Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 30th May 2010

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2010

John Burton, World Land Trust
David Tight, Hampshire Carnicorous Plants
Paul Harvey-Brooks, Bradstone Biodiversity Garden

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Chris -  Well now, it’s time to join Meera Senthilingam who’s been off enjoying the sunshine this week at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show and she’s been finding out how to save the rainforest and entice lots of wildlife into her garden...

Meera -   Here in the UK, it’s been brightening up.  It’s a lot hotter, which means that all of us are out and about, getting our gardens ready for the barbecue season.  Now the highlight of any horticulturists calendar is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show.  One particular concern being addressed is the destruction of our rainforest.  So I'm now in a beautiful stand, sitting in a lovely wooden hut with John Burton who’s the CEO of the World Land Trust.

Darlingtonia californica, a species of carnivorous pitcher plantJohn -   The exhibit we’ve constructed here shows at one end simulation of what the rainforest can look like – a lush, dense forest.  Then we have the ranger’s hut, including a window, opening on to a plasma screen and actually a live webcam transmission from the forest.  So what people are seeing is what’s actually going on in Brazil right at this moment.  And then the other side of the ranger’s hut, we’ve got a little garden with a tree nursery showing how we grow the trees for reforestation projects, and also, the sort of tropical plants that people don't realise, without those tropical forest, we wouldn’t have some of these plants – the sweet potatoes from Paraguay, the tomatoes from South America, the chilli peppers, the pineapples.  There are so many of our foods that we just accept because we get them in the supermarket.  But without the tropical forest, we wouldn’t have them.

Meera -   What’s the key message that you're trying to give to visitors this week?

John -   Well I think the key one here is that everyone thinks of the rainforest in terms of the Amazon  - and yes, 30% of the Amazon has been destroyed, but when you put that in the perspective of the Atlantic rainforest, the Mata Atlantica, where 93% is already gone it gives you an idea of what the real losses are. And some 40% of the species found in the Mata Atlantica are endemic to that region.  So we’ve got a real problem.

Meera -   What are the main ways you're going about addressing the problem?

John -   Well there’s two ways.  One is buying up existing forests and putting that under strict protection and the other is buying land between protected areas, creating corridors where it may have been cleared in the past and doing reforestation projects on them.  You have a variety of ways of doing it - if it’s only been cleared fairly recently, just by leaving it alone, it’ll often regenerate.  Other areas cleared a long time ago will need more regeneration, we will need to do some planting.  For instance in our Brazilian project, they used 60 species of trees.  They concentrate initially on some of the fast growing ones because one of the big problems is getting them going. There’s often African grass which is very invasive.  It is difficult for the trees to break through that.  So you need to create shade as quickly as possible. So we used the fast growing species, they provide the shade for the slow growing species, timber species, to grow eventually.

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Meera -   Now I'm just walking through the grand pavilion and there’s a selection of plants that sort of really caught my eye, and that’s the stand of the Hampshire Carnivorous Plants.  They vary greatly in their appearance.  Some of them are up to a metre in height.  They’re tubes and some of them bend over almost with swan heads.  With me is David Tight who’s manning the stand.  So what type of carnivorous plant are these?

David -   What we’ve actually got is a selection of carnivorous plants from around the world who have various methods of attracting flies usually by nectar, sometimes by pattern.  The plant produces a nectar on its lid.  The flies are attracted to that and the colouration of the plant, and what will happen is the nectar is a slightly narcotic, intoxicating juice which clogs up the fly’s fleet at the same time while it’s partying on the lid.  It’ll get drunk, it’ll fall in the tube eventually, once it gets round to the sweet spot and can't hang on, whereupon, it’s constantly digested for the next three months over the course of the summer.

Meera -   So how does a plant go about digesting it once the fly has fallen in to the trap?

David -   What it needs is the vibration and the movement.  At which point, it releases an enzyme through the wall of the tube on the inside.  That’s very similar to the enzyme within our stomach which breaks down the soft tissues in the fly, that the plant then reabsorbs through this walls of the inside of the tube.

Meera -   Therefore, getting its nutrition.

David -   Right.  Trace elements absorbed, plant has a sleep through the winter, wakes up again next spring and does it all again.

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Meera -   The theme of this year’s show is biodiversity, due to it being the international year of biodiversity.  So what more fitting, than the Bradstone biodiversity garden!  So I'm now here with Paul Harvey Brooks who designed this garden.  So Paul, how in a space of 7 metres by 5 metres do you get the maximum biodiversity possible?

Paul -   Well the very definition of biodiversity is the number of species within a given space and here, we’ve tried to literally cram in as much as we can whilst making it very beautiful.  We’ve got lots of floriferous plants that are nectar rich.  They're very simple; the colours that insects really like and then we’ve finally have added into the way the garden’s landscape features that are particularly of interest to certain birds and animals.

Meera -   We’re currently sitting in a wonderful pillared porch towards the back of the garden and I can see a wide array of flowers in front of us.  So what particular flowers have you chosen and what array of insects have been attracted by them?

Paul -   In the flowering part of the garden, it was more of the colour and the structure which is important.  The colours that we’re looking at are the kinds of colours that insects are particularly attracted to and that’s from research carried out at Sheffield.  We see the colour as these rich mauves, lilacs and yellows, and obviously, insects are seeing them in UV light so it’s different for them.  And then we looked at plants that kind of give shelter, give food, and things like the hedge where we’ve left the top slightly shaggy is particularly important for starlings and blackbirds because they won't nest in a perfectly flat hedge and directly fly into it.  They need to roost first and then fly in.  So if you don't have a tree, a hedge where you've got this kind of loose shaggy approach is much more beneficial. 

The other thing we’ve looked at are things like crevice nesting birds.  House sparrows in particular have declined by about 70% in 20 years and it’s simply because we don't build in a vernacular fashion and we certainly don't keep older buildings as untidy as you could do to allow them to nest.  So we’ve made what we believe to be a very beautiful portico and you would find the crevice nesting bird there after a couple of years of it kind of settling in.

Meera -   And as well as birds, what else have you managed to attract?

Paul -   We’ve had damsel flies, we have blackbirds, blue tit, bees, honeybees.  It’s just been a myriad but you know, a long term approach, this garden would also be attracting small mammals like hedgehogs.

Meera -   Now you also have a log wall here.  So what’s that all about and how is that improving biodiversity?

Paul -   Well, in the urban garden, staghorn beetles are particularly prevalent or at least they were up until very recently when we became very tidy.  And so, what we wanted to do was create a kind of decomposing log wall, so the top layer is fresh logs and the bottom is really rotten and the staghorn beetles lay their eggs there. The larvae actually eat the wood.  So we wanted it to look good but also provide a really important habitat.

Meera -   So it’s really doing its job?

Paul -   Well I think so.  People have been very complimentary and we’ve seen insects around.  In a way, a garden without all of this wildlife is fairly soulless.  For us, it’s important to make it breath and the breath is the insect.

Helen -   That was Paul Harvey Brooks who designed the Bradstone Biodiversity Garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, and before him, John Burton, CEO of the World Land Trust, and David Tight from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants talking to Meera Senthilingam about how to help our environment from the rainforest right down to our own back gardens.

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