November, 2010

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • Living dangerously in the garden

    First of all can I say how nice it is to have some new faces submitting comments. My aim in this blog is to make it a nice, unthreatening atmosphere where loads of you feel welcome to have your say.

    Secondly, the obvious - isn't it COLD! I’ve been recording the maximum and minimum temperature in my Sussex garden every day for eight years now, and the last four days have been colder than any previous November day.

    And when the cold kicks in, strange things start to happen in the world of garden birds. The total number of bird species that I saw visit yesterday was 15, way up on normal (and today's photo is of a wary Chaffinch and demure Collared Dove wondering whether to brave my rowdy Starlings).

    And then I had the pleasure of being visited by a brand new species for the garden. Yes, for the first time since moving here, I saw ....wait for it....a Crow!

    Now I often see them over the top, and Jackdaws and the odd Raven flying over too. But the thing is that birds are experts at risk assessments. For many species, when they find themselves near a garden or passing over, their sensor goes ‘beep beep beep. Danger alert! Steer clear!’

    To them, a garden just looks a bit too enclosed, too disturbed. All those fences and buildings and trees mean that they know they won't be able to see predators approaching. And they don’t like all the to-ing and fro-ing of all those four-legged and two-legged mammals. Even if birds can spot that there are nice berries or seeds or fat balls to be had, it is normally just not worth the risk.

    But throw in a bit of snow and hard frost and birds need to find so much more food to just keep themselves going. What's more dangerous now? Daring to venture into the garden, or starving?

    So right now I'm keeping my eyes peeled for yet more risk-assessors choosing to be brave rather than hungry. What would I like? A Blackcap maybe. Some Long-tailed Tits. Oh go on then, I'll settle for a Waxwing...

  • Gardens - bumblebees' destination of choice

    One of the perks of working in the RSPB (most are emotional, you realise!) is that every day I get to see a summary of the stories out there in the day's press that are relevant to conservation and the environment.

    With my gardening for wildlife hat on, I was interested in a piece in today's Telegraph reporting that "cottage gardens are the ‘last chance saloon’ for bumblebees". (The photo is from last spring of Bombus hortorum, the Garden Bumblebee, on my beloved Lungworts). The reason, it says, is because farmland and open countryside are now so hostile to them.

    The article is based on a study by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which is based at Stirling University. The full results will be published in the Journal of Applied Ecology next month, when it will be fascinating to hear the full story.

    I am expecting that there will be devil in the detail, for there are of course some wonderful wild habitats that are essential for many of our bumblebees, while only a few species are actually common in gardens. I hope the article also recognises the work of those farmers who are working hard to maintain and in many places restore rich habitats.

    But it is still encouraging to see that gardens that are managed well for wildlife are increasingly being recognised for their value. What we do in our individual patches can seem small beer in the big scheme of things. But add them together and they are something special. But of course you can only add little bits together if each of us plays our part.

    So if you are one of those who work hard to grow plants that bumblebees love, please pat yourself proudly on the back. Without you it seems that the last chance saloon might actually near closing time.

  • In praise of yellow

    Some months ago on this blog, I wrote a piece about Field Maple in which I said it was a useful ‘gardening for wildlife’ plant for various moth caterpillars and as part of a mixed native hedge, although it offered little in terms of its flowers, seeds or autumn colour.

    A reader pulled me up to say that the yellow leaf tones in autumn are really very attractive. And quite right too.

    It made me realise for the first time how much I’m a sucker for autumn reds. Only when a tree burns with colour does it seem to naturally stir my blood. So this autumn I pledged to take a bit more notice of the yellows around me and what they bring to the winter garden.

    So here (left) are the fabulous yellows of Field Maple in Anglesey Abbey gardens. And, right, the shimmer of Silver Birch I photographed in north Norfolk in the first week of November. And if I had chance I might have been able to take photos of plants such as Larch and Guelder Rose.

    Now all of this may seem pretty irrelevant to gardening for wildlife. But there’s a serious point there – gardening for wildlife does not need to be divorced from all the other things that make gardening so enjoyable, such as the thrill when things grow and the pleasure that comes just from how a garden looks.

    Only when we show that gardening for wildlife can still be about all these things can we hope that more and more gardeners will take up the challenge.