May, 2011

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!
  • Sneak preview of the RSPB's new Flatford garden

    Just over a week ago, I got the chance to drop in on the RSPB's brand new visitor garden at Flatford in Suffolk. In fact, it isn't even open to the public yet - it's due to fling open its garden gate in June (I'll let you know when it does).

    It is just off the A12 London-Ipswich road, right in the heart of Constable country. Now I'm partial to a bit Constable - his landscapes of the lush British countryside seem to stir something hardwired into my soul, and I'm telling you the landscape around there was just stunning.

    But it was the fledgeling garden I had gone to see, and I was met by Shirley Boyle who is overseeing the development and planting of the garden.

    You can't miss the garden, which is next to the path from the car park to Flatford Mill (which Constable also painted). It is a south facing plot, much of it sloping quite steeply down to wet woodland at its foot. The fact that there are now flat paths is testimony to a lot of landscaping since construction started in February.

    The planting is all very very new - apart from a few mature trees, the rest of the garden is very much a 'new born baby'. The photo above shows the view from just inside the gate, with a lovely old birch in the foreground. 

    I couldn't contain my envy at the lorry loads of plants that Shirley and her volunteer team have had to play with - there were spent plant pots everywhere..

    All that delicious new growth has also given something for the local Rabbit population to play with too! The team have had to rabbit-fence off much of the new planting while the garden establishes. But then, as we know, every garden has its challenges.

    Nevertheless, a male Orange-tip butterfly was already nectaring away at some Dame's-violet flowers, and a Spotted Flycatcher was nipping around the trees.

    I think the team have made a great start. And just because the garden clearly has a lot of growing-up to do, don't let that stop you visiting soon - it's always great to see something at the start so that you can go back later to share in its development. I certainly shall.


  • Preparations for Gardeners World continue

    Are you following the Chelsea Flower Show? Maybe you've even been and admired the show gardens. What creativity! What plantsmanship! What big budgets!

    Behind the scenes, plans for our own 'feature' at Gardeners World Live continue apace, without the six figure sums but with the same level of love and commitment!.

    This will the the RSPB's tenth year at the event, and you may recall that our stand will be split into a 'traditional' wildlife garden on one side, and a piece of urban wasteland (with its own wildlife value) on the other.

    For the former, volunteer Richard has been making a log edging fence with wooden branches left over from tree cutting work at The Lodge RSPB nature reserve and from his own garden. This fencing will surround our trees and shrubs beds, which will include Hornbeam, Hawthorn, Field Maple and Crab Apple.


    Meanwhile, another volunteer Malcolm Martin has been busy building an ‘Urban wildlife wall’ for our Urban Wildspace section. It is basically made up of junk!


    The skeleton is leftover pallets from the RSPB's warehouse, painted in a green wood stain. Into the gaps will be slotted with used and broken roof tiles, old bricks, an old wooden post, tin cans and even toilet rolls - but Malcolm is crafting it to still look stylish.

    I'm told that this is far from the finished article, and plenty of brash will be added to fill around the items. But the idea is a real winner with children (and many adults). All the nooks and crannies can offer a safe haven for all sorts of wildlife, from frogs, toads and hedgehogs in the bottom layers to solitary bees and ladybirds in the drier upper layers.

    Oh, and it's a great way to use all the odds and ends you have lying around your garden rather than more trips to the tip and more items for landfill.

    To build your own wildlife wall or stack,  check out our information guide here:

    I will be on the stand for cosy chats on both the morning and afternoon of Thursday 16th and Saturday 18th June, so I hope to see you there.

    And in Monday's blog, look out for the privileged advance viewing I was given of the new RSPB garden at Flatford in Sussex, ready for its opening next week

  • Bottoms up!

    Last year, my new Starling nestbox was christened by Great Tits, who successfully raised a brood in what must have seemed to them a palatial mansion.

    This year, it was taken over by those-for-which-it-was-intended, and for the past three weeks I have been entertained by the increasingly frequent feeding visits of the parent Starlings .

    Here is the view I have usually been getting. In comes the parent, to an already feverishly excited chorus from the chicks inside - there must be some approach call from the adults to alert the youngsters to the next snack.

    The adults usually cling momentarily, bottoms up, on the outside, before squeezing inside the nest, but are out again within maybe 3 or 4 seconds. (Starling nests are notorious for being rather smelly places, so perhaps that explains the parents' urge to evacuate quickly!).

    Here's the other half of one of my Starlings...

    One of the many fascinating things about Starlings is that although pairs don't often live side-by-side (they have to take holes wherever they can find them), all the pairs in an area will commence breeding within a few days of each other. This ensure that the chicks, when they fledge, can band together into 'teenage' groups that go off to feed together.

    I love this thing too that Starlings skulls are specially adapted so that they have extra strong muscles to open their bill (in most birds the strength is in closing the bill). This means that they can skewer into the turf with their bill, and then open up a hole to look for worms.  And this is made even easier by being able to rotate both eyes forward to look right down the hole they have just probed. Isn't evolution amazing?

    I had a few days away last week - when I left, the youngsters were beginning to poke their heads out of the nest, so it was no surprise that I came back to an empty box, and young Starlings, hopefully mine, were in the trees and at my feeders.

    Now I wait to see whether they will try for a second brood. Starlings don't always have one, but one would expect them to start one to two weeks after the first fledged. I hope so - I'm very happy to have a repeat performance.