8th October 2019‘’Transforming a Tyrone Desert into a Wildlife Garden’’ Sir Bob SalisburyOur lecture room in Loughry was filled to capacity for Sir Bob’s talk .Sir Bob Salisbury moved to N. I. in 2001. He was a Professor in the School of Ed. at the University of Nottingham. Before this, Bob was Head teacher of The Garibaldi School in Forest Town, Mansfield, Notts. His wife Rosemary, with a Seskinore background, was first Woman Principal of Edward VI School in Nottingham. Sir Bob has received many awards, not just for environmental work, but also educationThe land purchased in 2002 was boggy ,wet, over-grazed,misused, and depressing. His wife described it as a rural desert.They discussed whether they could turn the clock back and create a wildlife area (with little knowledge of biodiversity or gardening) just a dream.They bought a camera and took photographs of the land. Both were aware of reduction in wildflower meadows, lowland woods, heaths and traditional orchards -due to modern agriculture. Think of curlews, skylarks, yellowhammers, cowslips and newts and reduction in their numbers.The first tree bought was a crab apple which fruited after four years.They planned, studied the micro climate,and produced a design to fit with the house. A list of items required was made and in March 2003 a path created using 70 loads of stones and drainage carried out, as advised. The Garden Centre in Moy suggested planting hedges before building.Initially, everything looked like a building site but soon dormant vegetation grew. A pond was created, with a seat and bird watching hut. Trees and shrubs were planted ,under-planted with bluebells. The woodland edge had a path providing a great habitat and trees already required coppicing.Meadows were created with wild flowers, Bob and his wife eventually decided on a wildflower garden. Yellow rattle was suggested as one of the plants. Trees were brought as Garden Centre throw-outs. Inside a year, Barn Owls,Wood Pigeons, Buzzards, House Martins, Sparrow- hawks and Spotted Flycatchers were seen. To date, 65 species have been observed, the last one-a Raven.A standing stone was uncovered and moved to the garden. A low maintenance garden seen from the kitchen window attracts many species. A pheasant feeder from 1930 was added. An old style shed was built and new land obtained (12 acres in all ). This has been developed with Woodland Trust providing trees and pathways. There are two lakes, and signs have been erected to warn children about the lakes.In August 2014 a new lake was created beside 3 acres of old woodland. The number of frogs has increased, despite buzzards eating them! Herons, otters, newts,hares, pheasants, pine martens, grey squirrels and rabbits have taken residence. The lake has trout, mallard and teal. Wood pigeons, jays, cormorants are also seen.In his conclusion Sir Bob pointed out how amateurs can make a difference. Everyone can create a bee-loud glade. He indicated how good being close to nature is for ones mental state. Having a wildlife area is a soap opera-always waiting for the next arrival Sir Bob suggested that work done on Tyrone fields could not have been done in England.This was an inspiring, uplifting talk-interspersed with humorous tales-from a man of vision and also an excellent speaker. The link below is to a BBC interview with Sir Bob.https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00003sq12 November 2019 ‘Natural History of Swifts’ Mark SmythA large number of members were present for Mark Smyth’s talk.Swifts have only rudimentary feet, they never perch, feed on the wing, and can reach 70 MPH. Swallows, Swifts, Sand Martins and Martins are similar migrants and sometimes confused. More than half of British Swifts have been lost since 1995, but reasons for the decline are unclear. Scientists are addressing knowledge gaps by tracking work using the latest technology.Between 2010 and 2016, tiny geo-locators were placed on adult Swifts to investigate migration, and identify areas important on their journey to and from Africa. Results showed an incredible journey. Swifts have taken as little as 5 days to reach East Anglia. The wintering range of individual Swifts is huge, and birds visit several countries across Africa after their migration, including Mozambique and South Africa. Swifts live up to their name, one individual took only five days to travel 3,000 miles from West Africa back to UK. The bird stopped for 15 days in Liberia before the final leg of its return journey.Since 2014, GPS tags have been used to study movement during the breeding season. Swifts are brown in colour and eat midges, aphids, beetles, bugs and crane flies. They often use nests of starlings, sparrows and other small birds. They can fly at 50 m.p.h directly to the right nest box. Nests they commandeer, are reworked with feathers/hay/willow fluff and even plastic-much of the material collected while flying. The nest is created around the eggs. A maximum of 3 eggs are laid, hatching after around 19 days. When the chicks are ready they just get up and go. Young swifts don’t breed until 3 or 4 years old.So what is going wrong with swifts? There has been a 56% decline in numbers across the UK . Building development, types of building, use of PVC and ignorance all have a part to play. Some organisations do not want swifts breeding in buildings. Recently however, many renovated or new buildings have spaces under eaves to allow for swifts. Mark gave us a run-down on buildings in N. Ireland which have become poor homes for swifts, and indicated organisations who adapted building changes to suit swifts.So what can be done? Education of farmers, teaching in schools, church and church hall projects, nest boxes at work-places are all needed. Swifts do not leave a mess! Nest-boxes can be bought and erected on houses but don’t encourage near sparrow-hawks!! Some Councils have spent money on attracting swifts foolishly, new builds can be designed with open eaves to attract swifts.