August, 2013

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!
  • Marvellous Marje lays on a feast

    A couple of weeks ago I was due to spend the weekend at the British Birdwatching Fair. I explain, not because of the Fair itself but because I'd set up a blog on a computerised timer so that I'd fulfil my commitment to always blog on a Friday morning. Did it appear? Did it 'eck as like. Goodness knows where that is now wandering around the ether!

    What I had written about was one of my favouritest plants for wildlife. EVER.

    I'd gone for a walk at a local downland nature reserve, just to get some air between my legs on a sunny day and enjoy the late summer spectacle of butterflies. And sure enough, in what has turned out to be a very good year for butterflies indeed, they were rising up around my feet with every step. Chalkhill Blues, Small Heaths, Meadow Browns, Peacocks - it was fantastic.

    And in places they were nectaring on knapweeds and scabiouses as one would expect, good wildlife plants all.

    But it was where the following plant grew that they were at their densest - this was definitely the place to be if you were a butterfly.

    It is Marjoram Origanum vulgare, and I'd recommend it for any garden for butterflies, bees, bumblebees and hoverflies.

    Above you can hopefully make out Chalkhill Blues and a Meadow Brown.

    But there were Small Skippers (below) and Small Coopers and Gatekeepers and whites...

    Now few of us are ever likely to see Chalkhill Blues in our garden, such as this splendid male below

    But grow one, or two, or preferably ten in a sunny position and something interesting will visit, I guarantee.

    And with garden centres starting to do end of season sell-off of plants, now might be the perfect time to bag yourself a bargain for wildlife.

  • Unexpected guests in a home for nature

    I am indebted to Wildlife Friendly for the subject matter of today's blog. As many of you will know, she has a wonderful wildlife garden in Devon, so much so that Carol Klein and a BBC Gardeners World TV crew visited a couple of years ago.
    One of the things Wildlife Friendly has done to literally give nature a home is to put up House Martin nestboxes under the eaves. But, as we all know, when you put a house on the market, you never know who is going to move in.
    In this case, Wildlife Friendly's unexpected guests came in and did a complete makeover job to the inside of the property. And here is one of the residents arriving back in from a day's work out in the flower borders.

    Yup, Hornets.
    Wildlife Friendly then found another Hornets’ nest in the roof of her barn. With this one, the nest is fully visible, revealing the astonishing architecture, all manufactured out of chewed bark.

    Within the nest, the queen will be ensconced, happily laying eggs while her workers furnish her and the developing larvae with food.
    Wildlife Friendly read up on Hornets and found they are far less aggressive than wasps. "If they think you are a threat they will headbutt you, a polite way to say ‘please move on’, only as a very last resort will they sting. As insects go they are very intelligent so I am more than happy to let them stay".
    As with all wasp colonies, you do need to treat them with respect, and you are well advised to give any nest a wide berth. In particular, there is the very small risk that whole colonies of any wasp species will mobilise if they feel really threatened. Hornet stings are painful, and it is very much up to the home owner as to whether or not to have nests destroyed. And of course those with allergies to wasp stings have to take very particular precautions.
    The flip side is that the wasp family are fine predators of all sorts of insects, and under some circumstances can be beneficial as pest-controllers in the garden.
    As with any wildlife where there is a potential conflict between them and us, the lines are finely drawn. But the starting point should always be understanding them. And there is certainly plenty to admire where Hornets and their home-building prowess are concerned.     
  • In love with a moth called Pam

    I'm going to take you somewhere we've never been before on this blog. Brace yourself - we're going to explore the exciting world of...(cue drum beat - dum dum dum) micro moths.

    No, honestly, stick with me. It's going to be better than you think.

    You see I've been sticking out a moth trap once every couple of weeks in my garden if the weather is warm. And I really have enjoyed the glimpse it gives you into a nighttime world so few of us ever get to see.

    You may remember me getting excited when I realised that my garden (and I bet yours too) is visited by such wonders of the wildlife world as the Elephant Hawkmoth, with a body about the size of your little finger.

    But I normally only identified the bigger moths - the 'macros' as they're called.

    Yet in every trap there'd be a load of tiny moths that just looked too small and too difficult to worry about. They tended to fly off quickly, and that was fine as far as I was concerned!

    But then Sterling, Parsons and the amazing insect illustrator, Richard Lewington brought out 'The Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland'. And I gamely thought I'd give them a try and see what new things it could teach me about my garden.

    So here are a couple from my trap from last week. Let's start with something I call the Vampire Moth, because it seems to stand upright with its wings open like dracula about to take flight, but its real name is Endotricha flammealis.

    It's about 1cm long, and I'm not saying it's the most exciting looking moth ever. But it's really easy to identify, and this is a moth whose caterpillars feed on decaying leaves.

    But then I saw this thing. It's only about 0.5cm long but up close it was radiant - such an intense amber glow in the wings and green button eyes.

    It turns out it is a moth called Pammene aurita, but let's just call her Pam for short.

    It turns out her caterpillars eat Sycamore seeds, and I get a lot of those in my garden. So maybe Pam is reducing the amount of weeding I have to do of Sycamore seedlings each year. I love Pam!

    I just find it so fascinating to think that in every garden this complex mix of creatures is out there, just getting on with life, including good old Pam.