April, 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!
  • May in the wildlife-friendly garden

    Whether I have my wildlife hat on or my gardening one, May brings with a tremendous sense of expectation.

    Whether it be migrant birds arriving back in their droves from Africa, the hum of insects or the unfurling of a billion leaves, we're now hurtling at full steam towards summer, with so much to do and enjoy.

    I say this knowing that we're only slowly emerging from the grip of these northerly winds that have held us all in suspended animation. What was that all about?! (Yes, the British weather has sprung a surprise yet again. I sometimes get the feeling that gardening, wildlife and weather are so interrelated as to be almost indivisible.)

    But imagining that it is now going to steadily get warmer, this is the peak season for birdsong in all its life-affirming glory. Soon there will be an exuberance throughout the garden, and gorgeous spring freshness all around.

    This month we're encouraging people to have a go at making what we call a Wildlife Sunbed. Maybe you have one already, for all it is is a sheet of corrugated roofing material, be it iron of - even better - the modern material called Onduline which won't rust. If you do, you'll know what a brilliant yet simple device it is for attracting Slow-worms, Common Lizards and a surprising range of other wildlife where they can stay safe, dry and soak up the warmth. Check out what I have under mine!

    Here are some of the other things to do or try in the wildlife-friendly garden this month, if you needed any encouragement:

    • It's really the last chance to get annual flower seeds scattered if you want a radiant display later in the summer. This is me sowing a bed earlier this spring - it's such a strangely satisfying activity, knowing that all those tiny seeds just tossed onto the earth will make such a great show.

    • Once you see the Chelsea Flower Show on the telly, you know it's time for the Chelsea Chop where you cut back many of your late summer flowering plants by a third, so they will get less leggy and then bush out to have even more blooms for wildlife.
    • Any new trees or bushes you planted bare-rooted last winter won't yet have much of a root system to draw up the moisture they need, so keep them well watered.
    • If you have planted out any herbaceous perennials, they too are only just 'getting their feet down', so make sure you show them the watering can.
    • The time to prune spring flowering shrubs is now as the flowers fade. It actually helps prolong their life, and keeps them compact and less prone to wind damage. Shrubs to attend to include Flowering Currant, Mock Orange (Philadelphus) and Weigela. Take out about a fifth of old stems, and trim back stems that have flowered to fresh new shoots.
    • Oh, and dare I mention weeding? As you pull them up, think of what you could plant there next year that will mean they are pretty much smothered by flowers you DO want!

  • Make this and everyone will want to peer under it!

    I love those things you can do in the garden to help wildlife that you might never have thought of and yet turn out to be really simple and fun.

    And here's one of them. It's a brilliant way to help reptiles thermoregulate...

    Or to put it another way, it's something to help your wildlife can warm up!

    The best materials to use for your Wildlife Sunbed are called Onduline (above) or Coroline - they're the black, corrugated sheets you'll have seen on many a shed roof. You can get them from any big DIY store and really the only issue is that it normally comes in a 2m x 1m sheet; that's certainly too big to go in my car, so you may need to get it delivered.

    I then cut a sheet in half, using a Stanley knife rather than a saw because otherwise the bitumen surface will clog your saw blades.

    Punch a couple of holes in one side and attach a bit of rope and that will give you a simple handle to lift it gently up with. I advise you only look once a week so that any residents don't get scared off.

    Then just lay it on the ground in a sunny, quiet position in the garden, maybe near longer grass or a log pile or compost heap.

    Slow-worms love to shelter beneath them where they are dry, warm and safe, with lots of lovely tunnels to wriggle under.

    And it's not only reptiles; you might find nests of sweet Field Voles or Bank Voles or all manner of fascinating creepy crawlies.

    Let me show you what were under mine this week:

    A millipede

    An ant nest (notice how it is the shape of a corrugation)


    The nest of a Short-tailed Field Vole (again the shape of a corrugation)


    And some young Field Voles!

    Have a go and let us know how you get on - we think you'll be amazed what turns up!

  • Best Garden Plants for Wildlife - take part in a new survey

    One of the big questions in how to make your garden more wildlife-friendly is which plants should you grow.

    There are plenty of lists out there, but rarely is there much evidence about where that advice comes from. So just how accurate is it?

    Even in my RSPB Gardening for Wildlife book, I published a list of 400 plants to try, but they were based on just one man's observations - mine!

    So I've worked with the wonderful Wildlife Gardening Forum to devise a survey which will seek to collate the observations of a host of people across the country.

    And we'd like you to take part!

    You'll need to have a working knowledge of garden plants, and be able to tell a hoverfly from a solitary bee from a honeybee. But, don't worry, you won't need to identify each and every species of hoverfly or bee! So some experience is required, but you certainly don't need to consider yourself to be an expert.

    Basically, you'll be sent a list of plants that, at some time or other, have been claimed to be good for 'wildlife' and you'll rate those plants you are familiar with based on your own observations of wildlife. That last bit is critical: you will only base your ratings solely on first-hand experience, not hearsay or 'received wisdom'. The aim is to separate the facts from the myths!

    You could do it based on the experience you already have, or you could get out in the garden over this spring and summer and make new observations. With your help, we think we can transform the advice available.


    For all the information you need about how to take part, email us at survey@wlgf.org.

    We ran a very small-scale pilot last year, for which the Top 10 for bumblebees were as follows, but what will the results be with a larger sample of observers? It will be fascinating to find out.:

    • Marjoram

    • Dahlia (single flowered varieties)

    • Globe-thistle

    • Viper's Bugloss
    • Eryngium 'Mrs Willmott's Ghost
    • Rosa moyesii
    • Rosemary
    • Goat Willow
    • Sage