Wild in the Woods, Wild in the Garden

A series of walks and talks with Alasdair Taylor, supported by The Forestry Commission Community Seedcorn Fund.
The first event in the series was an afternoon of seed-bombing at the Old Mine Nature Park, the new Forestry  Commission woodland on the site of the old municipal dump which has been reclaimed and planted with over 20,000 trees. The weather may have been somewhat dreich and drab but it was absolutely wonderful to see so many smiling faces joining members of Bothwell Community Garden, Brighter Bothwell and ranger Alasdair Taylor.
The team, expertly led by Alasdair, planted a variety of perennial wildflower plants which, in a few years, will blanket the ground around the paths but the greatest fun of all was the seed-bombing which was thoroughly enjoyed by people of all ages! A favourite tool of 'guerilla gardeners', the seed-bombs contained a mixture of native wildflower and grass seeds (it is imperative that we only sow seeds that are native to this area), which were thrown into areas more difficult to reach. The clay in the bombs will break down, and the seeds will germinate,  Nature takes over and in the coming years flowers and grasses will spread throughout the site attracting bees, butterflies and other native fauna.
Making (and then throwing!) seed-bombs is fantastic (if messy!) fun for children of all ages, as the schoolchildren from Bothwell Primary who came along to help us make 700 (yes, 700!) of them will testify. If you would like to have a go at making some yourselves,  introducing some wildflower seeds to your local area, you can find a simple to follow guide suitable for children as young as three online by searching for ‘making seed bombs’.
On Saturday June 8th members of Bothwell Community Garden and Brighter Bothwell were joined by villagers and Alasdair for the second event of the series - the walk in the beautiful environs of the Bothwell Woods and our own community garden.
We were absolutely blessed by the weather and it was wonderful to see so many new faces, both young and young at heart, coming along to find out how to create a vital slice of woodland in their own gardens.
The walk introduced us to many of the native trees, plants and animals we live alongside and Alasdair explained how 'Woodland Edge' ecosystems are hugely beneficial to a wide range of creatures throughout the year; providing animals, insects and birds with sustenance and shelter.
Some of Alasdair's tips to creating a slice of woodland in your own garden
1. Don't cut your grass too short. If you must have a pristine lawn, do try and leave at least a small area to grow long and set seed as grasses are vital to many small birds and provide cover and shelter for many beneficial insects.
2. Sow wildflowers into a patch of your garden, or even in a tub, to attract bees and butterflies. Ensure that the wildflower mix you use contains only those plants native to your area. This ensures that 'rogue species' do not start to proliferate and drown out or hybridise with local plant varieties.
3. Don't be too strict about sweeping up and removing leaf-litter and garden detritus such as old logs. What may look like a mouldy old tree trunk to you is a vibrant ecosystem of creatures and fungi. Try and keep an area in your garden that is just for nature, and let nature do its thing.
4. Try and plant shrubs or small trees such as berberis or rowan to provide vital berries to birds during the Autumn and Winter months.
5. Insect and animal shelters; as well as 'nesting balls' full of twigs, hair, feathers etc and hung from trees will attract creatures to make your garden their home. Remember - if you find a nest, even if it is somewhere inconvenient for you, you MUST NOT move it. Please also note that hedges, which are vital nesting spots for many birds, must not be cut between the months of March and August to avoid scaring the birds from their nests. It is an offence, under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to intentionally take, destroy or damage a nest  whilst it is being built or in use (please remember that some wild birds have second clutches, so seeing a first fledge may not be enough), Avoid frightening birds from their eggs or distressing nestlings and fledglings.
For further advice, please contact your local RSPB or the British Trust for Ornithology.
Autumn brought us the final two events in the series ‘Wild Chef in the Woods’  and ‘Woods for Healing’ – two fascinating and highly informative walks in Bothwell Woods with Alasdair followed by a great cooking demonstration back at the garden where Alasdair showed off his skills by rustling up jams, cordials and a delicious (and very effective) cough syrup. Both walks involved safely identifying plants and fungi suitable for foraging for culinary and medicinal purposes .The group learned a great deal about unusual forms of pain relief such as chewing willow bark, and alternative sources of vitamin C in haws and rowanberries (which we also learned make excellent wine!).
Some of Alasdair’s top tips for successful foraging

  • Take tubs or baskets if possible, rather than carrier bags. Foods such as berries can be easily crushed in carrier bags, which are also easily torn on branches and brambles.
  • Only pick things you are absolutely 100% sure of – be careful of similar looking berries on trees or branches close to recognisable species; check the leaves to ensure they are safe to forage.
  • Don’t be tempted to completely strip an area of its edible goodies as other animals and birds will rely on the same food source. With trees such as rowan and elder, it is safe to pick from the lower branches as berries will be left out of reach for the birds to enjoy.
  • Do not forage for mushrooms unless you are extremely knowledgeable and confident of your skills of identification. Even with the use of books, many safe mushrooms are easily confused with poisonous fungi, many of which can lead to  hallucinations, renal and hepatic failure and even death.
  • Avoid foraging next to busy roads or areas high in pollution.
  • When foraging in hedgerows, always remember the “Dog’s Bottom Rule”!  Always pick from areas where dogs would not go, or make sure you pick higher than dog’s bottom height!
  • Always thoroughly wash foraged foods before preparation.
  • Read up thoroughly – there are plenty of books and internet resources available as well as books such ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey which is available in a handy pocket size (published by Collins Gem) to take along with you.

The Organic Growers of Bothwell and Brighter Bothwell would like to extend our grateful thanks to Alasdair for sharing his skills and enthusiasm with us and to The Forestry Commission, which supported these events through the Community Seedcorn Fund.

News Date: 
Tuesday, 17 December, 2013