Monocultures are artificial habitats made up mostly of single species. A weedless lawn is a monoculture. So is a plantation of trees of all the same species and age. These monotonous areas are wastelands for wildlife. That's because they lack biodiversity, or a variety of life, to entice insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, and other creatures. More than likely, there's a monoculture near you — even in your schoolyard or a nearby park. Think of ways to boost biodiversity there. Read on for suggestions.
Start a Tree Trail or Arboretum
You could transform a monoculture into something special by planting a tree trail or arboretum. A tree trail is a collection of trees spaced out along a route. An arboretum is a garden devoted to trees. Such a long-range project can provide huge benefits for everything from songbirds to centipedes.
- Make sure there's sufficient land available to make the project worthwhile — enough for 20 or 30 trees.
- Some trees grow quickly, while others grow slowly. Consult with an arborist (tree expert) or nursery about proper spacing and location of species.
- Choose a diversity of native trees that grow well in your area and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Consider nut-bearers, such as black oak, beech, and American chestnut, or fruit trees like wild crab-apple, black cherry, and pin-cherry. Balsam-poplar, silver maple, and trembling aspen offer valuable wildlife cover. Red pine, shore pine, red cedar, and black spruce provide year-round cover as well as nesting sites and food.
- Number each newly planted tree with a waterproof disc that is placed on a peg pushed into the ground. Keep a reference card for each tree, including the planting date, species, where the tree came from, and other import ant data.
- Let your community know what you're up to. Individuals and groups may be persuaded to pitch in with funding, trees, and time.
- Hang a map of your tree trail or arboretum in a prominent place in your school.
- Students can take visitors, teachers, and schoolmates for guided tours through the habitat.
- As the years go by, keep records of the diversity of wildlife attracted to your planting project.
Plant a Pollinator Patch
Change your schoolyard from a boring no-bug's-land into a colourful, insect-rich paradise. Habitats for hard-working pollinators, like bees and butterflies, are especially rare these days. Development and pollution are destroying many of the wildflowers these creatures depend upon. Some of these habitats are highly specialized, like that of the endangered Furbish's lousewort. This yellow wildflower grows in just one spot on Earth — along the banks of the upper St. John River in New Brunswick and Maine. The humble bumble-bee is its chief pollinator, so a shortage of bees could mean disaster for Furbish's lousewort. Be kind to bees (and all pollinators) by planting their favourite flowering foods.
- Bees like most wildflowers but are especially fond of blue and yellow blooms.
- Plant a diversity of plants and shrubs that bloom in spring, summer, and fall.
- Choose bee-balm, black-eyed Susan, cardinal-flower, butterfly weed, Canada goldenrod, catnip, common sunflower, common milkweed, peppermint, and fireweed to help boost bee biodiversity. Lowbush blueberry is a hit with the 60 or so bee species that buzz in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.
Enter the No-mow Zone
Do you really want to help habitat? Then do nothing. The following suggestions will not only boost biodiversity but also call for little or no effort — and they’re absolutely free.
- Leave your schoolyard lawn alone. Most lawns are monotonous, pesticide-soaked monocultures. These sterile habitats are unfriendly to all living things, except grass. Work wonders for wildlife by reducing the size of your lawn. Simply stop mowing one half — more if you dare — and let nature do the rest.
- Put up a sign informing your community that you're helping habitat by not mowing. With luck, your neighbours will do the same.
- Request that any grass clippings from the mown half be left on the lawn as free fertilizer. Collecting and dumping clippings elsewhere wastes time and energy.
- Pitch your pesticides — in a proper hazardous-waste facility, of course. If your school uses weed- or insect-killers, request a meeting with the principal or school board. Do your research first and be well prepared to explain the dangers of pesticides and why we need to nurture wildlife habitat.
- Ask that any fallen branches be left in a brush pile, not hauled away. Rodents, insects, snakes, and even small birds will take shelter there.
- Nurture moss in your schoolyard instead of tilling it into the ground or treating it like a noxious weed. Many birds line their nests with this cushiony plant.
- Don't "tidy" up tangles of vines, brush, and brambles on or near your school property. Leave this thick vegetation for creatures to nest and shelter in.
The Beauty of Bees
Believe it or not, Canada has about 2,000 species of bees!
- There are not only honeybees and bumblebees but also leafcutter, carpenter, sweat, mason, orchard, and digger bees, to name a few. All are important pollinators.
- Some are tiny, and many don't look especially bee-like.
- Most are solitary and live by themselves rather than in busy, buzzing hives.
- Some have long tongues, others short ones — depending on the blooms they drink nectar from.
- The honeybee is not native to Canada, and the only bee species that braves the Arctic is the bumblebee.
- Bees usually only sting if we scare them by swatting them or by disturbing their homes.
Build a Bee Bungalow
Snug homes for solitary bee species are sometimes hard to find. Here's how you can help:
- Leave dead trees and branches in heaps. These brush piles will make choice real estate for leafcutter and mason bees.
- Obtain several 8- to 13-cm-thick blocks of wood (scrap lumber is fine).
- Drill holes about 90 percent of the way into the blocks, 3- to 8- mm in diameter, and spaced 1- to 2- cm apart.
- Hang your bee bungalows in a shady, dry spot under the eaves of a house or shed in early spring.
Beneficial Barn Owls
Barn owls are rodent-control specialists. One barn owl weighing only 500 grams will out-mouse a great horned owl three times its weight. Centuries ago, barn owls nested in the cavities of huge trees. As forests were chopped down, these feathered hunters relocated to church steeples, silos, and barns. Now the owls are house-hunting once again, as old-fashioned buildings are being replaced by metal structures. Only about 1,000 barn owls remain in the Fraser Valley and southern Vancouver Island. The species once ranged through southern Ontario as well but has almost vanished there.
The Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in Delta, British Columbia, rescues and raises orphaned barn owls, then releases as many as 25 pairs a year on farms having barns or silos and suitable meadow habitat. If you know of a farm that could adopt a pair of these rodent-control specialists, get in touch with OWL.
Welcome Barn Owls
- The nesting box can also be placed in the eaves of a barn or shed. Place the entrance side against an outer wall within the building, then cut a corresponding hole in the wall. Now the owls can fly in and out of the barn or shed, even if the door is shut.
- Instead of a nesting box, you can build a platform about 0.6 m square and mount it high in the rafters of a barn. Nail a barrier around the platform, so eggs or chicks won't tumble off the edge. Make sure there's an entrance where owls can get in and out of the building at all times.
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