Extra activities for people who want to be more proactive in their Arks
The aim of We are the Ark is to create habitats and maximize the diversity and sanctuary available on your land. Some people may have the time and energy to strengthen the ecosystem services offered by their land.
• Ark Meadow
Working with the seed bank in the soil, removing any non-native plants as they emerge. This can be difficult in some continents especially the USA and Canada where non-native invasive plants have run rampant, and are sadly still often being sold in garden centres over there. The heavily flowered and colourful meadows you are being sold in seed packets, are often non-native and are still leaning on beauty rather than nature support. Leave some areas of grassy Arkness which you don’t cut back. Create a five year cycle with your ark meadows. Leaving some thatched thick dead grasses will make perfect homes for Bumblebees, shrews, field mice and many more. They will thank you for the accommodation. Leave the seed heads on everything, as this is the winter and early spring larder and habitat for many wild creatures. Only cut the meadow back as new growth starts to push through in the spring. Leaving dead stems over winter is vital for many insects and larvae to complete their lifecycles and create a new generation of their own species.
• Wildlife Pond
If you can take the time and energy to install a small wildlife pond, do! It’s a huge help and support to wildlife. It’s very hard for our wild kin to find clean sources of water these days. Even a small bowl of rainwater sunken into the ground, with a ramp to allow escapes if any creatures fall in.. this is very helpful if you keep it fresh and clean with either plants or maintenance.
Throw a pile of logs somewhere quiet and create a log, twig and leaf pile if you can get hold of them. Lots of creatures will make homes here. Rotting wood and leaves create warmth for many families. A dead hedge is a great instant wind break which also serves as a home and pantry for many creatures.
A container of water with some rotting leaves and inserted twigs for ramped escape routes. Lots of insects need this kind of habitat for their life cycle. (Of course its not the best idea if you live in a part of the world where mosquitoes might cause problems for you.)
• Sand or earth bank
Most of our bees are solitary bees. They often live in these places in little bee burrows. Create a bare patch of earth occasionally in your meadow, mimicking the burrowing creatures or the hooves of heavy mammals. This gives a chance to the annual seeds and also creates another layer of habitat.
• Rock pile or dry stone wall
Many wild plants like lichens and mosses as well as a host of wild creatures will love you for providing the perfect rocky home for their needs.
There are so many species of bee, mostly they are solitary species, but the honey bee gets all the attention and is often non-native, stealing all the food sources from the beleaguered native bees. So make a range of bee friendly nesting sites. There is only one native honey bee in Ireland. It is under serious threat.
The Native Irish Honey Bee Society is dedicated to the betterment of our Native Honey Bee, (there is only one), which is under threat from imported diseases and hybridisation. This is an All-Ireland organisation which promotes the well being of the Native Irish Honey Bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. We aim for its conservation, study, improvement and re-introduction. It is still strong on the Island but is nevertheless under threat of hybridisation through the importation, breeding and keeping of non-native honey bees. There is also a danger of honey bee diseases being introduced. If you can help them in the endeavour go to www.nihbs.org.
• Get a look at who’s come to stay!
Set up a night vision, motion sensitive camera to catch sight of the families that take shelter in your Ark.
• Grow your own food!
The agricultural system we have become dependent on to produce our food has become the main destroyer of wild and natural habitats, driving the extinction of all life on earth. Step out of that system as much as you can, watch what you buy, grow vegetables, fruit, nuts and grains on part of your land. It is not the farmers that are to blame, it is the system they are caught in. This system will only change from the ground up.
Work with some of your land to grow chemical free food, if you are able. It is incredible how much food you can grow in a small space. If you can’t manage this, then switch to buying food from local organic producers.
Polytunnels or glasshouses are also vital in many climates, to become more self- sufficient. I love forest gardening – growing perennial plants on multiple layers in an open canopy, productive woodland. Combined with native plants this is a magical way of working with land, mimicking nature’s own natural systems. There are huge resources on the web on the different forest garden plants for each region of the world.
Grow only from organic, heritage seeds and locally sourced open-pollinated seed. Support small organic seed companies and organisations such as Seed Savers in Ireland.
To protect and build soil, use the no-dig and permaculture methods of growing food in smaller spaces. When the soil is healthy, so is the food and everything else.
It’s ALL about the soil.
• Compost your leftover food
Raw food into a compost bin, cooked food into a wormery. If you throw food in the general waste bin, it goes to landfill. Because it has no oxygen to help it decompose in the landfill, it results in the production of methane, a gas that is twenty times more destructive than carbon dioxide for the atmosphere when it is released. Instead put those nutrients right back into the soil system. Or, if you are lucky enough to have the room for some chickens, then the scraps are easily redistributed as tasty snacks which get processed into the best fertiliser when it comes out the other side!
• Share and create a community
If you have a large garden, share some of the space for as many friends as possible to grow food, if they don’t have a garden. The more of us that step out of the chemical dependent food system the better. Change will only happen if their profits fall. Share plants, knowledge, food and company. Just help each other. Give as much as you can back to nature to re-wild, at least half if possible and half to you and your friends to grow healthy food. Community allotments are so important for urban dwellers, we need to lobby for more and more land for this purpose.
There’s room in The Ark community for everyone!
Expand the web
Encourage your local council, government or Home Owners Association to become an Ark. There will be individuals in every organisation who understand that change is inevitable and that we must all increase our efforts to be part of the solution. This is designed to support them to do something very positive without much effort and you might be surprised at their willingness to be involved. It gives them a platform to reduce maintenance, save costs and be green. Nature doesn’t care what their reasons are, as long as they do it!
Guerrilla gardening is always an option for those more enthusiastic Ark builders. If there are wild areas on common land or industrial land that have been left to re-wild unintentionally, put one of our “This is an Ark” signposts in there (if you have permission) and start a conversation. It may help encourage people or organisations not to destroy them later if they are blindly following a “tidy’ mandate without the knowledge of how wild places provide homes for so much life. It might make them think twice and see the land has value when it is full of wildness. Remember, there will be people who are willing to embrace change. They might surprise you.
If you want to do more, and have the space to do it, you can begin to plant as many native and heritage fruit and nut trees as you can, if you can source local native stock. When a piece of land is being re-wilded or arked, native tree seeds will most likely emerge from the earth once what we call pioneer plants set the stage for them, (if the soil is not damaged and the seed bank has not been destroyed). These pioneers are the earliest plants to emerge to re-establish an ecosystem and they will create protected environments for
the trees to grow at the right time. Birds like Jays and some other creatures such as squirrels will sow these seeds for us naturally in larger tracts of land. Nature already has every aspect of restoration worked out. If you don’t have a huge amount of land, then a native mixed species hedgerow will be a huge benefit creating shelter, safe corridors and habitat for the families living on the land.
• You won’t need to plant trees if you are adjacent to a native woodland or hedgerow which already has the sources of seeds ready to spread into your Ark. However there may not be such a place or your land may be very large and in need of help. The best practice is to collect seeds from these places (with permission) and grow packets of these trees and plants dotted around your ark which can then naturally disperse. (Check out pocket forests)
• If you are in need of planting some trees, only plant small (native) trees. Imagine you are adopting a child. The ‘child’ tree will settle in with ease and adapt much quicker, the younger it is. Otherwise newly planted trees often struggle, as they are generally raised in protected nursery environments, grown like soldiers with no character or resilience. It’s often too much a of a shock for the poor creatures when they meet wind, drought and new soil once they are moved to their new homes. In fact, I would highly suggest planting locally sourced tree seeds. Locally sourced plants are much more beneficial to the genetic diversity of the insects in your specific area.
• Also if you do plant trees, you must nurture them as you would nurture a child. While they are young they need support for a few years to become strong and resilient ‘adults’. So, mulch them to protect them and
the soil and give them the best chance possible.
Here’s how I do it.
Surround each one with a circle of cardboard, about 60 cm wide. (I use flattened cardboard boxes and make sure all tape is stripped and removed). Put a thick layer of mulch on top (bark mulch is one good option). Keep a little space around the tree trunk, don’t pile against the trunk. Now add three rough field stones if you can get them. 50 cm in diameter approx. These hold down the mulch, absorb the heat of the sun during the day, release it slowly at night and reduce root rock and hopefully removing the need for tree stakes. This creates a nursery microclimate to protect the trees and support them, the worms love the cardboard and start to aerate the soil and restore the micro-life establishment. The decomposing cardboard also returns carbon to the soil in the process.
In the future, when the trees grow, you may need to step in and thin the branches or coppice some trees to make sure more light gets through to the lower layers of the woods. This maximises the food and sanctuary available on that land. Otherwise it would eventually become a closed canopy and not much would live in its shade. We are the light holders now. We have removed the top predators from our land, the ones that would normally carry out this role and many others. Step in and provide whatever surrogate ecological services that are required to allow this system meet its full potential. On huge areas of land, this can be managed with the proper re-introduction of large animals. I love the large rewilding examples like Knepp estate in England and Trees for life in Scotland.
Then try and let the land lead the way, trust its intelligent processes.
Embrace this land into your world as another member of your family.
Nurture and protect it and all of the families that come to live there.