November, 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!
  • Gardening for wildlife: The uncontrollable factor

    One of the biggest joys of gardening for wildlife for me is feeling that I have responsibility for a piece of this world of ours. It may only be a little piece, but it is still part of the living surface of the only living planet we know of in the universe. What a privilege! And what an opportunity to make it as rich as possible for life.

    What you can't control, however, is what goes on over the garden fence. And this week something happened next door to me that will have profound effects on what wildlife will visit my garden.

    Now the garden that backs onto mine has been untouched for over 15 years; the elderly former resident never even ventured into the garden. The garden had gone the way most of Britain would if left to its own devices - a pioneer woodland.

    But early one morning this week as I was heading to work, I heard the unmistakeable whirr of a chainsaw starting up.

    By the next morning, the change was startling:

    All gone!

    Now the new owners have every right to do that, of course, and many of the trees were way too close to their house.

    What will be interesting is what changes it will bring to my garden. Those were trees in which dozens of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers stopped off in spring and autumn, and where I've seen migrant Spotted Flycatchers and Pied Flycatchers, Song Thrushes and Fieldfares, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Goldcrests. The trees were also the main stepping stones down to my feeders for Greenfinches and Chaffinches.

    But the trees also heavily shaded my garden, making it far less suitable for butterflies, dragonflies and pollinating insects, and reducing the number of flowering plants I could grow. So some creatures could do very well by the new situation.

    I do hope, however, that a little bit of life is put back into the piece of the planet next to mine, and I hope I can provide the new owners with a bit of encouragement along the way

  • A house built of reeds

    Last weekend I created the best solitary bee and wasp box ever! The best ever for me, that is, which isn't hard given that my carpentry skills leave a lot to be desired. But this one looked almost decent.

    I'm afraid I can't show you a photo, because it would spoil the surprise in the next issue of the RSPB's Nature's Home magazine which comes out next February.

    But what I can do is show you one of the materials I've used to put in the box, which was a first for me - reed stems. I'd suspected that their hollow centres were too narrow to offer much nature a home, but last month I met a wonderful guy called Jeremy Early who is deeply passionate and knowledgeable about these things and inspired me to try.

    Here is my collection of stems, cut into 15cm lengths, ready to be stuffed into my insect box ready to go out on a sunny fence. Whether they will be successful I won't know until this summer or maybe next, but it's going to be fascinating to watch.

    Now if you've read books and articles saying, "Create bee homes by collecting hollow plant stems", you might have then wondered which plants actually are hollow? Obviously bamboos are some of the best but, among native plants, the carrot family is probably the finest.

    The stems I've previously used include Alexanders, but something like Hogweed, Angelica or Cow Parsley will do the trick nicely. Just be careful if you're collecting from a hedgerow because the family includes many poisonous wild species, including Hemlock and Greater Hogweed.

    Garden plants whose stems you could try include members of the Allium family, Delphiniums, Eremurus, Larkspur and Hollyhock. Have you got any you'd like to suggest?

    What you have to be careful of is that many of tubular plants have nodes up the stem, each one blocking the tunnel inside. Many solitary bees and wasps like to create a chain of cells within each tunnel, so they do need an uninterrupted corridor in which to work.

    The other stems that are worth trying are those with a soft pith in the centre, with Elder being the easiest to get hold of, so some of those went into my new box too.

    I'm keeping my new box inside until spring, and then out it will go with what I hope is a clear invitation: 'Hotel open, all welcome'.

  • Mr Fox Goes A-Fishing

    No, not the title of a Beatrix Potter book, but the latest little wildlife drama to unfold in my back garden this very morning.

    There I was, zipping up my work bag ready to go and catch the bus, when I saw a big gingery form slunk into my tiny back garden. I watched, motionless, as a Fox pottered along the path barely ten feet or so from me.

    Oh, how I had had my camera to hand as normal, but no, on this one occasion I will have to try and describe everything through the power of words.

    It sniffed up at the bird table, which is way too high for it to reach (my table is six feet tall because of the legions of cats that patrol the area) but then turned its attention to the pond.

    I thought it was going to drink, but - no - it started scooping about in the waterweed with its paw.

    It then hoiked a dangling stem of the waterweed out of the pond onto the slabs that line the edge of the pond and flicked it repeatedly with its snout before nibbling something up off the slab. Was it finding pond snails? It was impossible to tell.

    To cut a long story short, ten minutes later, I'd missed my bus and the slabs were littered with a dozen pieces of waterweed that I'll need to clear up by torchlight this evening.

    Have you seen a Fox do anything similar? Or have you had your own wildlife moment recently that kept you transfixed?