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Newark: We should savour wildlife while summer lingers on, suggests Erin McDaid from Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

The house martin is one of the last of our summer migrants to arrive to start their breeding cycle each year and this later start time is part of the reason they hang around longer than some other feathered friends that travel here from afar, writes Erin McDaid of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

While many of the swifts that have been busy rearing the next generation are a good way back to Africa by now, it’s not unheard of for house martins to rear three clutches of chicks in a summer.

They may still have chicks in the nest in September and even into October if the weather holds and there is enough insect food on the wing to sustain them.

House martin. Photo: Margaret Holland (50792537)
House martin. Photo: Margaret Holland (50792537)

I like to think that as well as simply being busy rearing as many broods as possible they, like me, are just reluctant to accept that another summer is technically over. Each year I hope we’ll get an ‘Indian Summer’ and am always reluctant to pack away my shorts, sandals and picnic rug until the very last moment possible. So I very much empathise with the house martins’ keenness to hang on to the last vestiges of UK summer.

It can take a pair up to two weeks to build a nest from scratch, so it’s little wonder that they are determined to eke out the maximum use from nests before the season draws to a close and they have to set off on their long and potentially perilous journey back to Africa.

House Martin. Photo: John Smith (50792542)
House Martin. Photo: John Smith (50792542)

What draws these birds to our shores is the availability of insect food and, more specifically, flying insects. So the mounting evidence that insect numbers are crashing across the UK and the wider continent should be a real concern for anyone who enjoys the sight of house martins soaring overhead.

While there’s been much talk of concern over declining populations of honey bees due to their importance in pollinating food crops, debate about the importance of abundant insect populations in sustaining other wildlife we love, especially birds, is less evident.

Given that a new nest might incorporate as many as a thousand beak-sized pellets of mud, one way you can help these delightful birds is by installing a small number of house martin nest cups under the eaves of your house. The reason for installing more than one is that the birds are colony nesters and unlikely to nest as a single pair. Any pair taking up residence will have a head start.

Rainworth Heath conservation grazing. photo: Agnes Kiemel (50792554)
Rainworth Heath conservation grazing. photo: Agnes Kiemel (50792554)

By making your garden as attractive as possible to insects, with a mix of habitats, plenty of pollen-bearing flowers and perhaps a small pond, you can also provide insect food for a variety of insect-eating bird species.

Another seasonal delight worth making the effort to see now are the pinky purples of heather on our lowland heathlands.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. (2682719)
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. (2682719)

Heather is commonly thought of as a plant of upland moors, but the importance of lowland heaths, such as those found in the New Forest and in our very own Sherwood Forest, is often overlooked.

The UK is home to 20% of all the lowland heathland on the planet, so while we have lost up to 90% of this habitat in Notts in the last 100 years, the fragments that remain are extremely valuable.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is at the forefront of efforts with partners to recreate and reconnect areas of heath in the heart of the Sherwood Forest landscape.

So, while the nightjars that frequent these heathlands during summer are likely to have departed along with the swifts, there is still time to enjoy the burst of colour that brings this habitat to life at this time of year.

Why not pay a visit to our Rainworth Heath Nature Reserve in the next couple of weeks to see the wonderful heathland hues for yourself before they fade as summer finally segues into autumn?

For more details of the trust’s work in Sherwood Forest, go nottinghamshirewildlife.org/miner2major


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