On the 6 November a group of allotment holders and friends met with Leonie Washington from Suffolk Wildlife. Leonie is running the Networking Nature Project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund). The project is working to encourage wildlife friendly gardening and allotments and habitat creation for the benefit of key species such as reptiles, amphibians, hedgehogs and pollinators. She told us how encouraging wildlife on allotments can be very beneficial when growing cultivated crops such as fruit and vegetables. Natural pest predators such as hedgehogs, reptiles, amphibians and birds consume pests like slugs, snails, aphids and caterpillars, therefore helping to reduce the need for chemicals and promoting organic gardening. Flowering plants provide nectar for pollinating species that in turn help pollinate fruit and vegetables crops. Additionally wildlife gardening on allotments provides opportunities for children to not only learn about how things grow and where food comes from but also helps them to learn about the species associated with them. Allotments can contribute to forming “wildlife corridors” joining together farmland, churchyards and other open areas as routes for wildlife.
We learnt about forming a wildlife compost heap to complement our current heaps and provide an alternative home for any wildlife we find in our own heaps such as grass snakes or their white golf ball size eggs. This year slow worms particularly liked the hedge in Love Lane and my compost heap! Log piles and stag beetle pyramids along with natural hedges and banks can all offer safe havens for a host of wildlife. We discussed the type of crops we grow and mussed over “The Three Sisters”, a legend of the Iroquois people (Native North Americans) who believed that corn, beans and squash were three inseparable sisters and would only grow and thrive together. The sweetcorn provides a natural support for the beans whilst the beans help to stabilise the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. The shallow rooted squash plants become a living mulch, smothering emerging weeds and reducing water evaporation from the soil – thus improving the overall crops’ chances of survival in dry years.
Enthused we went away and intend to form a closer association to share ideas about crops and conservation, hopefully starting with some practical working groups to tidy the allotments and chat together. Leonie is going to send us fact sheets, posters and signs and is happy to return for further sessions on the allotment or to set up a stall at village events such as Open Gardens.