Wednesday, 31 March 2010

RSPB Garden Birdwatch Results

This is from the RSPB....

It's official, small birds struggled to beat the snowy winter.  A massive thanks to everyone (nearly 530,000 of you!) who took part in Big Garden Birdwatch and counted over 8 and a half million birds. We celebrated last year with the arrival of long-tailed tits in the top 10 for the first time, suggesting they were getting used to feeding on seeds and peanuts in hanging feeders and on bird tables.  However, smaller bodied birds are particularly susceptible to the cold, having to eat almost continuously to stay alive, so we were very keen to get your counts and see just how the bad weather at the start of the year affected bird populations.  As predicted, birds like the long-tailed tit, coat tit and goldcrest were the worst affected, with average numbers of all three species dropping significantly since the 2009 survey.

Country birds get in on the count.  The weather was also responsible for many more sightings of countryside birds like fieldfares, redwings, bullfinches and yellowhammers in gardens. More usually found in fields and farmland trees and hedgerows, these birds visit our gardens for food when they can't find enough in their usual haunts.  Other members of the thrush family, including song thrushes, mistle thrushes and blackbirds, were seen in much higher numbers this year, also looking for food.  An unusually high number of blackcaps were also seen. In this harsher winter we might have expected their numbers to decline, but more blackcaps than usual were discovered on bird tables. Just like the long-tailed tit, this suggests that blackcaps are adapting their feeding behaviour to take advantage of bird tables and feeders, and therefore becoming more visible in gardens.

Still in decline  Although we were particularly concerned for small birds this cold and snowy winter, some of our most familiar garden birds have also continued to suffer huge declines.  House sparrows might have retained top spot for the seventh year running, but in the last five years alone these chirpy birds have declined by 17%.  Blackbirds rose from third to second place, while starlings dropped to third - the first time they have been out of the top two in more than 10 years.

The 2010 Big Garden Birdwatch top 10 nationwide;
Position Species Average per garden
  1. house sparrow 3.77
  2. blackbird 3.28
  3. starling 3.13
  4. blue tit 2.58
  5. chaffinch 2.19
  6. woodpigeon 1.91
  7. robin 1.49
  8. great tit 1.39
  9. collared dove 1.33
  10. goldfinch 1.29

And in North Yorkshire: 
  1. Sparrow Average no per garden 4.76, Percentage of gardens  75.7%
  2. Blackbird 4.03, 97.8
  3. Starling 3.48, 59.0
  4. Chaffinch 2.44, 61.7
  5. Blue Tit 2.43, 82.5
  6. Goldfinch 1.57, 35.0
  7. Collared Dove 1.55, 63.1
  8. Woodpigeon 1.43, 57.1
  9. Robin 1.34, 85.1
  10. Dunnock 1.30, 61.9
  11. Great Tit 1.21, 55.0
  12. Long tailed tit 0.88, 22.1
  13. Greenfinch 0.86, 31.7
  14. Coal Tit 0.76,  43.5
  15. Tree sparrow 0.71, 13.8
  16. Jackdaw 0.64, 20.4
  17. Carrion crow 0.45, 20.0
  18. Magpie 0.44, 25.6
  19. Feral pigeon 0.40, 14.1
  20. Wren 0.32, 27.7

AGM minutes 2010

Scarcroft & District Allotment and Amateur Gardeners’ Association

Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on 17 March 2010
Southlands Methodist Church, Southlands Road, York.

1. The meeting was chaired by Graham Sanderson and attended by 30 members. Also attending were PCSO’s Rachel Shaw and Mike Holden. Apologies from Chris Adam, Hilary Moxon, Christine Staples, Geoff Baker, Judith Ward and Patrick Cairns.

2. After the correction of Caroline Bush’s name, which appeared as Caroline Snell in item 2, Minutes from the last AGM were accepted as a correct record, proposed by Claire Pickard and seconded by Tina Funnell.

3. Chair’s Report
The Association has had another successful year. For the improvements made to both the shop and the site we received a special community project award last year, which is proudly displayed in the site shop. There were several events last year; a Dawn Chorus Walk (thanks to Simon and Morwenna), a Scarcroft site tidy/litter pick and a get-together for members in The Golden Ball last November. This was a huge success; so much so that we’re having another one on April 30th. We are also seeking suggestions for a family event in the summer. Please let us know what you and your families would enjoy.

A real milestone for the association was the creation of our own blog, which is a real success. Our sincere thanks to Caroline Bush for setting this up. This shouldn’t simply be used as a notice board, we welcome questions, suggestions, gardening tips, photos – keep them coming in. This is another way to keep our allotment association alive!

Graham formally thanked Mike for transforming the shop. He has worked tirelessly, renovating the inside of the building itself, creating separate areas for storage and sales and working long hours to achieve this. Thanks to Mike also for keeping the association’s accounts, and of course to the ‘backbone’ of shop volunteers.

Thanks also to Judith and Sue, City of York Council, for their support during 2009, for helping with site walks etc. and of course the site secretaries. Currently 20 people are taken off the waiting list on the Scarcroft site every 6 months.

Membership last year totalled 205, currently have 148 paid up members, 70 at Scarcroft, 22 at Hospital fields, 4 at Hob Moor, 10 at other sites with the remainder being private gardeners. We’re optimistic that there will be an increase in membership this year. Don’t forget you can get 10% discount from Deans Garden Centre and Pextons on production of your membership card.

Sara informed the meeting that all but one of the nest boxes she had put up last year had been used. The boxes have been cleaned out and birds are already using some of them.

A member queried why we paid £79 last year to join the RHS, rather than for example Garden Organic. The decision was made at a committee meeting last year after we’d looked at a wide range of organisations and the RHS proved to be the best value. The £79 included the membership fee, plus ‘events’ insurance covering the lending of tools to association members, against injury during hedge care/site tidying etc. If you have a view on this or any suggestions regarding membership of other organisations, please put your comments on our blogsite.
4. Treasurer’s Report for 2009
The Profit and Loss account shows a net loss of £1,328.08 with a net asset level of -£200 on last year. However, this is offset by a significant increase in stock levels. Income from membership was £467.50 with shop sales up by 60%. We have decided the shop will no longer sell pesticides, both for financial and environmental reasons. A range of green manures will soon be available to buy and if we don’t stock the one you prefer, please get in touch with us and we will order it for you. In the coming spring/summer months, if there was a demand for it we would consider opening the shop mid-week during the evenings. Comments and suggestions welcome.
Members were reminded they must pay for chippings and manure. We have barely broken even from the last two deliveries, and on previous occasions we’ve made a loss.
5. Proposals for changes to the constitution
No proposals have been received.
6. Election of the committee
Tom Walters
Graham Sanderson
Mike Oldfield
Sara Robin
Caroline Bush
Linda James
Tina Funnell
Chris Whittaker
Heather Dawe
Laura Potts
Graham Lewis proposed that all should be elected onto the committee, seconded by Debbie Pendle.
The plot secretaries Claire Pickard, Malcolm Hainsworth and Chris Adam will be co-opted onto the committee.

7. Herbs for Health by Laura Potts. Laura gave a fascinating and insightful presentation on the aesthetic and medicinal properties derived from the herbs we all grow in our gardens, and treated the members to tastings of herbal teas, home-made elderflower cordial and a demonstration of herb-based ointments and salves. We all enjoyed it hugely. Thanks again Laura!
8. Any Other Business
  • Toni Bundell informed the meeting that she runs a rescue centre for hedgehogs and offered to teach anyone who is interested how to make their plot hedgehog friendly, and to set up feeding stations for them. Toni will post a blog on our website.
  • Manure deliveries to the Albermarle Road end of the Scarcroft site. There has been an issue for some time that plot owners at the top end of the site have a long drag backwards and forwards to collect their manure, which is generally unloaded at the Scarcroft Road end. The inhibitors appear to be the narrow pathways which don’t allow access for the delivery vehicles and there isn’t really a suitable area at the top of the site to unload a large amount of manure. Graham suggested the plot holders near Albermarle Road get together and between them arrange for a private delivery, first identifying an area where it can be unloaded without causing blocking of the paths.
9. The meeting closed at 9pm.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Toys looking for new home or plot

These toys were left on a plot on Scarcroft by a previous tennant.  If you have or know of a child who would like them please help yourself.  They are now by the association shop.  They might entertain a little one while you do some digging.

Frogspawn on Scarcroft

At the risk of over frogging you.  Here is a photo of frogspawn on Scarcroft, taken by Iris Wells last Sunday, the 28th.  So there is proof the frogspawn season is now in full swing.

However, Iris's sighting was beaten by Simon who saw some in his pond in Dringhouses on 24th March.  He doesn't have photo evidence though. 

Thanks for the reports.


The Big Pond Thaw survey 2010 SUMMARY

One of our members sent in this information and felt that it might be of interest to some of you.  It is provided by Pond Conservation .....

Photo by Roger Naylor
The winter of 2009/10 was the hardest for 30 years in the United Kingdom.

Because of this, many ponds froze for much longer than we have been used to, with ice cover persisting for a month or more in many places. As the ice melted, Pond Conservation started to receive reports from distressed pond owners, about dead amphibians, mainly frogs, that had been overwintering in their ponds.

We already had evidence that the usual advice given to protect wildlife in garden ponds in cold weather – ‘make a hole in the ice’ – was having little effect. So we asked Pond Conservation’s supporters, and other pond lovers, to tell us more about their ponds during the freezing weather. We wanted to find out if the things people did to protect their pond wildlife was having an effect - for example: Did they make holes in the ice? Did they clear the snow? Did they run a pump? and, of course, Had they suffered amphibian or fish deaths?

So a very big “thank-you” to all of you who contributed to the Big Pond Thaw Survey – its provided some unique information. And here’s the results….

What did you find?
Most people who reported back had found a small number of dead frogs, usually less than ten. However, a few people found very large numbers of dead amphibians, the worst was 300 individual frogs in a single medium-sized garden pond.

Holes in the ice?
The results showed that making a hole in the ice didn’t make any difference to the likelihood of mortalities. In ponds where holes were made amphibian deaths were as common as those where no hole was made (63% of ponds where a hole was made suffered deaths compared with 64% where no hole was made). The picture was the same for fish, the proportion of ponds in which fish died was very similar, around half, whether or not a hole was made in the ice.

Clearing snow?
Detailed studies of one of our garden ponds showed that a blanket of snow can seriously reduce oxygen levels, and snow clearance can reverse this. However, across the survey as a whole, clearing snow did not appear to affect the likelihood of amphibian deaths. This may be because only a small number of people cleared snow – so there is little information to work with! But it’s perhaps more likely that snow clearance only works where ponds have lots of plants under the ice to produce oxygen when the snow is cleared back.

Running a pump?
Running a pump did seem to reduce the likelihood of amphibian deaths, although as with the snow clearing, there were only a small number of ponds with pumps so the result should be treated with caution.

Oxygen levels in the water – A Good Thing!
Looking more generally at what the survey suggests about the possible causes of amphibian deaths there is a hint that more died in deeper ponds, and in ponds where the snow lay for longer. Fewer amphibians were found dead where a pump was run, and (or) where there was a greater variety of wetland plant types.

Overall these results suggest that many deaths in garden ponds are probably associated with lack of oxygen in the water, although at this stage we can’t rule out build-up of toxic gases as a contributory factor.

Finally, the Big Pond Thaw survey doesn’t tell us what proportion of ponds suffered amphibian mortalities overall because, of course, people who found dead amphibians were more likely to reply than those with no problems. However, detailed surveys of a more representative set of ponds in the town of Abingdon, part of a special Pond Conservation research project, suggests that amphibian mortalities occurred in about a quarter of garden ponds.

What can we do to reduce amphibian deaths during cold spells?
What are the practical implications of the survey for creating and managing garden ponds so their inhabitants can survive in the cold winter months?

There are several suggestions we can take from all the findings so far:
  1. Ponds shouldn’t be too deep for their area. Shallow ponds – less than 30 cm (1 foot) are more likely to have higher oxygen levels in the water which helps amphibians, so a good pond shape is wide and shallow – a saucer rather than a tank. This is the exact opposite of much of the standard advice, which says that ponds ‘should be deep to protect them from freezing solid’. In fact, we know that most ponds didn’t have more than more than a few centimeters of ice, even during the very coldest days of the 2009-10 winter – so ‘freezing solid’ isn’t the problem.
  2. A large build-up of leaves and sediment on the pond bottom is probably not good news – almost certainly because this de-oxygenates water. This is especially a problem in ponds which are small and deep.
  3. Having plenty of plants in the pond throughout the winter is a good way of improving oxygenation. Underwater plants, including mosses (which don’t die-back in winter) are ideal, although it’s worth remembering that algae, both filamentous and unicellular (the sort that colour the water pea-green) also produce oxygen.
  4. There isn’t any evidence that making holes in the ice, or breaking the ice, can prevent amphibian deaths. This is not surprising, as most amphibians hibernate at the bottom of ponds. Oxygen diffuses very slowly into still water, at about 2 millimeters a day! So it takes over 6 months for surface oxygen to reach the bottom of a 50 cm deep pond.
  5. BUT - If you have a pump, and you think the pond might have low oxygen levels, it is worth making a surface hole and keeping the pump running so that the water is stirred up – this can move oxygen from the surface to deeper waters. A shallow pond with lots of underwater plants won’t need a pump.
  6. If the pond freezes and then snow falls on top of the ice, clearing some snow off the ice to make a ‘sunlight-hole’ can help. But this is only likely to work if your pond has lots of underwater plants (or algae) which can then oxygenate the water.

And finally….

We know that there’s still a lot to discover about the effects of ice and snow on pond wildlife. Here are some of the questions we’d still love to answer:

  • What sort of pond area:depth ratio do we need to make sure that the water stays well-oxygenated under ice?
  • How can we help small deep ponds retain more oxygen – would adding plants like aquatic mosses work?
  • Are toxic gases (ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide) involved in amphibian mortalities – or is oxygen the only thing that matters?
  • Do other aquatic animals like dragonflies and mayflies suffer from winter ice and snow deoxygenation?

Clearly, if we want to protect the very wide variety of plants and animals using our ponds we still have much to learn. This gives us some things to think about next winter…..

If you’d like to know more: you can find a full report of the results from the Big Pond Thaw Survey on Pond Conservation’s Website:
And again, many thanks to everybody who contributed to the survey!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Free Seeds

The BBC are offering free seeds again this year.  They will send you a a packet of each of the five Dig In veg - mixed salad, courgette, french bean, basil and carrot. You'll also get a booklet, explaining how to grow them (which I don't imagine most of you will need, but bring it in to shop if you don't want it and we can pass it on to someone who does).  If you want some just follow the link and fill in the form.

AGM 2010

Around 30 people attended this year's AGM, including 2 members of our local constabulary PCSO Rachel Shaw and Mike Holden who were available before the meeting to take questions on crime on the sites and Cllr Tina Funnell and Cllr Julie Gunnell.  Graham Sanderson gave a charming chairman's address covering the best parts of the last year.  He also stepped in for Mike who was on holiday and presented the treasurers report.  Points of discussion included: why the committee had chosen to join the RHS and why it hadn't been brought to the AGM to approve (having asked Mike for more detail I can now confirm that the figure of £78? covers 2 years subscription and was principally motivated by the fact that membership gave us cheaper event insurance), having manure deliveries to other ends of the allotment site (apologies if I have missed anything off but I haven't seen the minutes yet). Then followed the election of the new committee and finally a very interesting presentation by Laura Potts on Herbs.  Laura, who had valiantly stepped in at the last minute, when our booked speaker had cancelled, covered ways in which a number of herbs (dandelion, comfrey, marigold, lemon balm, lemon verbena etc) could be used, their principle benefits and effects.  We then got to try various infusions, some delicious, others more fortifying, before closing the meeting around 9.    Thank you to everyone who turned up and supported this constitutional but still enjoyable event.
Graham, placed in shadow by the glare of Rachel and Mike's reflective jackets.
Laura's illustrated talk on Herbs for Health.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Future of Food

Here are details of a public meeting that may be of interest to some members of the Association...

The Future of Food

Free public meeting open to everyone.
Thursday 25th March 7.30 pm
Friends Meeting House, Friargate

  • Sandra Bell - Friends of the Earth
  • Chloe Smee - Edible York
  • Michael Hjort - Meltons Restaurants
Come along to find out how we can all eat better today and save our planet for the future.
Plus stalls from other local food groups.
More information from York Friends of the Earth -

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The frogs are at it again

Photo taken by Gordon Haycock in Meanwood Leeds.

Gordon had suggested that these were the first local frog mating sighting of the year.  They have certainly started today on the Scarcroft site in Willy Hoedeman's pond too.

Please can any association member drop the us an e-mail ( when you see the first frog spawn.  We would like to record when it is first seen.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

AGM 2010 - Wednesday 17th

The Annual General Meeting of the Scarcroft and District Allotment Association will be held this Wednesday, the 17th of March, in Room 2 (upstairs) at Southlands Methodist Church, Southlands Road at 7.30pm.  The room will be open from 7pm and the meeting will finish at 9pm.

The agenda is as follows:
  1. Welcome
  2. Apologies for absence
  3. Minutes of the AGM held on 18th March 2009
  4. Chair’s report
  5. Treasurer’s report
  6. Proposals for changes to the constitution
  7. Election of the committee
  8. A talk Herbs for Health by Laura Potts
Please note that Sarah Clark from Green Garden Herbs who was originally billed to do our talk cancelled this week, due to an invasion of rabbits at her nurseries (and bad weather) which has left her with no stock to sell or herbs to use as visual aids.  We are delighted that Laura Potts, a keen allotmenteer, Scarcroft plotholder for 25 years and author of 'A Small Herbal'  has agreed to step in and save the day.  You may wonder why we didn't ask Laura in the first place, well, I'm afraid I didn't know we had such an expert in our midst; otherwise I certainly would have asked her.  Laura recently did a demonstration on pruning soft fruit which was highly praised by those who attended it (see the post from Wed 3rd Feb 2010, you can find it by using the Blog archive on the right hand side).
Laura's short talk will be entitled Herbs for Health - using herbs at home and in the garden.  It will bring to us the tastes of fresh herb teas, the scents of last year's crops and tips on cultivation and uses.  There will be copies of Laura's booklet available to purchase on the night if anyone would like to do so.
Her talk promises to be an interesting and informative event.

We expect a member of the local police team to be available to talk to members before the meeting starts, so use this opportunity to raise any issues you have with them.

There is usually a group of members who go for a drink at the Swan on Bishopthorpe Road after the meeting.  All members are welcome to join us.

Please note that if you have not renewed your annual subscription you can do so on the night but please come slightly early so we can sort out the paperwork before the meeting starts.

See you there.

Caroline Bush

Rubbish on Scarcroft

The litter pick on Scarcroft 2 weeks ago generated bags of rubbish which the committee has asked York Pride to take away.  In past years they have done this in a timely fashion.  This year after a 2 week delay and several repeated requests the litter has still not been moved.  PLEASE DO NOT ADD TO THIS PILE.  Each time the pile gets bigger it seems that it is less and less likely that the council will come and get it and as far as we know there are no immediate plans for the council to provide a skip. 

If any member would like to lobby the council to hurry up and move the pile please feel free to do so.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Harlow Carr - Grow Your Own Weekend - 6th and 7th March


The vegetable season kicks off at Harlow Carr with a weekend event not to be missed by those interested in growing and cooking their own food. The weekend includes cookery demonstrations, talks by RHS experts, planting demonstrations, garden walks and fruit and vegetable exhibitors!

The Programme
  • 10am-4pm Vegetable Advisory Stand and Display. Visit the Plant Centre and seek advice about growing vegetables from local expert and broadcaster Joe Maiden.
  • 10am-4pm Crazy Container Planting. Get involved with planting vegetables. Bring along an unusual container and we will help you plant it up with veggies the whole family can watch grow and enjoy. A grow your own starter kit will be awarded to the wackiest container brought on the day!
  • 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.15pm, 2.15 & 3.15Talks – ‘Growing in Container Pots’ * Saturday 6th Only Study Centre
  •  Book early for your chance to discover the joys of growing your own fruit and vegetables whatever the size of your plot. This ‘Veg Growing in Containers’ talk is ideal for beginner gardeners and will gently guide you through this enjoyable topic. With plenty of insider tips, tricks and info on how to select the best varieties, which containers to use and how to look after your patio crops!
  • 11am,11.45am, 12.30pm, 1.15pm, 2pm & 2.30pmKitchen Garden Walks * Meet outside the Teaching Greenhouse.  Book early for your chance to join our RHS gardeners who will guide you around the Kitchen Garden. The National Vegetable Society will be on hand after the walk to answer questions and offer gardening tips and advice.
  • 10am-4pm Visit Mrs Cluck Cluck Near BettysTeahouse. Ever wondered how to get started with your own free range hens?  Mrs Cluck Cluck can provide you with all the information you need to get started no matter what sort of outside space you have available!
  • 12:15pm and 2:15pmCookery Demonstrations * Teaching Greenhouse.  Book early and have your taste buds tantalized whilst watching Andrew Woods from the Vegetarian Society cook up some tasty spring themed recipes, using vegetables from the RHS Kitchen Garden.
  • 10am-12pm, 1pm-2pm Bread Making Workshop Teaching Greenhouse. Come and bake some homemade bread to go with your delicious home-grown vegetable dishes!
  • National Vegetable Society. The NGS will be on site both days to dish out advice, tips and container planting advice.
  • 10am-4pm River Swale Organic Fruit & Vegetables Near BettysTeahouse.  Bringing information on organic seasonal vegetables & fruit from their farm to your door.
* Pick up a ticket from outside the Teaching Greenhouse.
Places will be allocated on the day 30 minutes prior to each talk.

RHS members free.  Saturday £1 only. 
For more details


Memories of Autumn

(photo by Iris Wells)