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Exploring Biodiversity in Your Back Garden

It’s been exactly two years since we relocated to the beautiful Blackdown Hills, a 370-square-kilometre Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Devon-Somerset border, described as a sort of hand-shaped piece of land with a northern escarpment (the “knuckles”) connected to a number of ridges (“the finger”) that slope down toward the south coast. We couldn’t imagine living anywhere else!

It’s a much slower pace of life and one that has served us very well, especially during the pandemic with all it’s restrictions. There’s something very special about, not just being close to nature but living amongst nature. We are surrounded by the most incredible wildlife, from roe deer, to resident buzzards, herons, mallard ducks and barn owls. Our 7 acres of woodland have given me the amazing opportunity to explore and study the microecosystems that are supported upon the Cretaceous rocks which rest over eroded Jurassic and Triassic beds. Axe, too has enjoyed the wildlife, often slowly stalking sedentary birds for ages before they eloquently fly off leaving him mostly confused and questioning his hunting dog heritage.

Water is a predominant resource in the area and a dominant factor in this biodiverse habitat which is in desperate need of protecting. The parallels in our natural world are fascinating and I’m constantly seeing biodiversity within these microbiomes being the key to survival and adaptation. No matter how harsh the environment nature will adapt given time. One will immediately encounter Sphagnum moss – used by medics during the First World War as a type of bandage padding because of it’s high iodine content. You can find a lot of nature’s medicinal treasures right in your back yard making foraging a wonderful pass time and such a fulfilling hobby.

Visible everywhere are the yellow flowers of the bog, Asphodel. This plant’s scientific name, Narthecium Ossifragum, means ‘bone breaker’, as farmers once believed it was responsible for their animals’ frequent broken bones. In fact, it was the lack of calcium in this low-nutrient habitat that was weakening their bones. Plants also suffer in the nutrient-poor soils. As a result, some are carnivorous, such as the round-leaved Sundews, whose leaves are like a ping-pong bat with sticky tentacles. These close over insects as the plant releases enzymes to digest their prey. It’s essentially a clever adaptation to poor soil. This evolution has not happened over night. In fact it’s taken thousands of years. These clever adapting plants, preying on insects, now that’s true survival! None of these ecosystems have been harmed by man-made chemicals, exposed to serious pollution or toxins. The only thing they’ve required to evolve is time.

As I’m sitting here taking in the sounds and scents of the woods I’m realising that people who “get” these lessons from our natural surroundings, which serve to remind us and guide us towards wiser choices, are truly in touch with Mother nature. Perhaps like the invisible mycelium connecting the forest with it’s fine fibres, our wellbeing is being taken care of by nature and always has been.

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