September, 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!
  • Michaelmas brings out the best of autumn

    This week we had the autumn equinox on 23 September, the day when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 of night.

    While the prospect of longer nights is sobering, at least it is the prelude to Michaelmas on 29 September. As well as being a Christian festival, it was the date in Medieval England that marked the end of harvest, while for me it is a big, brightly-coloured flag that it must be time for Michaelmas daisies. Hoorah!

    So, on a well-timed trip up to my mum's last weekend, I took the opportunity of visiting the national collection of Michaelmas daisies at the Picton Garden in Colwall in the lee of the beautiful Malvern Hills.

    You never know quite what to expect with a national collection, but this blew me away.

    It only opens from August to 20 October, so all the planting is designed to be at its glorious best right now.

    As well as Michalemas daisies (which they've been growing since 1906), there are a host of other choice autumn perennials.

    But it is the Michaelmas daisies that shine...

    ...and with them come the insects that love them, including many bees and hoverflies but also autumn butterflies such as this Red Admiral.

    The garden is quite bijou and the car park even more so, but if you are in the Midlands and fancy a treat,then grab your chance.This is the kind of garden I love - one that revels in being a beautiful garden but which gives nature a home at the same time.

    And if you can't go, then just grow a Michaelmas daisy in a sunny spot and enjoy the life it brings.

  • All the things a bat could want

    In my new garden, I have a whole list of wildlife targets, creatures I'd like to see moving in in droves under my watch.

    Up there on the list of new tenants that would be very welcome are bats.

    During this first year, I've been able to head out at dusk most evenings since spring to check whether I am already being visited. Sure enough, on most warm evenings I get to see a bat, and on a very few evenings I see two, most being small pipistrelle types.

    As with any creatures, I like to work out what their Home Needs are - what are they looking for that their little brains say, "This is the place for me; it has exactly the things I need."

    What my garden already offers them are mature trees arranged into gladews. These are both a highway for bats to travel along but also a 'wall' of vegetation in the lee of which night-time insects tend to gather. So my one, or two, or three bats tend to wheel and loop, as if on an invisible roller-coaster, in front and around these trees.

    What I didn't have were many places where I feel bats could roost. None of the trees were dead or hollow, and they don't have access to my loft. So time to put up some batboxes.

    This is one of the RSPB's, made of untreated timber (essential) and with two cavities up into which bats can scramble if they wish - a big cavity at the back for larger bats and a smaller one at the front. You can also buy single cavity boxes, or of course build your own, although it can be difficult to find a source of untreated wood.

    The key in terms of location is to put them somewhere sheltered, but with a clear flightpath in. Recent research suggests they don't have to be placed very high, but in gardens with cats it is best to put them head height up or more.

    I've put up four boxes in different positions and haven't had any sign of any bats moving in yet, but it is early days - it takes them a while to find them, and even then they may only be in residence occasionally through a year..

    But what I don't have yet is a pond. As a magnet for night-flying insects and hence for bats, it is a must.

    You'll be pleased to know that digging is well and truly underway! So by this time next year, I'm hoping my one and sometimes two bats will have turned into three and sometimes four...

  • The joys of moths. Yes, moths!

    A friend of mine has just bought a moth trap. They're quite simple wooden boxes, which come either with a blue, rather ethereal light that looks a bit spooky, or a whopping bulb capable of illuminating a whole city. For him - and me - we use the spooky one so as not to keep the neighbours awake!

    He is going through what the theorists would call the 'change curve'. After the first burst of excitement of having a new bit of kit and of finding that by the morning - as if by magic - the trap has filled up with all sorts of creatures the like of which he's never seen, now comes the angst of trying to work out what all these little brown, speckly things are.

    I'm encouraging him to 'stay the course'. Like a foreign language, it's impossible to become fluent overnight, and the thing is to enjoy all those moths which ARE readily identifiable and which ARE simply amazing to look at.

    'Enjoy the process'. It's a motto that works for me in most things in my life!

    Me, I've just passed through the nine month anniversary of moving into my new house with its abandoned garden. It means I've had the spring and summer to begin to explore which moths already use the garden, so about once a week I've been putting out my simple little moth trap.

    If you know your moths, you'll probably enjoy the identification challenge, so I'll just put up some photos of recent captures for you have a go at without captions.

    If you are new to moths, just enjoy the fantastic shapes and patterns and even colours and textures of common garden moths.

    Answers next time. For now, enjoy the process; enjoy nature :-)