, which is literally brand new. And there are members of the public walking around in what is your quite literally brand new wildlife garden? How come it's brand new and why is it any just been created? Well, the RHS has always had a science base, we did have what is known as Liberty building, which was built throughout the the First World War and that has served its purpose. The RHS has a big science remit is it is part of the RHS's purpose. And we needed new facilities, you know, 100 year old lab building. It served his purpose and our research over the past 10/20 years really has picked up. We need a new building. So hilltop was built it houses the RHS collections, the herbarium, the entomology collections, the insect collection, it has brand new labs where we can carry out research into not just those things that affect garden plants in a bad way, but also the benefits of gardens for biodiversity, wellbeing, and even sort of climate change mitigation, that sort of thing. So there's lots of research going on there. And to surround it, of course, to surround any new building or HS we have to have got so we're setting the wildlife garden at the moment one of the new gardens but there is also a well being garden and a world food garden as well.Steve Roe:
And the wildlife garden here is like say it's just been created and there's all sorts of different plants and even though some of the stuffs only gone in the last couple of months, there's loads of stuff in flower here. How much time have you spent planning this particular garden? How much how much time and planning has gone into creating this?Unknown:
Oh, there were there were many years. I mean, it's the garden is designed by a well known garden designer Ann Marie Powell. And she took inspiration from art she has his own research where we a few years ago we did a big research protocol plants for bugs, where we were looking at whether it's really native plants that are best for wildlife and gardens. And it was filled design with sort of native plants, northern hemisphere plants which are closely related to native garden plants and purely exotic southern hemisphere plants. And we found that while yes, natives were slightly better but you In the native Northern Hemisphere, plants also really good for for invertebrates and other wildlife, as were, the exotic plants also have their value as well. So it's just flowering later or providing winter cover. So gardens sort of built on that knowledge. And so it's not purely native plants are a few non native plants in here to about Israel. But yeah, I mean, many years wanted planning in this building, We're sat next to a shed with a green roof on it. And there's a line of pine trees behind us. For listeners at home just sort of describe the sort of different habitats we've got around here then.Andrew Salisbury:
Well, they're all sort of the the traditional garden border and garden hedgerows, they're also important, there is a lot of water of very different types from a small garden pond to a very large pond. Water being we know is incredibly hot and one of the best ways to quickly introducing new habitat to garden. Literally within days of filling the ponds or hours actually, we had water boatman and pond skaters coming in. And on a sunny day, this summer, we've only had about three or four species of dragonfly and damselfly come in. I've already seen larva in the ponds. And the ponds were only filled this time last year. So it's less than a year we've already got larvae in.Steve Roe:
And I mean, there's a couple of really nice sculptures and I can see there's a sort of an insect house where there's loads of bits of dead wood and pine cones in this little wildlife pond next to us. We've got a log pile. So I guess you've sort of had some influence in terms of bringing the insects in.Unknown:
We have I mean, it was the you know, the planting itself is just one thing. But yes, the log piles, the habitat tower, as it's known. There's also bird hide where people can watch. And there's lots of information we have areas of long grass and areas of shorter grass. They recently just found one of the areas of long grass. So yeah, lots of different habitats here and long piles of compost heaps. We're also monitoring the moths on site, we have a Rothamsted insect, light trap on site. And there's somewhere where people can, there's a bird hide as well.Steve Roe:
And for people at home who are listening, if they want to create space in their garden, to encourage wildlife, what would you say that the one or two things that you would do if you wanted to encourage wildlife to your garden?Unknown:
The first thing I have to say is it's not actually about individual space gardens are great for wildlife. They are already absolutely fantastic for wildlife. And the best piece of advice there is, I always give is put more plants in, let's say more plants. But when you get into specifics, flowering plants, we have lists of generalists on various website but they aren't yes has its plans for pollinators list. Our own research said the more flowers you get surprisingly, the more pollinators you get. The more plants you have, the more invertebrates you have. Gets longer season. So plants are flowering throughout the year there are winter winter pollinators out there. If you've got space trying to water be it from a water bath rock they through to a large pond, they all provide value. Log piles if you can get them in. But yes, I say overall, get some plants in more plants, the better. And I mean one of them apart from doing this podcast, I'd say one of the reasons we're here is I'm here with the Bat Conservation Trust and we're doing a talk for members of the public. We've put out a bat detector we've posted on a static recording back detector, which we've put up in the bird hides. And we've gone through those recordings. And I've only spent 10 minutes going through and we've already picked up five bat species. How many different species of insects have you got here at Wisley? It's very difficult. So we have actually got records going back of the insects on site, going back to 1889. So that's you know, that's that's good. 15 years for the RHS took on the garden we've had some old records, but I mean it is it is going to be in the 1000s of species. The Garden as a whole, you just need to look at some of the research that's gone out there you can go back to Jennifer Owens book on where she studied her less the garden for 30 years. And she recorded two or 3000 species of invertebrates and the small, less the garden we've got over 200 acres here wizzley So it's huge the number of species we're going to have the moth trap, the rotted insect trap that we have recorded over 600 species of larger moths since it's been on site in the early 70s. We have things like behind us and wildlife garden there are some standing dead pines and in one of those pines is the only known site in Britain for a long horned beetle. The house long Beetle so it's not known to be breeding it anywhere else in Britain may occur under the trees in the locality but that is the only known tree here in the wildlife garden. And do you think that's because this is the only site or is it just because it's one of those Genus or groups of fauna out there that are so understudied? I think it's a bit of a mixture. I think the the beetle I'm talking about, it's quite a large beetle, it is quite noticeable. It has been recorded in the area for a long time. But nobody's really found its breeding site. So the only one we know it is continually breeding is that tree. But I know there are other good candidate trees in the area on the local Commons as well. But wisly also has some amazing creatures. This is something called the word cricket, which is a rare insect in Britain. It's basically you know, from the New Forest, some woodlands and forests on the Isle of Wight. And here, it was leaked, and the surrounding commons, how it got here, we don't really know there are rumours about it coming in with nursery stock at some point nearly 100 years ago, but it just goes to show that gardens can support some interesting and wild creatures. And you mentioned some of the extensive research that you guys have done here. How does that research compare to other institutions like Kew for example. What is it that you guys do that's different to them, for example?Andrew Salisbury:
Well, the RHS is very much focused on ornamental plants and gardening. So it's very much focused on the gardening public and how green spaces is private green spaces, or managed green spaces, in parks, etc, can actually benefit us in the many ways that they do so not just for the biodiversity, but also safer for wellbeing. For climate change, mitigation, pollution, control these, these are benefits that our gardens have. And we are focused on the gardener.Steve Roe:
And have you seen a change in trend over the years of the general public? Do you find that there is resistance to encourage wildlife? Or is that something that you've seen change and people actually now far more likely to encourage? So is it still a bit of a Marmite thing? Westside people either love it or they hate it?Andrew Salisbury:
I mean, it was me. But there are still people out there who who go in, if it moves in their garden, if it's down when they go, and they don't want it to stay. And we do, we do get a bit of that. But to be honest, I'm really pleased. So we, we have we are seeing a change out there. I think we shouldn't change that. It's difficult. actually quantify it. But I really do get the feeling people begin to realise their gardens are great for biodiversity. They are great green spaces. The things that come and nibble their plants are part of that. We are seeing more more and more of that I'm sure we are at the RHS, we're encouraging that almost say we're encouraging and just we have research projects going on to slug showing that they're not all bad. slugs or snails do damage plants. And then some of them do do eat plants. A lot of them just don't they actually feed on decomposing organic matter. So even at that level, we're trying to convince people now that accepting a bit of damage to their plants is part of the biodiversity that gardens can support.Steve Roe:
And if listeners at home are thinking, Oh, this sounds great. I want to come and visit RHS Wisley when would you say is the best time of year to come? Or is there always something to say?Unknown:
I think almost contractually, there is always something to say Oh, I simply just say to their harshest I mean even or even on a terrible rainy day these days. Wisley looks great. I've you know, I come here I could come to wisly at least three times a week. Every day is different every time it's lovely. Absolutely chucking it down with rain and a cold November day and the site still looks great. Obviously it's more pleasant to walk around and all of these lovely sunny day but any time of year is good there are there are sculptures there's there's winter greenery, and things in flower and winter. And to escape the showers these days there is over displays inside the hilltop as well which is another advantage of this new building there are actually displays and things you've come inside and see as well. I was going to say going inside certainly the ground floor where where we're gonna be doing the tour later there's there's a green wall, there's loads of displays, jars full of all the different types of seeds. What sort of talks and events do you put on in that in that space? There's all sorts of events. There is something called hilltop life that we're running now. And there are talks every day, twice a day. And there are a range of subjects everything from how to print an apple tree, right the way through to I've given talks on the best things to do for I've given a talk called Invisible gardens havens for wildlife just extolling the virtues of how good gardens are for wildlife. And then we're getting guest speakers in as well. So this week as part of the bat fest, we do have you guys from the Bat Conservation coming into to give a talk on bats. So I'm really looking forward to that. And so, there there are constant round events every day for people to see and listen to as well. Great stuff Dr Andrew Salisbury Thank you very much. A big thanks to Andrew for coming on the show and to all the staff involved in the Hilltop Live series. We had a brilliant time down there. That's almost it for this week. I hope you've enjoyed it. If you take a look at the show notes, you'll find all sorts of links By guest's social media pages, all sorts of gardening advice from the RHS and our own advice on how to garden for bats. As you'll hopefully now know, we're running BatChat's first ever competition during this series. children's authors Emma Reynolds and Angela Mills have kindly donated copies of their books about bats. Angela has donated a copy of Bobby the Brown long-eared bat signed by both Angela and Chris Packham, and Emma has donated a copy of her newly released book Amara and the bats. To enter the competition to win one of these brilliant books. All you have to do is write us a review about this podcast Batchat and the two winners will be picked at random at the end of this series. Not all podcast apps allow me to leave reviews, so you can find instructions in the show notes of this episode. And please note that we're only able to post the prizes to addresses in the United Kingdom. Thank you if you're one of those who has left us a review. We really do enjoy reading the commentary levers. The series continues in two weeks time so hit that follow button so that you don't miss it. Thanks for listening