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 deservedly received many awards, not just for environmental work, but also in educationThe land they purchased in 2002 was boggy and wet. It had been over-grazed and misused, and was depressing in winter. 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-it was 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 in recent years-due to modern agriculture and farming. Think of curlews, skylarks, yellowhammers, cowslips and newts and the reduction in their numbers.The first tree bought was a crab apple which fruited after four years.They produced a plan, studied the micro climate, reduced the plan to scale, and produced a design to fit with the house. A list of items required was made and in March 2003 a path was created using 70 loads of stones with drainage carried out as advised. The garden Centre in Moy suggested planting hedges before building, this turned out to be good advice.Initially, everything looked like a building site but inside a year dormant vegetation grew. A pond was created, with a seat and a bird watching hut. Trees and shrubs were planted , all under-planted with bluebells. The woodland edge had a path of a mower width, providing a great habitat and the trees already required coppicing.Meadows were created with wild flowers including poppies and sunflowers, Bob and his wife eventually decided on an Irish wildflower garden. Yellow rattle was suggested as one of the plants. Trees were brought as throw-outs from Garden Centres. Inside a year, a barn owl was noted. 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 formal garden seen from the kitchen window attracts many species. A well designed feeder for pheasants, from 1930 was added. An old style shed built and new land obtained (9 acre field and 3 acres of woodland). This has been developed with help from Woodland Trust who provided 4500 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 -a fun place for the family. The number of frogs has increased, despite buzzards eating them! Herons, otters, newts, Irish hares, pheasants, pine martens, grey squirrels and rabbits have taken residence. The lake has trout, mallard and teal., and wood pigeons, jays, cormorants are seen.In his conclusion Sir Bob pointed out how amateurs can make a difference, wildlife is resilient. Everyone can create their own bee-loud glade. He indicated how good being close to nature is for ones mental state. Having a wildlife area is really a soap opera-always waiting for the next arrival Sir Bob suggested that the work he had 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 who was also an excellent speaker.The link opposite 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, they feed on the wing, and can reach 70 MPH. Swallows, Swifts, Sand Martins and Martins are all rather similar migrants which are sometimes confused. More than half of British Swifts have been lost since 1995, but reasons for the decline are unclear. Scientists are addressing these knowledge gaps by tracking work using the latest technology.Between 2010 and 2016, tiny geo-locators were placed on adult Swifts to investigate their migration, and identify areas important on their journey to and from Africa and when they get there. Results showed how incredible their journey is. Swifts have been shown to 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 once they’ve completed their return migration, including Mozambique and even 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 had stopped for 15 days in Liberia before the final leg of its return journey- a previously unknown stop-over site for refuelling.Since 2014, GPS tags have been used to study movements 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 mm.p.h directly into the right nest box. The nests they commandeer, are reworked with feathers/hay/flower seeds/willow fluff and even plastic-much of the material collected while flying. The nest is largely 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 .