Friday, 28 April 2006

Worm tablets

Last weekend I was out in the first warm sunshine gathering llama dung. Now this may sound a trifle odd, but the background is this. My wife and I have about three acres of land, most of which is managed as a garden for wildlife. It is not large enough to be a proper nature reserve, and it has all been recently cultivated. There is a small spinney (with a rookery), and we have vegetable patches, a small orchard and flower gardens. But the largest part is grassland. Unimproved grassland is among the rarest habitats left in England, and consequently we are doing our best to revert two small fields back to something that approximates to an old meadow. Having mown off the nettles and thistles which had become dominant before we purchased the land, we then introduced five sheep to graze. And subsequently three llamas.

The llamas are ideal for grazing meadows as one of the problems of improved grassland is that it is nutrient rich, with grasses dominating. In order to revert to a flower rich meadow, the nutrients need to be reduced, and this is where the llamas come in. Unlike sheep, llamas are territorial, and deposit their dung in heaps, communally. This means that the dung can be removed from the field. Not only that, it is nicely pelleted, and can be put straight on the garden.

This is why I was out, last Sunday, collecting llama dung. But while I was collecting it I was aware that there were very few invertebrates crawling around in it -- just the odd earthworm. Surely there should have been maggots of dung flies? Perhaps it was too early in the year, but it did remind me of some reading I had been doing over winter concerning the use of helminthicides, and the massive impact on invertebrates. Helminthicides are used to control worm infestations in sheep and cattle, and most farmers now routinely dose their livestock. But the impact on wildlife is going largely unreported, although as far as I can make out, it could be having an impact comparable to the insecticides of the 1950s. The countryside is losing its flies and other invertebrates at an alarming rate, and because most people don't like flies, little fuss is being made. But the impact on birds and other wildlife is devastating.

Perhaps some of the campaigning groups -- such as Greenpeace and FoE could look into the problem. Much as I would like the WLT to get involved, we simply do not have the resources.

No comments:

Post a Comment