In an effort to keep reasonably fit I try to exercise regularly and it struck me recently that I should do something to keep my brain fit too so I signed up for an Open University course about ecosystems.
It's not just been useful in my work but it has also given me a greater insight into my own garden's ecosystem. I've learned more about what makes it such an interesting and diverse place, a series of interactions between plants converting energy from the sun and a multitude of living, breathing, growing organisms from the birds and bees to the microbes and fungi which eventually return all that life to the earth.
I have often thought that nature would do a better job without my interference and find its own balance, but what I've been reminded of is that for my garden to retain all of its biodiversity, it does require a degree of management or it would eventually return to woodland, the climax vegetation that all land aspires to be.
As it is, a mix of woodland (the fruit trees), woodland edge (the hedges), woodland clearing (my mini meadow) and open water (the pond) it provides accommodation for species perfectly adapted to the conditions. From blue tits dangling precariously from the slender birch twigs, midges dancing in the early morning sunlight and the pair of wild ducks which have graced my pond with their mating displays, to the many hundreds of species of insects and other invertebrates that I can and can't see without a microscope. They are all part of my gardens ecosystem, some absolutely essential, others perhaps like the sparrow hawk which only I would miss, but all with a role to play.
When we've decided that enough is enough with holes in the Hosta leaves and the green fly on the roses just have to go, it's all too easy to sprinkle round the slug pellets and reach for the insecticide spray. But in doing so we're introducing deadly poisons into the garden's food webs, depriving birds of some of their natural food and adding a toxic mix of chemicals to those that remain.
When we reduce biodiversity we do ourselves no favours. Although I've netted my vegetables so the rabbits and cabbage whites can't get to them before I do, it's live and let live here, my kind of ecosystem management doesn't recognise anything as a pest in my garden, just part of life's rich variety.