September, 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!
  • October in the Wildlife-friendly Garden

    Even though the days are rapidly shortening and right now are no longer than in mid March, there's all that summer's heat still held in the ground and in the seas around our little island. It means that air temperatures are still on a par with May and soil temperatures even higher.

    That has a big effect on gardens. It means that there are still plenty of insects on the wing, from hoverflies and bees to moths. It also means that lawns can still be laid, grass seed sown, herbaceous plants divided, all because there's plenty of chance for them to get new roots down into the warm soil. Weeds, unfortunately, know that too.

    Dividing to multiply: The only herbaceous plants to avoid dividing at this time of year are those that flower in late autumn - things such as Michaelmas daisies and rudbeckias. Oh, and don't try it with Eryngiums - the sea holly family (below) - which have a taproot.

    But apart from that, if you have perennial plants that have developed into quite a clump, now is the time to dig it up with as much root on as possible. Break it apart into sections with a neat cut with a spade or teased apart with two garden forks back to back. Then replant as separate plants. Each will form a new clump, and it will also rejuvenate them.

    It's also a good time to collect seeds, such as these Echinacea (below). I take little paper envelopes out with me anywhere I go in case I see something I want. The hedgerows and woods are full of wildflower seed at this time of year.

    October is also prime time to clean out nestboxes. Wear gloves, compost the contents including any unhatched eggs, give the box a quick swill out with boiling water if possible, leave to dry, and hopefully it will then be a clean ready for a winter roost and new nest in spring.

    Our Giving Nature a Home featured activity this month is all about providing a winter home for amphibians. Do tick off the activity here if you've done it (look for the button called 'Login and let us know'), or give it a go if you haven't. Hopefully it will mean more a-hopping and a-croaking in your pond next spring.

  • Making Abodes for Tired Toads

    Every month, we focus on a particular Giving Nature a Home activity fit for the season, and my thoughts for October turned to snoozing. After all, there is a whole host of creatures that need to find a safe bed for the winter, and that includes our much loved amphibians: Frog, Toad and the three species of newt.

    Most of you will have one or more of these living in your garden, so this is a great time to think about whether you have enough suitable spots for them to snuggle down for the next few months.

    They can't stay in the open, so they need somewhere hidden from the light and the wind where they won't get too warm or cold or be at risk of predators. For Frogs, that usually means in the mud at the bottom of ponds, but for Toads and newts they like to crawl under log piles and leaf piles and mounds of rocks.

    All the better, however, if they can get a little way underground. In the countryside they might be able to find an old animal burrow but, in your garden, where will they go? Where have you got that fits the bill and won't get disturbed?

    Here's your chance, then, to build them the perfect winter retreat. You'll only need an hour or so to do this, and it is a great activity for kids to take part in too, so we're hoping that many of you will give it a go.

    In a nutshell, you just dig a shallow hole in a sheltered, out-of-the-way, shady area of the garden, fill it with some logs and rocks, put your diggings back over the top, eh voila! You've created a network of underground cavities in which several amphibians might find a perfect hideaway.

    Our mini video shows how simple it can be. But can you come up with something even more creative? More artistic? We'd love to hear. And we hope your hopping friends have sweet dreams.

  • A pioneer with the eggs and bacon

    There are many aspects of wildlife-friendly gardening that can be done within the bounds of conventional gardening.

    However, there are some areas where I feel we need to break the boundaries and challenge convention, where we redefine what is thought of as normal.

    So I was delighted to receive an email from one of my RSPB colleagues up in Scotland, Toby Wilson, telling me what he has done with his front lawn which is bold and I would say very beautiful. 

    What happened is that, a couple of years ago, Toby noticed a little patch of Bird's-foot Trefoil growing in his lawn. If you don't know it, it is that glorious low-growing plant in the pea family with clover-like leaves and whorls of yellow flowers that, in bud, are flushed with red, hence the name I knew it by as a kid - Eggs-and-Bacon.

    It grows in short grass, especially on downland and near the sea, and is not only great for nectaring bees but its foliage is munched upon by the caterpillars of Common Blue butterflies (above) plus several attractive day-flying moths, including Six-spot Burnet, Burnet Companion and Mother Shipton (below), whose wing markings are said to look like the knarled face of the 16th century prophetess of the same name.

    Based on just that one little clump of Trefoil, Toby stopped mowing between May and August and without any further intervention it has expanded to glorify the whole lawn. He also sowed some Yellow Rattle, by simply scattering some seeds and it has also taken well.

    Now there is some apprehension in Toby's household as to what the neighbours might think, but I'd say that's all part of being a pioneer. The results in the 48 seconds of Toby's video speak for themselves...