January, 2015

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!
  • I'll need a big blue tit for these boxes...

    Regular readers will know that I have just had major tree work done in my new garden - 30 soaring leylandii that were poised to crush my neighbours' property have had to be removed, given that four had already fallen in the gales last winter.

    It still leaves me 350 trees and shrubs in the garden, and that includes some lovely semi-mature trees such as three English oaks, a small-leaved lime and a walnut.

    What I don't have are trees that are old enough to have rot holes and hollow trunks, so any hole-nesting woodland bird is going to need a bit of help.

    So, with my tree surgeons here, it seemed the perfect opportunity to use their tree-climbing skills and brawn to put up some more unusual and chunky nestboxes.

    Here is the first to going up, a Tawny Owl box, with John, the tree surgeon's 65-year old assistant, making enthusiastic flapping motions and owl noises at the foot of the tree!

    Tawny Owl boxes mimic hollow tree trunks, and are either erected vertically (as here) or slung on the underside of a branch.

    You do need to be careful with Tawny Owls breeding in a garden as they can be vicious in defence of their young, but my box is high in a spruce and should be fine.

    My second box is an open-fronted box.

    I've been ambitious here because it is technically a Kestrel box, and I did have a Kestrel hover over my vegetable patch at Christmas so it is worth a try.

    It is possible that both boxes will get used by Jackdaws (better there than down my chimney!) or possibly Stock Doves - we'll see.

    But I guess it's that golden rule of giving nature a home - fulfill their Home Needs and see what comes!

  • Here comes the big one...

    On your marks, get set....

    Yes, the moment has come yet again to take up your prime position, next to the patio doors or peering out from the kitchen window, eyes peeled, feeders full, recording sheet at the ready.

    It's time to count your birds, along with half a million other folk who take up the challenge in what I think must be one of the best bits of citizen science anywhere in the world. Big Garden Birdwatchers, are you ready?!

    In fact, I've been having a healthy discussion with a wildlife-mad friend who says she doesn't do the Big Garden Birdwatch because so many other people do it. My response is that is exactly why she should do it - the very strength of the survey is that, with so many people taking part, the results are all the more meaningful. Science is all the better the bigger the sample.

    It is only by so many people taking part that we can break down the results by county and in some instances by city to identify the trends where you live.

    And think of the signal Big Garden Birdwatch sends out to the country, too. It says that caring for your garden birds is not a niche activity, it is something a caring society does, one that is passionate about saving nature.

    Then there's the pleasure bit of the Birdwatch too, and the anticipation. I'm hoping that my Long-tailed Tits come through during my hour, as they did last weekend. It was almost dusk when they arrived, so the photos won't win any awards, but I just adore their tameness:

    But what I'm really hoping for is a House Sparrow. A male visited the garden last week, only the second record this winter. Come on, Mr Sparrow - make my day, and give me another box to fill on my recording form!

    I'm sure you all know what to do to take part, but - just in case - here is the link to everything you need this weekend, bar the cup of coffee.

  • Jabba the Hutt turns up in my garden

    The removal of dangerous leylandii from my new garden continues apace, and today my tree surgeon came to the house to tell me he'd found something under the rotting bole of a dead 300-year old pear tree.

    There it was, poking up out of the ground, all large and white and fleshy.

    For those who like their Star Wars, it was like a miniature version of one of the films' baddies, Jabba the Hutt, who is depicted as a bloated, pale, slug-like thing with little arms.

    My Jabba had six little arms, and I'm pleased to say turned out to be a goodie, not a baddie. It is a larva of the rare and declining Stag Beetle, the first I've ever seen in the flesh.

    Last year I saw an adult Stag Beetle in the garden, but to know that they actually breed here was such a thrill. The blind larvae eat rotting roots and buried wood and on such a diet it can take them up to six years to reach maturity.

    I reckon that the difficulties of digesting such unpalatable material might be the reason why their body is so large - it is probably all gut!

    It's incredible to think that it will then metamorphose into a pupa, probably next autumn, and then emerge from being something so squidgy into the armour-plated adult.

    Knowing that a rare species is in your garden helps focus your efforts to give nature a home. For me, I now know that if I can keep a supply of dead wood from broadleaved trees buried in the soil, I'm likely to keep my population of mini Jabbas going.