Recent events, of Brexit, the climate emergency and now coronavirus, can be overwhelming for many of us - a good time to take to the hills, or maybe into the countryside or garden, and forget it all for a moment. At least the flowers will keep coming, and wildlife is oblivious to the above. Who knows, on balance, unintended consequences may benefit nature. We can but hope.
We are thrilled with the approach of spring to be visited by butterflies, that most beautiful of insects. In some parts of the world, their supporters lose lives protecting them (pages 2, 3). Butterflies also face another offensive from humans (perhaps unknowingly) in the form of 'Butterfly Weddings'. On the positive side, you could plan a butterfly haven.
The 'Wild About Reading' Celebration will run again from May 27th to 31st, and check out our other future events. These are also on the EEG website, and this will keep you up-to-date should there be a change in view of the current coronavirus situation. Information will also be available on local notice boards.
The last few months have seen two of our veteran Oaks face threats of total or partial destruction. Thankfully, outcomes for both appear positive at the moment.
The first is a large Oak (see left) at the side of the path from Laurel Park to Maiden Place to the south of the underpass under Rushey Way. This splendid healthy tree on council land is about 200 years old, and has a Tree Preservation Order. It was subject to an application for felling, as it was alleged to be causing subsidence to a nearby property. The application was refused by Wokingham Planning Dept. on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence for this, and that alternatives to felling had not been properly considered.
The second tree, also an Oak, is in the Maiden Erlegh School car park. After the annual tree survey of the school site, a tree specialist advised that this tree was not in a good condition and represented a severe hazard. To render it safe, the height has been reduced to about 15m. The school intends to leave the trunk as a wildlife habitat, which is a good option in cases like this.
DEFENDING THE ENVIRONMENT CAN BE DANGEROUS FOR SOME
Mexican authorities are investigating the possible murder of a tour guide, Raul Hernandez, who worked at a famous butterfly reserve in Michoacan. He was found dead from a head injury. There had been a death the previous week of activist Homero Gomez who was found buried, with possible signs of torture. He had been working to protect monarch butterflies.
The MONARCH BUTTERFLY is one of the most recognizable and well-studied butterflies on the planet. Its orange wings are laced with black lines and bordered with white dots. Known for its ability to travel large distances, the migrations in North America are one of the greatest natural phenomena in the world, where the adult butterflies can migrate from as far north as Canada to the overwintering grounds in Mexico, the west coast of California and Florida for the winter.
Monarch butterflies are native to North and South America, but they've spread to other warm places where milkweed grows. No longer found in South America, monarchs in North America are divided into two main groups: the western monarch, which breeds west of the Rocky Mountains and overwinters in southern California, and the eastern monarch, which breeds in the Great Plains and Canada, overwintering in Central Mexico.
The female monarch butterfly lays each of her eggs individually on the leaf of a milkweed plant, a toxic plant (not native to the UK), and lays between 300 and 500 eggs over a two- to-five-week period. Although milkweed itself is toxic, monarchs have evolved not only to tolerate it, but to use it to their advantage by storing the toxins in their bodies, and making themselves poisonous to predators.
The monarch is the largest butterfly seen in the British Isles and is also one of our rarest migrants. It was first recorded in the UK in 1876. In recent years, five sightings of monarch butterflies, among Britain's rarest migrant visitors, have been reported in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, with conservationists believing they have been blown across the Atlantic while on their stunning annual journey across North America to Mexico or California.
There's more about the Monarch at Butterfly Conservation. Note: If you think yourself lucky enough to spot a monarch, you may be being deceived (see the next article).
The rising popularity of "butterfly weddings" is threatening British butterflies, a well-known charity has warned.
According to Butterfly Conservation, the growing trend of releasing the insects from a box to mark the vows of a bride and groom is harmful because it could spread disease, and makes recording the population difficult. The charity said the releases make it hard to know "if any future record of the species is truly wild, or has been seen as a consequence of such a release. This has the potential to divert limited conservation resources, as it makes accurate mapping and hence conservation work for that species difficult, as we don't then know where it occurs naturally."
Butterfly boxes can be purchased for not only weddings but funerals, baptisms, birthdays, etc. Some suppliers are more responsible in their choice of butterflies, others not so, offering rare migrants like the Camberwell Beauty for considerable amounts of money.
It is illegal to release some non-native butterflies in the UK, which brings us back to the Monarch again, this being one of them. Several of these were spotted in Dorset, the result of a release at a recent wedding, giving a false reading for the records.
As the butterflies are kept in high-density cages, butterflies could be more susceptible to disease. The releases also "deflect attention" from the fact that the population of the insects is declining because of loss of habitat, the charity added.
Everything we do has an effect on the environment, and not wishing to spoil lovely wedding memories for those who have enjoyed a butterfly release, it is up to individuals in future, considering the above, to decide if it's right to use butterflies as confetti.
Another point of view: Comment from a butterfly enthusiast. The practice of rearing common native butterflies, like the migrant Painted Lady, in schools is relatively harmless, and gives children great pleasure and a better understanding of and respect for the natural world.
What you might see or hear in the coming months in your garden
Garden surveyors Margaret and Gillian between them recorded the following butterflies in their Earley gardens from March to July 2019. You might see these, and others, in the next few weeks.
March: brimstone, peacock, holly blue and small white
April: brimstone, large white, orange tip, holly blue, red admiral, small white, speckled wood
May: holly blue, painted lady, red admiral, speckled wood
June: holly blue, painted lady, red admiral, speckled wood, comma, small tortoiseshell
July: holly blue, large white, small white, small tortoiseshell, ringlet, gatekeeper, red admiral, speckled wood
According to Butterfly Conservation, the holly blue is the most widespread butterfly in Britain.
Brimstone, peacock, red admiral, comma, and small tortoiseshell all hibernate over winter in their adult form.
For more information on local butterflies, read Butterflies in a Reading Garden.
We can expect to hear the familiar beautiful sound of blackbird song. It's capable of making a wide variety of calls and songs. During the breeding season, the song is made up of flute-like phrases or notes, or sometimes the loud warning 'tchook-tchook-tchook' or 'chink, chink, chink' call.
Song learning occurs throughout a blackbird's life, and reciprocal learning between neighbours can create local dialects. Blackbirds, like a great many other birds, are superb mimics. Or like many other birds, Blackbirds tend to be solitary birds. This is borne out by the numbers recorded by our garden surveyors, Gillian and Margaret, mostly 1 or 2 in their gardens for each month during February 2019 - February 2020. However, 3 were recorded in January and February 2019 by Margaret, and in July she noted a family of 4 + 2 parents. The EEG website can tell you what birds you will see in your garden over a year, with lots of information, and British Birdsongs helps you to identify them by song.
EEG's 2021 Community Calendar
The Earley Environmental Group's 2020 community calendar 'Nature in Earley' was a great success, with almost 200 copies sold and over £300 raised in support of the Group's environmental work in Earley. We are now planning a 2021 calendar for release in August and welcome images from amateur photographers to celebrate Earley's natural environment - especially the Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve. Photos can have been taken specifically for this year's calendar or have been take in previous years. Scenes of the woods, lake, green spaces and wildflower beds, as well as pictures of the trees, birds, flowers, fungi, animals and insects found in Earley will be welcome.
Monies raised from the sale of the calendar will again be used to support the EEG's activities. The copyright of all selected images would remain with the photographer, but by providing the image for the calendar the photographer would grant a perpetual licence to the EEG to feature the image in any of its publications. All images used will be credited to the photographer. The deadline for the submission of images is the 30th June 2020. Photographs should ideally be submitted in JPEG format and no larger than 5MB in file-size. Please send your photos with your name, photo titles and contact e-mail address to Bob Collis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bob Collis, Calendar Editor
Bringing you up-to-date with local affairs
Wokingham Climate Emergency Action Plan
Wokingham Borough has announced a 3-year plan with a commitment to spend £50 million – including £18 million on renewable energy and £13 million on future road building/enhancement to reduce congestion, which may tend to increase vehicle use.
It is termed an initial plan to be reviewed and enhanced every July. It sets out the status quo and defines some positive actions but does not estimate the expected carbon-reduction outcomes over 3 years, let alone 10 years, so yes, revision and continuous improvement will be needed.
Executive Member for Climate Emergency, Councillor Gregor Murray, is presenting this plan to Earley Environmental Group on 23rd April (see Forthcoming Events) which will be a chance to get involved and make suggestions.
Wokingham Plan – Grazeley and East Reading Mass Rapid Transit
Local Authorities have to have up-to-date Plans to accommodate the level of housing and other development the government agrees is appropriate. Wokingham proposes building 769 new homes per year up to 2036 when the government target is 804 per year. A consultation period concluded on 20th March, and there will be a further consultation in the autumn on a version to be submitted for government inspection.
Particularly controversially it proposes a 15,000-home 'new garden town' at Grazeley south of Reading, to take some of the housing allocation of West Berkshire, Wokingham and Reading. This would be on a greenfield site some distance from Reading, which would grow slowly over and beyond the plan period. A proposal for a much smaller settlement in this location was defeated by CPRE and others in 1999. This larger development is planned to incorporate more schools and employment but proximity to J11 of the M4 and Reading would make car-use attractive even if the proposed railway station is built. (Policy SS3)
The draft Plan also retains the designation of the Thames riverbank as a Protected Strategic Transport Area for links to Reading and a new Thames Bridge despite the rejection of the East Reading Mass Rapid Transit proposals on Landscape grounds in 2018. (Policy SS11 c and e)
NEWS FROM BEYOND EARLEY: Good news for badgers: Brian May, who founded the animal welfare charity Save Me Trust, has welcomed the Government's move to phase out badger culling, and instead use a vaccine to tackle bovine TB. Note: See Talk by Binfield Badger Group under Events. This is part of Wild About Reading.
EARLEY GARDEN SURVEYS
Notable comments so far for 2020 by our surveyors, Gillian Cartwright and Margaret Holmes:
Gillian: January - 20 starlings on front garden as well as 1 each of green woodpecker, great and spotted woodpecker and coal tit. (Starling numbers have been declining for several years, reason unknown.)
Margaret : February - 14 blue tits on fat balls during storm! 12 long-tailed tits, 1 house sparrow 'rare sighting'. (House sparrows have been in a sharp decline in the UK.)
LOCAL FORTHCOMING EVENTS April 2020 – August 2020
All these events are on the EEG website. There are likely to be changes due to the influence of the coronavirus, so please check the website or local notice boards.
Thursday April 23rd 8pm – 9.30pmWokingham Borough's Climate Change Action Plan Councillor Murray from Wokingham Borough Council will present and discuss the details of the Plan agreed to by the Borough Council. Function Room, Maiden Place Community Centre, off Kilnsea Drive.
Saturday May 2nd 5.30am – 7.30am Dawn Chorus walk Join local expert Ken White on a Dawn Chorus walk in Maiden Erlegh Local Nature Reserve. This joyous song only lasts for a short time in Spring, but it's worth making the effort to give up your lie-in, and share with others that unique sound of the dawn chorus, so set that alarm for early. Meet at the Interpretation Centre, Instow Road.
May 27th – May 31stWild About Reading A range of events across the Reading area that celebrate the individuals, groups and organisations that preserve, conserve and showcase the green spaces in our local communities for the benefit of wildlife and people of all ages. There are free and varied activities and events daily for all ages.
Thursday May 28th 7.30pm – 9.30pm Binfield Badgers Binfield Badger Group was established to support the local population of this friendly mammal. Jill Holbin will be telling us about their work, and more about this nocturnal animal. This talk is part of Wild About Reading. Function Room, Maiden Place Community Centre, off Kilnsea Drive.
Monday June 15th 7.30pm – 9.30pm Compassion in World Farming. More details about this talk soon, check posters and website. Function Room, Maiden Place Community Centre, off Kilnsea Drive.
Thursday July 23rd 10am – 1pm & 12noon – 3pm Children's annual Bug Hunt. Places must be booked as numbers are limited - please specify morning or afternoon. Wear LONG SLEEVES, TROUSERS AND CLOSED SHOES. Dress for the weather. Children must be attended by a responsible adult at all times during the event. Equipment will be provided. Booking information on the website. Meet at the Interpretation Centre, Instow Road.
Saturday August 1st 10am – 3pm Earley Green Fair. Join us for our annual Green Fair at the Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve. Lots of stalls on all aspects of environmental matters. This is Earley's most popular annual event. Contact Earley Town Council 0118 9868995. Maiden Erlegh Reserve, off Beech Lane.
Friday September 4th 7.30pm Bat walk and talk. Rose-Ann Movsovic will give a short talk followed by a walk to see these wonderful mammals. 30 spaces only so pre-booking required – check poster and website for booking details nearer the time. Meet at the Interpretation Centre, Instow Road.
Bits and pieces
Don't forget. We're on Facebook now!
The Earley Environmental Group now has a Facebook presence. We will be using this in addition to the main website and the Newsletter as a way of keeping everyone up to date with our activities and to let you know about upcoming events. Members are also welcome to post news stories or any photographs relevant to the group. If you are a Facebook user, please do join up - just search for 'Earley Environmental Group' and we should pop up. Look forward to seeing you on there.
EASI (Earley Adopt-a-Street Initiative) would like more volunteers. Help keep your street clear of litter. Everything provided. Phone Brian Hackett on 0118 986 1115 or email.
Can you offer active help to EEG? If so, phone 0118 962 0004 or go to the website. We would welcome more member involvement. If you have no expertise and would like to get involved, you may be able to give practical help, or maybe you have graphic design skills, computer skills, any other skills to offer. At the moment 'the few' help to keep EEG going.
EEG committee members can be found on the EEG website, or phone 0118 962 0004
For Wildlife Survey Forms, go to the EEG website or phone Earley Town Council on 0118 986 8995
Comments or contributions to the newsletter to: the Editor or 2 Reeds Avenue, Earley, RG6 5SR. We would welcome short contributions from members to the newsletter.
If you know someone who would like to join EEG, membership forms are available from Earley Town Council, 0118 986 8995, or you can join on the website - just click on Join Here at the bottom of the home page. Please inform Liz if you intend to change e-mail or address at 50 Kenton Rd, Earley RG6 7LG, or send her an e-mail.
Erlegh Elfins: A pre-school playgroup on Thursdays at the Interpretation Centre in Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve will run from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with a focus on outdoor play and exploration of the natural environment. For more information, please email Erlegh Elfins or phone Charlotte on 07771 605825.There is a limit on numbers to ensure safe play. Child-minders are welcome. Adults are responsible for the children they bring with them, so a ratio of 2:1 is recommended. A charge of £1.50 per child applies.
For information on Earley Environmental Junior Group, phone Charlotte as above.
Thanks to ORACLE Corporation for reproducing our newsletter on recycled paper. Oracle is the world's second largest software company, situated at Thames Valley Business Park in Earley. Oracle UK adheres to the ISO14001 Environment Standard which confirms Oracle has considered and acted upon its environmental impact. As part of Oracle’s corporate social responsibility they support a number of local groups, including us. They have given us valuable support in reproducing the hard copies of our newsletter in colour, as well as printing posters and membership leaflets for us to distribute to libraries, schools etc.