Trentham Estate- a place to visit

Not far from where I live, there is one of the most well-known tourist attractions of the region- Trentham Estate, which contains a string of shops, restaurants and cafes, a garden centre, the famous Trentham Gardens and the Monkey Forest. But for me, the most important and interesting bit of the estate, is the one often left forgotten- the beautiful parkland and woods surrounding the estate, with their crown jewel being the King’s Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest. If you wish to know more about the Trentham Estate, click http://www.trentham.co.uk/  .

On with the main story- I have been visiting the King’s Wood and the surrounding grounds several times now, and each time I find them more interesting and beautiful. Just have a look at some of these photos, to give you a better idea, of how it feels like to be wandering around the vast grounds of Trentham Estate:

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And that is even before we reach the Site of Special Scientific Interest. The parkland presents a wonderful mix of open and wooded terrain, and currently there are extensive conservation and landscaping works going on, to improve the site and enhance the biodiversity as well as restore some fo the original 19th century layout of the estate grounds. The parkland was designed by a famous landscape architect Capability Brown, and the restoration project will bring this historic landscape back to its full glory. The project is estimated to last for five years and has commenced in 2012. Paths are being made, trees cut down and planted, meadows and open spaces created complete with a woodland pasture for a small herd of cattle. Great care is being taken to restore the original design, and once the restoration project is completed, Trentham Estate will surely be one of the most picturesque sites in Britain.

Have a look at the open spaces of the beautiful parkland:

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And now, I would like to show you the SSSI site itself. It is a marvellous piece of woodland, teeming with trees and tall ferns, inhabited by red deer, badgers, various birds and many other animals.It is a great place to have a walk in, and I would recommend it to all nature enthusiasts. The woodland itself is magnificent, and there are signs of wildlife all around- if one is careful enough, one can see deer and other animals walking around, as I have. Unfortunately I was not able to capture them on film, but instead I have some other, hopefully just as enticing photos to show:

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And here it is- Trentham Estate Woodland Walks. One of my favourite spots in Staffordshire, and a must for any walking enthusiasts. I thoroughly recommend, that you visit this place, and see for yourself the wonderful effects of hard work and great conservation efforts that have been out into making this place what it is today.

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Rhododendron- invasive weed vs treasured flower plant

The rhododendron is a plant hated in the UK by almost anyone, who deals with nature conservation, and for a good reason. An aggressive invader, it damages habitats, poisons livestock and wild game, eradicates local flora and leave entire swathes of countryside barren.

The devastation brought about by Rhododendron ponticum has been touched upon in numerous studies, articles and news pieces, and there are few people left who do not recognize the need for action against this invasive species.

Rhododendron ponticum is a dangerous invasive plant for many reasons. It can grow very tall, up to 8m in some instances. It creates very thick canopy, taking away virtually all light away from any plants that may grow underneath it. It has very strong lateral growth, allowing it to spread from one spot onto a large area, which otherwise might be unsuitable- steep hills, river banks, patches of waterlogged soil etc. The plant itself is toxic, with high content of phenols and diterpens, which means that animals and insects will not graze on it, as it will lead to poisoning, especially if young leaves are consumed, as they have the highest concentration of these toxins. Furthermore, older leaves are tough and unpalatable, discouraging any herbivores even further.

The Rhododendron also has small seeds, which it produces in vast quantities, aiding its swift colonization of new areas- seeds are dispersed by wind, and as such can travel long distances from the parent plant, making it very difficult to control the spread of the species. It can also grow vegetatively, branches taking root whenever they touch ground, making for a notoriously difficult weed to kill.

Once the Rhododendron has invaded an area very few plants can survive- in most cases, only established trees, taller than the Rhododendron itself. But even these have finite lifespans, and eventually they die out, leaving only Rhododendron behind. With no food available, herbivores will disappear, and with them any predators that might prey on them. Thus an area taken over by Rhododendron ponticum will become essentially barren, leaving no room for any biodiversity.

The removal of Rhododendroon is a lengthy and costly process, involving physical cutting, root removal, seedling destruction and herbicide use. The plant is hardy and will grow back from a single stem, or a root, and the seedlings are difficult to spot, until they have grown larger. Not to mention, the size and amount of seeds produced by adult plants makes it almost impossible to stop the spread once it has started. Many resources are devoted to the control and regulation of Rhododendron, from simply keeping it in check (mostly in areas where it was planted on purpose, like parks and gardens, or areas where it is valued for its representative look), to actively eradicating it, in areas where nature conservation and biodiversity take precedence (nature reserves, protected areas, SSSI’s etc.). That’s the situation in the United Kingdom.

Allow me to introduce you to a different world now: a world, where the Rhododendron is not a threat. Where it is not only tolerated, but taken care of and encouraged. Where it does not become invasive at all, and any notion of it destroying natural habitats raises eyebrows and is met with disbelief.

Where I come from, in Poland- that is exactly the case. Just like it was for the Victorians, for the people of Poland, the Rhododendron is just another flower plant, greatly cherished for its beautiful form and flowers, impressive size and huge variety. All sorts of varieties and species are grown and cultivated, including the infamous Rhododendron ponticum, to no ill effect. Entire parks and gardens are devoted to showing off a multitude of Rhododendron varieties, and there is no effect on biodiversity, wildlife or in fact very little effect at all.

Why is this the case? This question has been on my mind ever since I have been introduced to the problem at University, and I have decided to investigate a little, in order to find out what exactly has made the species invasive in Britain, but not so in Poland- or any other country in Continental Europe for that matter. Now, I have already spoken about the dangers of invasive Rhododendrons earlier on- the toxicity, the unpalatable tissue, the lateral growth and great hight, the thick canopy and multiple ways of spreading over an area. But the Rhododendron found in Poland has the same traits, and yet it has not created a problem. In order to find out why, we must look closer at the plant itself.

Firstly- in Poland, a wide variety of Rhododendron is found, including the ponticum variety, but in much lesser proportions, than those found in England. This is a rather minor factor, but it is still important to remember, that the one species which did became invasive in th UK, is not planted that often in Poland, and therefore has less opportunity to spread.

Climate is obviously an important factor as well- we must remember, that Rhododendrons naturally occur in wet or humid conditions, in upland or mountainous regions and thrive on acidic soil. It is, in my opinion these climate traits, combined with temperate climate found in the UK that help the spread and growth of the Rhododendron. humid air, friendly temperature range and an abundance of uplands and mountains make for the kind of environment, where the Rhododendron is found naturally. Add to that the fact, that many areas colonized by the Rhododendron (like heathland) have an acidic soil Ph, making for an ideal place to live in. In contrast, Poland has a much more continental climate more extreme temperatures, much less rainfall and overall air humidity. Acidic soils are also much less abundant than in the UK, and a good proportion of soils are sandy and free-draining, meaning that there is little moisture retained in the soil. Other types of soil are rich and fertile loess soils and black soils, which support a wide variety of flora species, making for a bigger competition, especially for young seedlings.

In Poland, as oppose to England, there is a domestic species of Rhododendron as well-very rare and found in isolated sites only, but there is a good chance it was more common in the past. This would lead to the development of herbivores, especially the invertebrates, which could feed in the Rhododendron- and it would not be a big step for them to start feeding on different species and varieties as well. Same goes for certain diseases and fungi, which would evolve to attack the Rhododendron. There has been little research in this are however, and nothing can be said with certainty, however probable it may seem.

What is certain, is the Rhododendron has no natural enemies on the British Isles, giving it free rein anywhere it can colonize. No livestock, wild animal or invertebrates feed on the Rhododendron in Britain, making human intervention the only means of control. It is a well-known fact, that a species without natural enemies and living in favourable conditions will soon be out of control, and that seems to be precisely the case with Britain and the Rhododendron invasion.

Are the reasons I have qouted above enough to answer the question why did the Rhododendron become invasive in Britain and not in Poland? They answer the question in basic terms, but there are far more factors to be considered. Let us not forget, that Britain is an island, and as such much more susceptible for invasion by foreign species to start with. Add the climatic conditions, the soil, the lack of natural enemies, and the passion with which the Rhododendron was planted all over Britain by gardening and park enthusiasts. The is an answer in there, a situation, wherein the sum of all the factors gave rise to an invasive species- whereas in Poland one, or more, of the ingredients was missing. Unfortunately, all that is left to do, is to cut down the plants on sight, destroy seedlings and roots and keep sites populated by other plants, to encourage diversity and competition. It is difficult and expensive battle, but ont that must be fought, if the British countryside is to retain its beauty and diversity.

Sources:

R.Milne and R.Abbott- Origin and evolution of invasive naturalised material of Rhododendron ponticum L.  in the British Isles- Molecular Ecology, vol. 9 issue 5, 2000

http://www.countrysideinfo.co.uk/rhododen.htm- Rhododendron: A killer of the countryside

Colin Edwards- Managing and controlling invasive rhododendron- Forestry Commission Practice Guide, Edinburgh, 2006

http://www.eryri-npa.gov.uk/the-environment/invasive-species/rhododendron- Snowdonia National Park- Rhododendron

Maguire, C.M., Kelly, J. and Cosgrove, P.J. (2008). Best Practice Management
Guidelines Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum and Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus. Prepared for
NIEA and NPWS as part of Invasive Species Ireland.

Photo Sources:

http://scottish-invasives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/introducing-rhododendron-ponticum.html

http://sudeckiedrogi.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/wokol-ksiaza/

http://www.swiebodzice.pl/strony_2/tip_kpk.htm

http://www.habitas.org.uk/invasive/species.asp?item=3888

http://planttracker.naturelocator.org/blog

http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/forest/humanimpacts/non-native.html

http://www.dalswildlifesite.com/invasivespecies2.htm

 

 

 

 

 

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The Power of Cloves

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The humble cloves. Once, a rare and costly spice, brought from a far away land, and used to add some flavour to our dishes. Now, widely available, and still used as a spice- but there is so much more to cloves, than just flavour.

There was a time, when wars were fought over cloves, when they were special guests at tables of emperors and kings- now, they usually only come out at Christams time, to be added into mulled wine and cakes, sometimes some bold soul will mix them with pork, for that special taste…

Cloves seem to suffer from what can only be called a “wasted career” syndrome. In each household, there are sore throats, aching teeth, plague stains, stomachs having trouble digestion “heavy” foods, not to mention moths, mosquitos and tineids, lurking around corners, in wardrobes and flying around chandeliers… And all of them are very happy indeed, that the cloves are only used as occasional spice.

Because, you know what? Cloves can help you get rid, or control all of these problems! That’s right- sore throat? Dental problems? Aching teeth? Annoying insects? Bad breath? Pollution in your food and/or air? Cloves are there to help, if you only let them!

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How can cloves help with all these problems? The answer is very simple- amongst other things, they contain a large amount of an active component called Eugenol, which has been studied carefully over the years, and was linked with preventing toxicity from variosu environmental pollutants, treating digestive system cancers and joint inflammation, as well as many uses in dentistry. Eugenol acts as an anti-inflammatory substance, with good anti-bacterial properties, as well as an anaesthetic effect. Combined with other similar substances found in cloves, it makes for a powerful combination, when combating any dental or throat-related problems.

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Just give it a go- best thing you can do, in fact, is chew some right now! Try chewing them, when you have a sore or infected throat. Results- it certainly helps with mine, and many people also claim it helps straight away, removing pain and killing the infection. Same goes for aching teeth: cloves will help you reduce pain (if not remove it entirely- all depends on the severity of said pain), as well as kill most of those nasty bacteria. The added benefit of chewing cloves is that they freshen up your breath as well.

Did you know, that in ancient China, any supplicant had to chew some cloves, before addressing the emperor, so as not to offend him with bad breath?

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Personally, I always carry around some cloves in an old tic-tac box, to use instead of sugar-free gum after meals, or if I have teeth problems. I can certify, that these do help with tooth aches, as well as reducing plague, as I have experienced these benefits myself. Not to mention, it is a far more natural remedy, than said chewing gum, or various mouthwashes, or pain killers, which remove the pain, but do nothing to address it’s cause, unlike the cloves.

But that’s not the end of it! Cloves can also help you in our household, repelling unwanted insects, such as moths and tineids. The trick is very simple- take an orange, or a similar fruit, and stud it full of cloves, than leave it out to dry. It will create a very aromatic, and decorative item, known as “Pomander”. It can be put in your wardrobe, to keep your clothes smelling fresh, and it will scare away tinedis, moths and mosquitos. You can put pomanders around the house as well, and I am sure you will notice the effects. Oh, and did I mention, they look very well, as a decoration? These are pomanders from my own house, used as a Christmas table decoration:

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There is so much power locked is such a little thing a a single clove, only waiting to be unleashed to our benefit.

Go on then- what are you waiting for? Release the cloves!

Sources:

Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. 1986. PMID:15210.

Friedman M, Henika PR, Mandrell RE. Bactericidal activities of plant essential oils and some of their isolated constituents against Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica. J Food Prot 2002 Oct;65(10):1545-60. 2002.

Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications, New York. 1971.

http://www.herbiness.com/akcja-uwolnic-gozdziki/ – Akcja “Uwolnić Goździki”

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=69 – The world’s healthiest foods: Cloves

Photos taken from:

Private archives

bbc.co.uk

http://www.heartofthedragon.net/Cloves.htm

 

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The introduction to Staffordshire and it’s environment

Hello, and Welcome to my new blog, where I will be writing about environmental issues in Staffordshire, England. This blog is intended as a vent for my interest in both writing and the natural environment. I will write, as regularly as I can, about Nature in Staffordshire, its condition and anything interesting along these lines.

Let me begin, in this first post by giving some background to the County of Staffordshire, its geography, geology and some basic information about Natural Environment and it’s condition in the county.

Staffordshire, bounded on the North with Cheshire, East with Derbyshire

and Leicestershire, on the West with Shropshire, and on the South with

Worcester and Warwickshires; is divided by the Trent into the North, and

South, or rather into the North-East and South-West parts; And the

North-East,…subdivided again into the Moorelands and Woodlands;

which latter lying between the Trent, Tene, and Dove, others choose

rather to call the middle part of Staffordshire.

Robert Plot (1686), p.107.

I think this definition, of Staffordshire’s boundaries and main areas, although coming from the XVIIth century, is still mostly valid, and serves well, to delineate the County and it’s constituent parts.

Staffordshire, like most of England, is relatively densely populated, with most of it’s land devoted to agriculture, dairy farming being the most important area, followed by sheep farming and crops. Let me put it in more precise numbers:

Land use is categorised as 81% agriculture, 11% urban, 8% heathland, woodland, forest, reservoirs, mineral workings and amenity land.

Agriculture is the dominant land use as it occupies 81% of the county:

Permanent pasture is the dominant agricultural land use accounting for 47% of the total;

Dairy farming is the main enterprise of all full time farms

Arable crops account for 31% of the total.

(taken from Shropshire and Staffordshire Local Flood Risk Management Strategy, published by Staffs County Council)

There are several major settlements in the area, with major towns including Stoke-On-Trent, Stafford, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Cannock, Lichfield and Leek.

Now, let me give a brief overlook of the Staffordshire landscape: there is one Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) within Staffordshire- Cannock Chase, which lies just north of Cannock and to the south and west of Rugeley. It is probably one of the most threatened of the protected landscapes due to the number of nearby settlements and mineral deposits contained within. There are numerous Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 64 in fact, designated for both biological and geological reasons.

The river network in Staffordshire is mostly part of the catchment of the River Trent, although the very northwest area of the County drains into the River Mersey and the southwest into the River Severn.

The landscape consists mostly of rolling hills, with many steep valleys, locally known as cloughs, found in the Churnet Valley.

The woodland cover is lower than UK average, but about equal to the England average, hitting 6.6% approximately.

Staffordshire currently faces many environmental issues, stemming form intensification of agriculture, deforestation, dense human population and industrial activity. The exact same problems are common throughout the whole UK, and in the county there are several habitats, that require special protection, or enhancement.

The Limestone zone broadly covers the Staffordshire area of the White Peak National Character Area (NCA). The underlying rock is Carboniferous limestone and is largely identified as limestone grasslands, with the west of the area described as wet heath, moor or bog lands. The area has a distinctive character is due to its limestone geology and topography. Agriculture is mainly pastoral, with limestone walls as the dominant field boundary type.

The Farmland predominantly lies within the Staffordshire Plain. Much of the land is now intensive agriculture, devoted to dairy farming . The area is heavily influenced by human activity, and does not support many species.

The Species-rich Farmland, one that requires protection and enhancement, covers most of the west of the district. A lot of this rural area is in the proximity of a major city of Stoke-on-Trent, making it vulnerable.

The area has north south divide, with the north dominated with wet and dry heath, moor and boglands. The south has an abundance of free-draining farmlands, with a small amount of dry heathland and a little bit of moors and boglands.

The Churnet Woodlands lie entirely within the Potteries and Churnet Valley. The area is between upland and lowland, what we may call a “transitional area” and has a wide range of habitats, including heathland and grassland. Rolling landscape and many steep valleys have prevented intensive agriculture in this particular area. The two largest protected sites in this area are the Churnet Valley SSSI and Coombes Valley SSSI.

The area consists of upland areas with pasture, wet heath and moorland, dissected by wooded valleys. The south of the area is basically free draining farmland. The upland pasture is mostly grassland with a mixture of acidic and neutral soils.

These are just the examples of habitats and landscapes within the Staffordshire. There are also many species, requiring protection, Barn Owl being the prime example of a very recent county-wide conservation effort. Enough of the overall look, though, and stay tuned for my next article, in which I will cover the Barn Owl decline, and Badger conservation issues.

Sources for the article:

Countryside Agency, 1999. Countryside Character Vol. 5: West Midlands. Cheltenham.

Edees, E.S., 1972. Flora of Staffordshire. David and Charles, Newton Abbot.

Planning for Landscape Change: Supplementary Planning Guidance to the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Structure Plan 1996 – 2011 Landscape Descriptions

Plot, Robert, 1686. The Natural History of Staffordshire. Oxford.

Shropshire and Staffordshire Local Flood Risk Management Strategy, published by Staffordshire County Council

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Why not grow your own food?

I have been living in England for almost six years now (yes, it has been that long!), first as a university student and now as a professional.

Having been born and raised in the countryside, living in the UK was my first time being properly exposed to urban culture. One thing which I have been noticing about England (or perhaps the Western world as a whole) is how dependant we have become, how little we can actually rely on ourselves, especially in the urban areas.

The thing, that to me stands out the most, is the degree to which people living in the UK depend on others to provide the most basic thing: food. I know, I may sound ridiculous to most of you, who have always, always bought your food in a shop, or a restaurant or a takeaway bar. To you this is normal ,this is how life is. But I would like to discuss in this article, the alternative.

Let us begin with what is the current situation. We live in a world, where food comes from shops. Supermarkets, corner shops, farm shops etc. We go in, and we guy the food we want, never really (or maybe sometimes) thinking where it was produced, how and by whom. Despite careful labelling, information available (we all know the “hand picked in Peru” or “locally sourced” labels) we still do not REALLY know much about our food. Just that some farmer somewhere grows cabbage, or raises pigs, and then sells them on to be turned into salad or bacon.

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We have lost control over our food chain, and now we are reduced to making choice from what is out before us. Yes, the choice is wide- generic, organic, free-range, local, imported, seasonal, out-of-season, the list goes on and on. But still, we are limited in our choice of food and the quality of it, by what is made available to us. And despite the most stringent controls in place we always find out, that there is something wrong with our food, or that the labels are blatant lies (remember the affair of horse meat in beef lasagne?).

The choice is wide and the information is there, but no matter how organic are your tomatoes, buying them in February begs the question of just how organic really are they? Or the strawberries, freshly picked in December in Iceland or Scotland, with their tops still green and the aroma and flavour so faint, we might as well be eating water. Remember the cucumbers, or iceberg lettuce in your last salad? And how they have the texture, but the taste difference is negligible? For you it may seem normal. But I know for a fact, both cucumber and lettuce have flavours. Actual flavours, and very different from each other. It has become the accepted reality, that our food comes from all over the world, that we have every veg and fruit available all year round, and that we use fertilizers, greenhouses, pesticides and herbicides. It is just the way things are, unless you want to pay up extra money for food that was grown as close to the natural way as modern farming practice would allow. We have reached a point, where we need to pay a premium for food which was grown/produced or raised in case of meat without anything “artificial”. And who says it must be so? It’s not like we need to produce more food, our country produces far more food than it need, otherwise we would not see tens of thousands of tonnes of veg and fruit wasted every year, because they had the wrong shape, or colour (when was the last time you saw a turnip shaped like a “thingy”? You never did, because it did not conform to standard shape and was discarded before ever reaching the store. So much for not wasting food).

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But what is the alternative? What can be done to improve our control of the food chain and give us actual, real food products, which we have 100% certainty where they came form and what went into them? One option, is to become best mates with an organic farmer, and buy all the seasonal, fresh products directly.

But there is another option also: grow your own food. Turn your garden into a vegetable garden, with beans, tomatoes and peas and what not.

Now, before you start telling me how difficult farming is and how much time and effort it takes to grow a pumpkin: all those who have a garden, raise your hand. Even if it is tiny, back garden with nothing in it, raise it up high. Now, those of you who do gardening, plant flowers and bushes and even trees and make an effort to make your garden look pretty- raise your hands. And those of you, who spend hours on your beloved rose bush, or keeping your lawn as neat as the one on Wembley Stadium. And let us not forget the hedge people, you raise your hands as well!

Ask yourself an honest question, how much time and effort do you put into your horticultural activities?

And think: growing vegetables is not that different form growing flowers and decorative plants. In most cases, it requires less effort and care actually. Plus, you need not loose any of the aesthetics of your garden. With careful planning and carefully selected plants, your vegetables are likely to be as pretty as your daisies and roses. Also- remember, you do not need to replace an entire garden! Just a few well placed veg, or a fruit tree here and there. Just have a look, at how beautifully arranged a veg garden can be:

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All of this without a shred of additional effort, just treat them as any other plants, only these ones will feed you. Think about herbs also! Just think how much money you spend on jars of oregano, thyme and parsley. Instead, if you have but a few plants in your garden… Free herbs all year, and all they need is a bit of love and attention! Does that not sound better?

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Now, you can enjoy food you have grown yourself, fresh and clean, with nothing in it that you did not add yourself. I know this may be a difficult thing to do at first, and it takes time to get around the idea of producing your own food. Also, there are limitations- the size of the garden, the light, the soil. You may not be able to grow enough to feed a family of four for the whole summer. But say, you grow enough cucumber, to never have to buy any from a shop. That’s a start. You have gained some control, you have made a contribution. Now imagine your neighbour grows lettuce of all kinds- now combined, you can supply at least part of your diet by yourselves.

To find out more about this idea- check out the growing initiative Grow Food Not Lawns- it is the best place to start I believe. Bad news for meat lovers- I am afraid backyard garden is not suitable for chickens, and raising animals requires much more trouble and space than growing fruit and veg. Unless, you can do it collectively, but that is a topic for another discussion entirely.

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