Dragons In Your Garden?

Dragons In Your Garden?

Do you have Dragons in your garden? It might surprise you to know that the answer is probably ‘yes’. Chinese New Year falls on February 10th and this time it is the Year of the Dragon. However, the dragons in your garden are not the traditional fire-breathing monsters of old but a group of animals called Herpetofauna which includes Amphibians and Reptiles. The Connecting the Dragons project across South Wales aims to restore and raise awareness of these threatened species, 50% of which are in danger.

So, what might you come across in Wenvoe? If you have a pond, you are likely to have Newts, certainly the Common Newt. But we suspect there are also populations of the Great Crested Newt but have yet to confirm a record. Frogs and Toads turn up regularly, but the Toad is now classified as a Priority Species because of declines in their numbers. The Grass Snake is the UK’s largest native snake but is not venomous and is quite harmless to humans. These have been recorded in the Elizabethan Orchard and the Goldsland Watercress Beds but are likely to be in many other locations in the Parish. Adders have not been recorded in the Parish although some people claim to have seen them. They have been recorded in Leckwith Woods and are likely to be here so definitely one to look out for. If you see one, treat it with respect as they have a venomous bite.

As far as Lizards are concerned, we are likely to have the Common Lizard as there are several records from Cardiff but, again, none in the Parish. And then there is the Slow Worm – neither slow nor a worm nor even a snake but a legless lizard. We come across these regularly in our wildlife sites and also in gardens, although you are less likely to see them if you have cats as they are predators.

So, in the year of the Dragon we are going to make more effort to record, protect and encourage these creatures. We hope you will do the same and in future issues of What’s On we will describe some of the ways in which you can help.


Looking For Medlars

Looking For Medlars

There was a post recently on Facebook, not local, where someone mentioned they had been looking for Medlars for 6 years. They should have come to Wenvoe where we have 6 trees all covered with fruit in 4 of our Community Orchards! Once very popular in Britain, they are now unfamiliar to most but are staging a bit of a revival.

Medlars are related to apples and are very easy to grow. All of those planted by the Wildlife Group have taken and are growing well with fruit appearing after a couple of years. They are self-pollinating with large white flowers in late Spring. The fruit are small and hard and ideally should be left until the first frosts have ‘bletted’ or softened them. They can be used to make a fragrant amber jelly, as an accompaniment to cheese or cold meats or in a sweet dessert. Look online for different recipes.

Common names for the Medlar are a bit too vulgar to be quoted here but the French call it ‘cul de chien’. It appears often in literature with the suggestion it is ‘beautiful, bawdy and rotten’. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dekker all referred to it but one of the earliest mentions is by Theophrastus, a Greek naturalist and philosopher in 300BC.

As the RHS say – Steeped in history, easy to grow, and with stunning foliage, medlars are superb trees to grow, offering you a supply of vitamin-rich fruit to see you through the winter months.


Some Depressing Reading

Some Depressing Reading

The recent national State of Nature report makes some depressing reading as the following stats indicate

  • Across the UK species studied have declined on average by 19% since 1970
  • Farmland bird species in the UK have, on average, seen their numbers fall by more than a half since 1970
  • Invertebrate species are found in 13% fewer places now than in 1970. There have been strong declines in some insect groups with important roles, such as pollinators like bees and hoverflies
  • More than half of the plants in Great Britain have been lost from areas where they used to thrive
  • Only one in seven (14%) of the UK’s important habitats for wildlife were found to be in good condition

A quick look around Wenvoe will confirm that the same is happening to us. Several fields around the village have been turned over to housing and more are threatened with development. On an individual basis lawns are being replaced with artificial turf and front gardens are being slabbed or bricked over. Trees are being cut down and not replaced and ponds filled in.

But commentators suggest we can do something to help. We can put up nest boxes for birds, bee hotels and bat boxes. We can feed the birds and plant some wildflowers and pollinator-friendly shrubs and trees. Put in a pond – one we know of cost 70p and took up just 20 by 20 cms of garden space. Open compost heaps, log and stone piles, even piles of leaves can help everything from hedgehogs to slow worms. We may never hear the cuckoo again in the village – it was a regular visitor here just 30 years ago – but we might be able to help stop the decline of some of our valuable wildlife.



More Spidery Creatures

It is that time of year when we start to see more spidery creatures around, both in the house and garden. The insect in the photo is the Harvestman – commonly called a Daddy Long Legs but not to be confused with a winged insect also called a Daddy Long Legs! It is not a spider but is closely related. They cannot spin webs or are venomous but usually catch their prey with hooks at the end of their legs. They are quite common and may gather in groups, the largest of which numbered 300,000. But don’t panic as they are harmless to humans. They are called Harvestmen because they tend to be around in the late summer when the traditional harvest was gathered in. The Latin name for them is Opiliones – Opilio meaning shepherd after the early European shepherds who walked around on stilts so that they had a better view of their flock.




I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree

So wrote the American poet, Joyce Kilmer. In Wenvoe we are lucky to have a wonderful collection of trees which, if you removed the houses, would make a respectable arboretum in its own right. Dominated by the massive Horse Chestnuts and Pines around Grange Park, many of our gardens also have an amazing variety and range of, often smaller, trees. You do not need a huge garden to plant a tree in – there are species to suit every size and taste. And each one will, in its own way, help the environment, capture carbon, cool its surroundings and provide shelter and, often, food for wildlife.

Take Walston Close, for example. In the front gardens of this small cul-de-sac of 9 houses you can see Black Lace Elder, Eucryphia Nymanensis, several Acers, a couple of Cabbage Palms, Liquidamber, Weeping Purple Beech, Variegated Sycamore, Magnolia, two Apple trees, a Wedding Cake Tree (see below) and even a small Handkerchief Tree. One garden alone has 14 Acers and another 17 trees including Crabapple, Hop Tree, 4 Italian Cypress, Amelanchier, a Claygate Pearmain Apple, Silver Birch, two Blue Sausage Trees and a Judas Tree. Other trees known about in the Close include Gingko, Purple Beech and Indian Bean Tree. There are no doubt several others in back gardens which are known only to the householders. And not to mention all the conifers which are often not so easy to identify.

The Tree Trail covers many of the other interesting trees in the village such as Persian Ironwood, Laburnum, Walnut, Loquat, Clerodendron, Mulberry, Corkscrew Hazel and Bird Cherry. There is an ancient Yew in the churchyard considered already very old in 1700 and a Beech by the war memorial supposedly planted to celebrate the end of the Boer War. However, the trail does need updating as a number of trees have been removed for whatever reason and not replaced. These include Walnut, Tulip Tree and Balm of Gilead Poplar. Port Road is lined with a variety of mature trees including many Hornbeam which are not that common in the wild around here. The fields either side of the road to the Golf Club have some magnificent old oaks probably dating back to the Constable era.

How many new trees are being planted? Precious few, alas, although we were delighted to see those recently planted on the village green by a local family. The school has ambitious plans with 5 apples already in the ground and a hedgerow waiting for Autumn to enter the ground. Three new oaks went in on the fields on the way to the Golf Course. The Wildlife Group have planted around 200 fruit and other trees over the last decade. Looking out at the woodland around Wenvoe one could be forgiven for thinking that our level of tree cover is good but with England at 10% when the European average is 38%, we are near the bottom of the pile. TV presenter Iolo Williams has said more trees are needed to prevent a “collapse in wildlife”.

With Global Warming threatening, temperatures increasing and the countryside disappearing planting a tree (or two!) is one of the easiest ways in which you can make a difference. And please write to What’s On and let us know how you get on.





We are often asked about the effects of artificial
lawns on wildlife. The benefits in terms of
maintenance etc. are understood and promoted in
advertising by plastic grass suppliers. However
recently the Royal Horticultural Society published
an article summarising the less welcome effects
these can have on our flowers, birds and bees. Fake
lawns can contaminate the soil and surrounding
watercourses with micro-plastics. Real grass stores
carbon but with artificial grass the soil is dug up and
replaced with chippings or other crushed material.
Grass and soil will help to keep a garden cooler
through evaporation but plastic grass can get much
hotter and cause problems for the sensitive paws of
household pets. Plastic grass provides no habitat for
wildlife and the lack of worms and insects leaves
nothing for our wild birds to feed on. False grass
needs replacing after some years and the old
material ends up
as landfill. And
you cannot make
a daisy chain
with plastic
lawns! So, if you
have or are
replacing your
grass with
plastic, make
sure you take
account of the
adverse effects
this can have on
your garden

Is Ours A Loveless County?

A loveless county?

Is ours a loveless county? Judging by the records of Mistletoe growing in the Vale of Glamorgan, you might think so. The wildlife database, Aderyn, only has two records for the Vale of Glamorgan – one in Wenvoe and two in Dinas Powys. The photo shows the one in Wenvoe. Of the two in Dinas, one has gone when the branch it was growing on collapsed but there are two clumps growing on an apple tree which appear to be in good health. Mistletoe is usually associated with apple trees but also grows on Hawhorn, Poplar and many other tree species. The Wenvoe clump is growing on an Acer which is uncommon but not unknown.

There is plenty of Mistletoe in Cardiff, particularly around Llandaff and near the Taff where it mainly grows on Poplar. With all the orchards that used to grow in the Vale one might have expected there to be more around and we have asked via Facebook for people to get in touch if they know of other locations. At time of writing we are following up some leads and will keep you informed. If you know of cases, do get in touch with the Wenvoe Wildlife Group with photos. Mistletoe can get confused with larger bird nests or tree growths such as galls.

Some gardeners believe that Mistletoe kills trees. It is a parasite (strictly speaking hemiparasitic) but it would require a very heavy infestation to do any serious damage. But benefits are that birds enjoy the sticky berries and some species, like the Mistletoe Weevil, are mainly associated with it. It can either be male or female but it is only the female plants that bear berries and then only if they have been pollinated by a male plant nearby. You can use berries bought at Christmas on Mistletoe to try to propagate it on existing mature trees but generally only a few seeds will germinate. But still worth having a go! That was how the Wenvoe Mistletoe got there.


Mrs Tiggy Winkle

Mrs Tiggy Winkle

Mrs Tiggy Winkle will be a familiar name to most of you but Beatrix Potter’s character is just one appearance of a hedgehog in literature. Shakespeare often referred to them although mostly less than flatteringly; and you can find them turning up worldwide in stories, even as far afield as Mongolia. But what if the only hedgehogs the children knew were from books and poems – the live animals having become extinct?

Hedgehogs have been around for 15 million years, far longer than modern humans and are one of the oldest species of mammal on the planet. But they are in decline and are classed as vulnerable with around 50% lost in the countryside since 2000 alone. But the news is a bit better in our towns and cities where they have ‘only’ dropped by 30%. They are regularly seen in some Wenvoe gardens and there are many things you can do to help them survive and prosper such as:

Create access holes in your fences so they can move from garden to garden. These are known as hedgehog highways.

Hedgehogs can swim but can get stuck in steep-sided ponds. Ensure your pond has a shallow side or place a log or plank in it that they can use as a ladder.

Avoid using slug pellets or other chemicals.

Many are injured by strimmers, so check the area first and move them if you find any.

Check bonfires before you light them for the same reason.

Make or buy a hedgehog house which can be used for hibernating in winter or shelter in summer.

Give supplementary food such as cat or dog food especially before or after hibernating. Also provide water but never put out bread or milk.

Create a wild section in your garden including piles of leaves which will also benefit other wildlife.

Get all the family involved and register with PTES (Peoples Trust for Endangered Species) as a Hedgehog Champion.

Help to ensure that Mrs Tiggy Winkle is not, like the Dodo, just a distant memory.


Cat Attack


It was mid October and there was a great commotion going on in our garden. First there was a bang as something ran into the metal gate alongside the house. Then a blur as a creature ran past followed by another blur in hot pursuit. The first was a squirrel, the second a local cat – plain blue/grey in colour. Then several minutes of chasing – the squirrel trying to hide with the cat hurling itself into and onto the shrubs the squirrel was sheltering in. Three times the squirrel got to a tree but the cat grabbed it by the tail and pulled it down. A moment of confrontation and the chase was on again. Eventually the squirrel got up a tree to seeming safety. However the cat had not read the health and safety guidelines and followed up the trunk. For another 10 minutes the cat tried to reach the squirrel, perched on the tip of a branch, but this was too spindly to support the cat’s weight. Eventually the cat got bored and tried to get back to the ground but going up is often easier than coming down! After some too-ing and fro-ing and considerable loss of dignity, the cat reached safety and wandered off. The result a draw with plenty of exercise but no obvious damage to either party.

Many cats are loved by their owners but it is estimated they kill around 27 million songbirds in the UK each year and many more millions of mice and voles. There are suggested ways in which you can reduce these numbers such as fitting a bell to your cats collar. None of the many cats which wander through our garden has a bell attached.

Squirrels are regarded as a pest by many. They have contributed to the decline of our native red squirrel in several ways including spreading Squirrel Pox to them, to which the Greys are immune. They also damage trees, particularly newly planted ones, by gnawing away at the bark. And your house may not be immune as they chew through cables and enlarge holes to get access to roof spaces. So for many, this battle was between two villains.

Attacking squirrels can be risky for cats. They can get scratched by the squirrel which can put up quite a fight and as squirrels can carry diseases the scratch can become infected. Some cats will eat squirrels which brings additional problems such as small bones blocking the cat’s airways and catching diseases such as Toxoplasmosis or taking in parasites. For some days there was no sign of any squirrel in our garden but then a wary and very tentative one re-appeared and normal business has been resumed.

In all the years we have lived here, this is the first time we have witnessed such a contest. It would be interesting to know if any other readers have noticed something similar.


Think About Homes For Wildlife

Think About Homes For Wildlife

Now is a good time to be thinking about installing homes for wildlife. You can often buy them cheaply on-line or at the budget supermarkets. Alternatively, they can be constructed at home quite simply with instructions found easily online. For example, the RSPB website tells you how to build both birdboxes and bug hotels. Birds will start looking for potential nesting locations quite early in the season – just remember to site them away from spots that are very sunny as the nestlings might get too hot. Also, they should be placed where cats cannot get at them. In contrast, bug hotels should be located in the sunniest spot in your garden. These will be used by solitary bees which are usually no threat to man or beast.

No harm in putting out hedgehog homes although most of them will already be hibernating; can also be found online or in garden centres. The advice is to find a spot in your garden which is quiet, dry, sheltered and shady and avoid the entrance facing north as this will be colder. A number of gardens in the middle of Wenvoe have occupied hedgehog homes and whilst there are only so many hedgehogs to go around, you could be lucky.


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