December, 2012

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!
  • A year of discoveries in the garden

    One of the benefits of doing a blog is being able to look back at the year just gone, and all the discoveries and wildlife gardening knowledge gained over the year.

    In February, I found the first Tree Bee in my garden, while in March  I got closer to a Hairy-footed Flower Bee than ever before. The former is a newcomer, a bumblebee that is spreading fast across the country; the latter is a really common solitary bee you'll find in many gardens where there are spring flowers, and with the craziest furry legs:

    By spring, there was both a Frog frenzy in my pond, and a bathing Chiffchaff. Having a pond is surely one of the biggest joys in a wildlife-friendly garden:

    And in the summer I had the joy of both the glorious flower-filled Olympics, plus a new RSPB office with a roof garden crying out to be filled with plants:

    But my highlight of the gardening year? Probably the glorious wildlife-filled garden I visited in Shetland, proving that anything is possible in a garden if you work hard and apply thought and creativity. You wouldn't believe how this green oasis sat amongst a landscape of barren moorland:

    I hope you've all had a wonderful year too, and I look forward sharing more stories of wildlife gardening in the months ahead and hearing your experiences.

  • The wildlife gardener's carol

    'The Holly and the Ivy, now are both well grown...'

    Being such a plantaholic, I love the fact that at Christmas we get the chance to sing about them. And two of the very best for wildlife too!

    Ivy berries on some plants are just starting to ripen now, a welcome winter fat-filled feast (Ivy berries are especially fat rich compared to other berries).

    But it is the evergreen nature of Ivy that makes it a double winner. Tucked between the leaves and stems, all manner of creatures, from hibernating butterflies to roosting birds, find sanctuary.

    I loved this pub that I 'found' last year whose owners showed how you can keep Ivy very much under control and looking fanstastic. And this was STUFFED with House Sparrows it was so thick and dense.

    Long before we started planting conifers in our gardens, Holly would have been one of those other rare, sought-out evergreens in the wildwood whose leathery and prickly foliage provided safe shelter. And berries too. You can't beat plants that multi-task for wildlife.

    Have a very Merry Christmas, I hope you get lots of presents for your garden, and altogether now...

    'Oh the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer...'

  • Have you got hopping sap-suckers in your garden?

    One of the (few) benefits of winter to a gardener/wildlife-lover is the chance to sort through the gazillions of photographs one has snapped during the course of the year.

    And here's one I took in my garden in October. But do you know what it is?

    I should explain that the creature you are looking at is about 4mm long, about the size of a grain of rice. This one is sat along the minor vein of a nettle leaf, just to give you some sense of scale.

    But there are LOADS of them in my garden, sat around on leaves, looking like a little, bright-green grass seeds, but they rarely letting me get anywhere near them.

    How I usually see them is when I'm doing some weeding or tidying in the flower borders, and up they ping, faster than the eye can follow, when I hadn't even noticed they were there in the first place.

    They are clearly winged insects, the wings well folded behind them while at rest. But what are they?

    Well, it turns out they are leafhoppers. Now there are some 285 or so species in the UK alone, so I'm not going to be able to tell you which one. But they are in the bug family - the True Bugs - the group of species that includes shieldbugs, water-boatmen, whitefly and aphids. In fact, they're very closely related to cicadas, those 'invisible' insects on your Mediterranean holidays that buzz all night long.

    Leafhoppers feed by sucking sap from the plant, although they rarely cause much noticeable damage. And the key thing is that they and the froghoppers (those bugs that produce cuckoo-spit) form what my wonderful Royal Entomological Society book of British Insects describes as "the major group of insects in grassland ecosystems".

    Yes, they may be small, but these are an important layer in the foodchain, eaten either by birds directly, or by other insects which are then eaten by birds. This web of life is such an amazing thing.