March, 2016

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!
  • Are you brave enough to let your lawn grow?

    By 15 March this year, my neighbour with his bad knee had already cut his lawn twice. By the end of the year, I bet he will have done it 30 times.

    Now I know that for some people a pristine bowling-green lawn is one of their biggest prides in life, but for most in our time-stretched society it is a downright chore.

    There's no good scientific reason why a piece of grass needs to be chopped to within a millimetre of its life every week, so it is largely a cultural thing. .

    However, if we didn't cut lawns quite so much, it would be great for all sorts of garden wildlife, from hedgehogs to sparrows to butterflies. It would also cut down on carbon emissions in the garden. And a longer lawn is generally better able to withstand hot, dry weather.

    So the RSPB is challenging everyone to give the mower a rest and leave at least part of their lawn to grow longer this year.

    And here's how - nice and simple:

    For a Spring Lawn Meadow: don't mow until early July. Then just mow like normal until the end of the year. The grass will grow lush throughout the spring, and this method is great for growing beautiful spring bulbs in a lawn such as Snake's-head Fritillary and crocuses.

    For a Summer Lawn Meadow: mow once or twice in early spring; then leave until late August or September. The grasses will grow tall, flower and fade like a swaying hay meadow. You may need to chop it with shears before you mow, but think of all the effort saved!

    If you're still nervous, try a Quick-burst Lawn Meadow: just leave out a couple of mows in maybe May or June.

    In all three, you'll see little flowers appear that normally never get chance to bloom, like speedwells, medicks and daisies. Get down on your hands and knees and you'll see beetles and other minibeasts gratefully using their new little jungle, while at night it is richer feeding for Hedgehogs.

    But what about how it looks? If you mow neat edges around your longer areas of grass and straight paths through the middle of it, it'll show you know what you're doing and it can look really quite beautiful.

    For the kids, why not mow a winding maze amongst it?

    Go on, give it a go! Together we can make it the norm, not the exception.

  • Boxing frenzy

    In gardening for wildlife, as well as there being the right times to do things and the wrong times, there are some things which I think are worth doing even if you've missed the perfect slot.

    So, having been bound up in pond creation for most of the last six months, one job of mine that has slipped past its prescribed timeframe has been putting up my new birdboxes.

    Valentine's Day is said to be the prime time, so I am four weeks late, but with birds still prospecting for the ideal home, last weekend I knuckled down to get them up.

    One of the difficulties of putting boxes up is that they do require a bit of ladder work. As this new tit box is going onto a live tree, I used wire to strap it up (hence the goggles). I'd made the box with a backing plate that juts above and below the box, giving a good anchor point of the wire, which I just wrap around and twist at the ends.

    This Starling box, however, is going onto the 20-foot trunk of a leylandii that I asked my tree surgeon to clear of branches but leave standing, so I'm using hex-headed screws to attach this one into the dead wood, so much easier than normal screws.

    And for the Robins and Wrens, I've given them four simple boxes screwed onto the wall beneath a curtain of Ivy.

    By the end of the day, result! The tit box was being checked out by a pair of Blue Tits, who then ambitiously moved on to check out the Starling box (clearly looking for a mansion rather than an apartment).

    If you have a birdbox sat unerected, my recommendation would be to get it up now rather than leave it to collect cobwebs for another year. You never know, there may be some garden visitor still on the housing ladder just crying out for that last minute accommodation.

  • 15 steps to a large garden pond: Part 2

    Last week I revealed the results of the first five months of slog last summer and autumn digging my new garden pond. Inspired by the amazing ponds I had seen in the gardens of Sue Camm and Ennis & Richard Chappell (as featured in Nature's Home), I had pledged to be as ambitious as I felt possible.

    But could I create a pond that would buzz with wildlife?

    By November 2015, the shape was created, with loads of gently shelving shallows and a deeper area. Steps 1-8 were complete. Now to push for the finishing line.

    9. December. Down with a layer of pond underlay fleece to protect the liner from puncturing from below.

    10. Then the liner itself, which weighed over 300kg but we found could be rolled out on plastic pipes like the Egyptians did when building the pyramids, then tugged into the shape.

    11. Then another layer of underlay went down, but this time as protective overlay, which was then covered with gravel (recycled from the swimming pool foundations) to stop Heron beaks and Fox claws going through the liner.

    12. On top of the overlay I built an island out of bricks, mortared like a chimney (I'd then fill it with gravel), and I 'painted' the steeper slopes of overlay with clay slop so it didn't glare through the water.

    13. Time to let the pond fill! It's mid December 2015 and - at last - it is turning into a pond.

    14. Jump forward two and a half months and here it is, the 'finished' pond last weekend.

    15. And a reminder of start to finish. Two people. No heavy machinery. Same photo position.

    Before:

    After:

    Was it worth it? The liner and underlay/overlay cost £1700, so it didn't come cheap. But then it is 16 metres long and 8 metres wide.

    To have had a Grey Wagtail visit on the very first day having never come into the garden before, and the Sparrowhawk that comes to bath every couple of days, and the huge clumps of frogspawn - well, it has already given such huge pleasure, and such a home for wildlife. What will its first spring and summer bring? I can't wait!