July, 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!
  • August in the Wildlife-friendly Garden

    Hopefully by now, your garden is full of bouncing babies - chocolatey and speckled Blackbird youngsters, sandy-coloured Starlings, troupes of insistent House Sparrow chicks following their parents, plain-faced Goldfinches looking so different to their red-faced parents.

    Maybe you'll even have red-capped Great Spotted Woodpeckers coming to your feeders. Here is a grabbed snapshot of mine at the birdbath this week taken through the kitchen window - adult males would have a small red patch on the rear of the head; adult females would have an all dark crown.

    And hopefully your flower beds will be humming with pollinating insects, for bumblebee populations should be pretty much at the peak right now.

    Our featured Giving Nature a Home activity for August is all about feeding Hedgehogs. Autumn and early winter is the prime time for a bit of supplementary food to get them ready for hibernation, so now is a good time to get started if you have yet to do so.

    Now I'm not fortunate enough to have visiting Hedgehogs, despite having put Hedgehog Highways around my boundary. These days Hedgehogs are so thinly distributed that it is a matter of luck whether you are within range of one, and maybe my proximity to a busy dual carriageway doesn't help.

    However, my good friend Steve in Haywards Heath is one of the fortunate ones. He built a feeding station out of a plastic crate where he is able to feed his regular visitors, and you can see the RSPB's instructions on how to do this here, including a 1-minute video.

    Steve feeds a mixture of dried meal worms (a favourite), peanuts, sultanas, sunflower hearts and dry cat food pellets (currently chicken). They are very messy eaters and Steve's garden birds grab the opportunity to pop in there early morning to tidy things up (very considerate of them).

    Steve also puts out a tray of water, of course, and he has tried conventional puppy and kitten food (not fish, and not gravy) but they never touch it.

    Steve also has a hedgehog house at the end of his garden - Hoggy Bottom. Now some people are sniffy about them and whether they get used, but in my experience they can be very successful, and here is one visitor to Hoggy Bottom in May this year.

     It is great to see that 390 of you have already ticked off that you are feeding Hedgehogs, and our totalisers have only been up and running for a month. If you've yet to tell us all the things you're doing in the garden, please do create a personal Log-in to our website ( and tick off those activities you've completed.

    If you've yet to create a Log-in, don't worry, it's quick and simple and doesn't commit you to anything - and it would be so good to get a sense of how much nature your giving a home to across the country.

  • Happy Hogging

    Our headline Giving Nature a Home activity this month is all about getting Hedgehogs into tiptop condition, through giving them some little handouts to supplement their diet.

    And, boy, do they need it, given the calamitous declines they have been going through. The latest estimate is that there are less than a million left (less than one for every 60 of us humans), although getting an accurate count is difficult. My gut feeling is that it is now way under that mark.

    But putting out food for Hedgehogs comes with two big problems to overcome.

    The first is the stark fact that many of you may not have Hedgehogs visit your garden. I don't currently, which I'm more than sure about as I have a trail camera trained on the paths overnight. Oh, how I'd love to download the images and see something other than fox, fox, another fox, two foxes, oh, and a fox....

    If you're like me and aren't visited by Hedgehogs, have you checked how easy it would be for a Hedgehog to get in and out of your garden? If your boundary is solid with fences, then do consider putting in some Hedgehog Highways.In most gardens, it is just a 15 minute job.

    But if you do get regular Hogs, or think you might, the next problem is how to put out food that won't be instantly scoffed by cats, dogs, Fox or even Crows and Magpies.

    Well, in Giving Nature a Home we've got something that might solve that problem. It's the homemade, under-a-tenner, Blue Peter type contraption, a safe feeding box that Hedgehogs can get into but hopefully little else.

    And here is the design knocked up into a 53-second video to guide you.

    Our webpage also advises what food to feed, and not to feed. Bread and milk? Nooooooooooo!

    Remember, once you've completed the activity, or if you've done it already, do tick it off on your Personal Plan. Haven't made one yet? It'll take you five minutes. Just go here, put in your postcode, answer a couple of questions, create a log in, and up pops your chance to tick off a whole range of activities to add to our totaliser.

  • Sploshing with the floral paintbucket

    Call me cheapskate, but I love those gardening activities that involve very little effort or cost for maximum reward.

    And right up there in the list is growing annual flowers. For the cost of a couple of packs of seeds and the effort of a bit of digging and raking, you can transform relatively large areas like a floral version of Jackson Pollock's colourful sploshes.

    This year, I have been trying out some different mixes in my garden, because what I also want to understand is which ones bring maximum benefit for wildlife.

    Once again, I've tried the regulation 'cornfield annual' mix, which tends to include Field Poppy, Corn Marigold, Scented Mayweed, Cornflower and Corncockle.

    I sowed the seed this spring. This photo was taken this morning, with the trees still casting shadows over the area, but you can see that, at the moment, it is largely a sea of gold. That's the Corn Marigold dominating, with not a dot of poppy red amongst it, which would have done better had I sown the patch in the autumn.

    I find that Corn Marigold is good for solitary bees and hoverflies, and the Cornflowers are good for bumble and Honeybees. However, the Corncockle and Scented Mayweed don't pack in the pollinators, and I rarely find birds in among the stems.

    So one mix I'm trying this year, which is my own concoction, is based around Echium 'Blue Bedder'.

    A form of Viper's Bugloss, the flowers are an intense lilac-blue, they have excellent germination rates, and grow to be knee-high. And the bumblebees ADORE it.

    In some areas, I've added some Pot Marigolds (Calendula) as I can't resist a bit of zing. But the promise of 'single flowers' on the packet proved not true, and the double blooms have little wildlife value.

    However, my added pleasure is that the House Sparrows are constantly rootling about in there, presumably finding insects for their latest broods from the production line of babies that have emerged from my birdboxes.

    Echium 'Blue Bedder' - remember the name; seek out a packet. It's a winner!