October, 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!
  • November in the wildlife-friendly garden

    I'll be honest - November isn't always my favourite month in the garden. To me it sometimes feels like a shop where the shutters are starting to come down and where the stock is starting to look a bit tatty, the choice more limited.

    Interestingly, it is not that the shelves are bare. Not a bit of it! We always get calls at this time of year from people concerned as to why their generously stocked feeders, full of fresh seed and nibbles, are attracting few visitors. "Where have our garden birds gone?" they worry. Well, nature's larder is pretty full at the moment, with seeds and berries.

    It's also full of insects, even if the audible buzz has gone from gardens. Most adult insects and spiders perish at this time of year, but that provides yet more food for birds to helpfully mop up.

    Looking beyond the gathering gloom of longer nights, November of course has much beauty to offer, including fabulous colours. One of the first trees I planted in my new garden earlier this year was Sorbus 'Joseph Rock', mainly in the hope that the pale berries it will ultimately bear will provide late winter food for thrushes.

    However, it also has wonderfully intense autumn colour. There are only a few leaves on it this year (below), but in just two or three years it should be one of the autumn jewels in the garden.

    Other wildlife-friendly trees to try that are great in small gardens and have fiery autumn colour include:

    • Field Maple - a UK native with lemon yellow autumn leaves
    • Spindle Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade' - a cultivar of a UK native, with bright red autumn foliage
    • Crab apples, such as Malus 'Evereste' and Malus 'Golden Hornet'. Good autumn foliage plus the small trees are decked with colourful fruity baubles.

    Jobs in the wildlife friendly garden in November

    • By the end of the month, most hedgehogs and bats will be in hibernation, but it has been so mild that there's still good reason to knock up a hedgehog box in case any are out there looking for the perfect place to sleep out the winter.
    • It's the start of tree planting season - buy bare-rooted trees and they are both cheap and easy to manoeuvre. Or look for late season bargains in the garden centres.
    • It is pruning season, too, removing dead, diseased and damaged wood from fruit trees and creating an open 'goblet' effect. Just don't take out too much wood in one winter, and avoid pruning plums and cherries until the summer to prevent the risk of 'silver leaf' disease. Use the prunings to create twiggy piles, which I think are the best nesting places you can provide in gardens for Wrens, Robins and Dunnocks
  • When good gardening and wildlife go together

    A couple of weeks ago I had a little break up in Norfolk.

    After a morning with the amazing Grey Seals at Horsey...

    ...I then spent the afternoon at the equally entrancing East Ruston Vicarage Garden.

    Some of you may have visited, or at least would recognise it from the TV, for it is famed for growing all sorts of tender plants outdoors such as cacti, despite being only about a mile from the North Sea.

    Of course, I was there with my wildlife head on, too, looking to see how nature might be finding a home in amongst the innovative design and planting: when the first thing that meets you as you walk into a garden is a log pile, then you know that these gardeners are happy to show themselves to be wildlife-friendly.

    There are a number of ponds, too - another sign that this is a rich habitat for wildlife. The formality of the pond doesn't matter - the rich aquatic vegetation and the ease of access for wildlife in and out of the pond makes it a winner.

    The secret to the garden’s planting success is the shelter-belts of pine trees that encircle much of the garden. These provide the shelter to moderate the winter chill from untamed easterly winds pouring straight from the Urals, providing a microclimate that allows plants such as Brugmansia (so-called Angel’s Trumpets) to flourish outside.

    I suspect all the sheltering hedges provide wonderful nesting sites for garden birds. But where were the insects on what was a very mild day for mid October?

    Ah, there they were, clustering on one of those Gold Star plants I featured earlier in the month - Michaelmas daisies. They appeared to have drawn together all the bees, hoverflies and butterflies in the garden, including Red Admirals and this fine Comma.

  • Hedgehog happiness (and bonfire caution!)

    I do love it when I can bring you a story from someone else, rather than me wittering on each week. I know I get very excited about garden wildlife, so to find others getting similarly gripped is always comforting!

    This time it was my colleague Jenny, who is one of the RSPB's Volunteer Officers (helping to look after the 13,000 of you that provide the RSPB with its incredible army of support).

    Here's her email:

    "Adrian, not had the chance to tell you yet but THE most exciting news is that I’ve discovered we have a little prickly visitor coming to our garden!  At last!

    "Here are some pix of, firstly, the hole we cut in the back gate (though we did this well over a year ago now)

    "...and here is the much more recent hog feeding station.  

    "Water bowls also left out for the birds and hog.

    "Each morning all the food is eaten and always a hedgie ‘calling card’ is left in the box!  I’ve seen the little chap (or chappess) about six times now (I go out with a torch each night, trying not to disturb but equally very keen to see him/her!)

    "I've also got an RSPB hog house in the log pile under the magnolia tree, filled with straw, so am hoping (a) the little one reaches hibernation weight (he's not tiny but not that big either) and (b) he uses the box!

    "I could hardly breathe with excitement first time I saw him/her, it's been my holy grail for so long!"

    Given that Jenny and her husband Mark have filled their garden with wildlife-friendly plants, don't use slug pellets and don't use garden chemicals, I think we can say that they have ticked off almost every box in the list of Hedgehog Home Needs. And I love their simple storage-box-feeding-station, complete with brick to hold down the lid and stave off the attention of Foxes.

    Of course, now is a really critical time of year when, just as Hedgehogs are settling down to hibernate, we all have a pyromaniac ritual and build bonfires everywhere, just the kind of home Hedgehogs are looking for (pre-burning, of course!).

    If you are having a bonfire at home on or around 5 November, do try your best to ensure Hedeghogs aren't under the pile. The best course of action is to gather all your materials together, but only build them into a pile where the fire will be on the day of the conflagration.

    Like Jenny and Mark, I'm sure many of you have happy Hedgehog experiences to share.

    And if you're in the Midlands/Welsh Borders area, you might also like to go to the People's Trust for Endangered Species Hedgehog Conference on 21 November in Telford run by my good friend Henry

    Yes, it feels like there is a real groundswell of Hedgehog Hope these days.