June, 2014

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!
  • Helping garden wildlife in greatest need

    Over the last week I’ve had the pleasure of visiting two very different and wonderful gardens of people who are diligently and ambitiously giving nature a home.
    Having now led you (up the garden path, you might say) into thinking I’m about to divulge everything about my visits, I’m going to leave you dangling as they will feature in Nature’s Home magazine in due course.
    But I thought I would share this little titbit. Here is one of the creatures that turned up in one of the gardens I visited.
    For those who know their sparrows, the ‘love spot’ on the cheek of this bird and its chestnut crown give it away as being a Tree Sparrow. (The fact that it’s in a tree is kind of incidental – there were House Sparrows in the same tree only moments before!).
    This is one of the bird species whose declines in the last 30 years have been most dramatic. To get onto the official Red List, declines need to be of the order of 50%; for the Tree Sparrow, its numbers fell by 95% between 1970 and 1998.
    For all the background about their declines, and their very modest recent recovery, check out the RSPB website here. But for this Giving Nature a Home blog, the important fact is that if you have a species regularly visiting your garden that is in such dire straits, it can give you an immediate focus for your efforts.
    In the garden I visited, the homeowner is going to help her Tree Sparrows by putting up nestboxes with 28mm holes around her hedgerows and by planting areas with annual flowers that will be seed-rich in winter.
    Do you have something unusual visit your garden that you’re making special effort to help, be it widespread but declining species such as Hedgehogs, or something really rare? It would be lovely to hear.
  • Of stags and sawyers - tales of very big beetles

    Out there in the natural world, there are some creatures we struggle to love (the list might include Rats, House Flies and leeches, for example) and those that command instant amazement.

    And slap bang in the latter category, I would claim, is this fella.


    There he was, broad daylight, in my new front garden, a Stag Beetle showing off his mightily impressive mandibles. You ought to have heard my whoops of delight! (I admit he suffered the indignity of being picked up for a short while to be admired close up).

    And he arrived in a week when I received this photo from Wildlife Friendly of a beetle that she had found in her Devon garden last year. 

    Hers isn't quite so well known, but no less impressive really. It is called Prionus coriarius - the Tanner Beetle or Sawyer Beetle.

    Now I need to remember that some of you may be going 'Yeuchh!' but I'm guessing most of you are going wow, even if you might not want to pick one up.

    So, if you're thinking you might like to see one of these in your garden, what are these beauties' Home Needs?

    The big requirement for Stag Beetles is rotting wood, preferably partly or totally buried, on which the larvae can munch for up to seven years.

    The Sawyer Beetle appears to also feed on rotting wood, perhaps in standing dead trees.

    The downside is that both have quite restricted distributions, being mainly found between Dorset in the west and Essex in the east.

    But even if you don't live in an area where these beasts are found, I'm sure that something some day will turn up in your garden that makes you whoop. And if you do, we'd love to know...

  • Bumblebee bonanza

    Once in a while I come across a plant that stuns me with its power to attract pollinating insects, and yesterday I found just such a marvel.

    It was this one (below), which has burst into flower in the last week in my new garden - and very happy about it I am too!

    It's a Deutzia, named after a 17th century Dutchman, a group of plants mostly from China and South East Asia. My assumption is that it is Deutzia 'Strawberry Fields', one of the single-flowered, pink, compact cultivars that is readily available.

    You can see one of the bumblebees in action, and in a quick count I had 28 at one time, even though I could only see half of the bush.

    It is a woody shrub, growing to about 2 metres tall with multi-stems, and does well on most soils in a sheltered, sunny spot. Pruning out a third of the old wood to the base each winter will keep it fresh and tidy.

    As always, if you've found a wildlife-friendly plant, let us all know - the more that gardens are filed with them, then more nature that will have their 'home needs' fulfilled.