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London’s wildlife at risk in drought, Spring 2006 Edit

London Wildlife Trust is today, March 29 2006, issuing important guidelines calling on Londoners to help save water for wildlife.

Many of the Capital’s wild animals, insects and plants are under threat as a result of the drought crisis in South East England says London Wildlife Trust. Lower water levels in rivers, streams and other water bodies can have a devastating impact on wildlife. While some smaller rivers, ponds and wetlands dry up completely, killing many plants and animals dependent on water or a wet environment and removing an essential source of drinking water for small mammals.

The positive news is that everyone in the Capital can make a massive difference to our wildlife by saving water. This will decrease the demand for water to be taken from London’s rivers and aquifers and so reduce the burden on our shared water resources. London Wildlife Trust is particularly calling on the Capital’s gardeners to take a few simple steps to save water for wildlife.

Ten gardening tips to save water and wildlife Edit

  • Place a water butt in your garden to collect rainwater to use on your plants and lawns.
  • Use water collected from your water butt to fill bird water baths.
  • Choose low-water or drought resistant plants that encourage wildlife
  • Use large containers, lined with plastic and generously topped with mulch, for window boxes, roof gardens and patios. They don’t dry out too quickly and are low maintenance.
  • Let your grass grow longer to encourage wildlife and help retain moisture by reducing evaporation from the soil - your grass won’t go brown either!
  • Create wild areas such as a log pile, for mini-beasts like caterpillars, spiders and beetles.
  • Improve your soil by adding moisture-holding peat free organic compost.
  • Use a mulch as a protective cover to help retain moisture by reducing evaporation from the soil.
  • Water plant roots in the cool of the morning or evening to avoid water loss by evaporation.
  • Screen thirsty plants from drying winds by carefully planting or using fencing.

Make a difference by pledging to do one of the following Edit

  • I will catch rainwater in a butt by diverting it from gutter pipes
  • I will choose low-water or drought tolerant plants that encourage wildlife
  • I will provide the birds with a water bath filled with collected rain water

Star plants for dry wildlife gardens Edit

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleja ‘Black Knight’), Good for butterflies
  • Ice plant (Sedum spectabile), Late flowering and attracts butterflies and bees
  • Tulip (Tulipa ‘Yokohama’), Attracts bees, especially early bumble bees
  • Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), Good for butterflies
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Good for bees
  • Hebe (‘Autumn Glory’ ), A favourite for butterflies
  • Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium), Good for butterflies
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Favourite for butterflies and also liked by bees
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

How less water will affect London's wildlife Edit

Wetlands Edit

When wetlands (wet meadows, fens, bogs, marshes) dry, irreversible changes are made to the ecology of these sensitive areas. A temporary water shortage will impact on the wild animals and plants that normally live or feed there.

Fish Edit

Lower flows and a reduced volume of water in rivers result in lower levels of dissolved oxygen, which can directly affect local fish populations dependent on oxygen carried in water. Prolonged conditions like these will kill fish. Rivers and streams in this state are more vulnerable to any pollution discharged into the water. Algal blooms (thick green algae in water) take even more oxygen from water and so fish numbers decrease.

Birds Edit

Breeding wetland birds - like the coot, tufted duck and moorhen - that often seek breeding sites on the edge of urban lakes and slow-moving rivers will be affected. Their nest sites become more vulnerable to predators as water levels go down or they may not breed successfully and move on. And decreasing fish stocks will impact on species like the kingfisher and heron that feed on them. What’s more, our city’s remaining tracts of damp pasture provide breeding habitat for lapwings and redshanks, if these grasslands are parched, birds will not be able to stay and breed on them.

Plants and bugs Edit

Aquatic plants and bugs have problems surviving when flows are low and the edges of rivers and streams dry out. This affects the ancient and beautiful dragonfly (dragonflies have been around for 300 million years). Their life cycle is dependent on water with some larvae living in water for seven years before emerging. Rapid drops in water levels can have a drastic effect on dragonfly populations. In a 1997 survey, dropping water levels were shown to decimate a local dragonfly population by 90 per cent when dragonfly larvae were left high and dry.

Mammals Edit

Water dwelling mammals like the water vole will also be affected. This already declining species could suffer further population decrease. Water voles become more vulnerable to predators where streams and watercourses run low. Water voles are Britain’s fastest declining mammal. Once common on most watercourses throughout Britain, we now have only one water vole for every twenty that were alive eighty years ago. London’s water vole population are nationally significant so we have a special responsibility for this shy creature.


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