Saturday 18 July 2015

The Balkan Ecology Project- Wildlife Friendly Farming

The Balkan Ecology Project is a permaculture inspired approach to wildlife friendly farming. I spent the last week there having a look at the wildlife that is thriving on the project plots.
Currently there are two plots in production.
1) Plot 1- Paul's Garden Site Map and more here
Additionally the project has a further 34 plots for future development ( More here) warmly welcoming further participation in hands on courses, studies and involvement. See here for more on  Courses etc


Paul's Garden is modelled on the success and resilience of a temperate forest ( a forest garden) and consists of layers of edible trees, shrubs, herbs and ground cover with habitat features purposefully included. Gaps have been created between the canopies for more light demanding  cultivation such as annual vegetable and herb production. For purposes of my study I broke the garden up into several units: 

Unit 1;An annual polyculture bed, Unit 2;Conventional Organic, Unit 3; Beneficial Bed, Unit 4; Edible Horse Shoe Bed, Unit 5; Ponds and Unit 6; Other, including Farm animal pens, Trees, margins, paths and borders. 

I had a look at each unit in turn at some of the invertebrates and wildlife that were present. The aim was to provide a snap shot of the prominent species present and have a look at the some of the ecological relationships with the most prominent species. As I don't have extensive experience of the species in this part of Europe the identifications are provisional with obvious species grouped into main families. Help with specific identification is appreciated or any corrections to provisional identifications. Apart from light trapping all recording was by observation of visible species. Needless to say with additional sampling methodology over longer periods of time would generate a much richer picture.

Unit 1: Annual Polyculture Bed (More here on Polyculture Productivity)
Plant species in this production bed include Tomatoes, Summer and Winter Squash, Runner Beans, French Beans together with support species, marigolds, Nasturtium and Basil. (More here) And More here
Species found here were:

Grasshoppers and Crickets: 3 species
Longhorn Beetles: 2 species
Other Beetles: 2 species
Bees: 4 species

The most prominent species was the Violet Carpenter Bee Xylocapa violacea. This species is a common European species and one of the largest bees in Europe.  They are a solitary species that build their nests in wood (hence the name). The eggs are laid in a series of cells, each of which is provided with a pollen ball for the larvae to feed on. In the polyculture bed they were particularly attracted to the Runner Bean flowers but visited several species including Salvia and Lavender.

Violet Carpenter Bee

Unit 2: Conventional Organic
Plant species here included mixed crops e.g. Sweetcorn, brassicas etc with companion planting.More here
Species found here:

Butterflies: 3 species
True Flies: 4 species
Longhorn Beetles: 1 species
Shieldbugs: 2 species

The most prominent species when I visited was the Shiledbug  Eurydema ventralis. The species has two generations and is a well known pest of brassicas. When I arrived an infestation of this species had just started.

Eurydema ventralis  

We made the most of the situation by collecting excess numbers and then feeding them to the frogs

Unit 3: The Beneficial Bed
This was one of my favourite areas, literally buzzing with life. Plant species here included nectar rich plants for pollinators More here

Species seen here:

Bumblebees: 2 species
Other Bees: 2 species
Sawflies: 1 species
Solitary wasps/Ichneumons: 3 species
Hoverflies: 5 species
Other Flies: 5 species
Longhorn Beetles: 3 species
Other Beetles: 3 species
Clearwing Moths: 1 species
Damselflies: 1 species

Red-belted Clearwing. This species is found in well established orchards and gardens across Europe. Larvae feed under the bark of trees (can be a minor pest) of mainly Apple. It is a one generation species from mid-June to August. A stunning looking creature.
Eristalis sp (Hoverfly). Five species of hoverfly were found in the benefical bed and further four species in Plot 1 including Platycherius, Epistrophe, Episyrphus, Syrphus, Eristalis, Syritta and Myathropa. The larvae of some hoverflies eat aphids so provide a pest predator service.
 Horse fly sp. Another stunning looking little creature.
A solitary wasp.
Unit 4: The Edible Horseshoe Bed
This bed is made up of a three layer planting scheme, herbs, fruits and small trees. More here
Another really exciting area of the garden, mainly due to the flowering herb layer and of course a flowering Buddleia and Lavenders.

Species seen here:
Bumblebees: 1 species
Other Bees: 5 species
Sawflies: 1 species
Solitary Wasps: 2 species
Longhorn Beetle: 1 species
Other Beetles: 1 species
Hoverflies: 3 species
Bee-fly: 1 species
Scorpion Fly:1 species
Butterflies and Moths: 10 species

 Hummingbird Hawkmoth- the larvae feed on plants such as bedstraws so important to have wild areas in at the wildlife farm. This species overwinters as an adult and can have up to four broods in one year. 
 Scarab Beetle Cetonia sp
 Silver-washed Fritillary
Scorpion Fly
Unit 5: Ponds
Ponds are one of the most important units within the plots providing aquatic habitats for a diverse group of species and importantly inviting pest predators such as frogs and toads into the wildlife friendly farm. More here
Species seen here:
Dragonflies and Damselflies: 2 species
Frogs: 2 species
Turtles: 1 species (last year)
Water Invertebrates: 3 species
 Broad-bodied Chaser
 Pond Turtle
Pond Frog. Needless to say an important pest predator especially for slugs

Unit 6: Other; Trees, animal pens, margins and borders
In addition to the main units the plots have a number of mixed trees (Fruits and nuts) and also there are farm animals and importantly some areas of the plots are left wild to create structural diversity for further invertebrates to find food plants and shelter. More here

Lattice Brown- found amongst a Cherry Tree
 Red-backed Shrikes feed in the Plot 1. This bird is a recently fledged juvenile. A species which is declining over western Europe this species is very common in the study area.
House Martins nesting on the nearby Church. Aerial feeding birds are constant features over the wildlife  friendly farming airspace.
The Light Trap
In addition to the species seen in the various units, I also ran a light trap on certain evenings to get a snap shot of some of the nocturnal invertebrate life.
There were 44 species of moths, 3+ caddisflies, 4 ladybirds, 4+ beetle sp , small solitary wasps and of course lots of midges.
Safari Light Trap
 Chinese Character- a moth that poses as a bird dropping/faecal sack
Ruby Tigers and Rustic sp 
Nine-spotted Moth

In short
Basically the Balkan Ecology Project Plots are teeming with wildlife. Absolutely incredible!

The future

The project has recently acquired an additional 34 plots. Hopefully each plot will be developed by Project Teams working systematically through a process of observation, design, implementation and recording;

1. Surveys including Mapping areas, contour surveys, phase 1 habitat surveys, soil surveys, bird/mammal/bat surveys, entomological surveys and desk stop studies looking into past use and historical context.

2. Designing and Planning. Using the information from the surveying to establish a plan for each plot using a design palette inspired from the existing plots and established units. 

3. Implementation of Plan.

4. On going production, maintenance and recording. 

For further development on this please watch here: Land Stewardship

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