December, 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!
  • Sharing the joy of a wildlife-friendly garden

    There was a time when having a wildlife-friendly garden was considered, well, a bit odd! I'm pleased to say that we're now at the point where it is becoming seen as standard; expected, even.


    Part of that step forward is thanks to people showcasing their wildlife-friendly gardens to the public, so I was delighted this week to get an email from one of my RSPB colleagues, Susan Sutton, to say that her garden in Sandy, Bedfordshire, is going to be featured in an imminent issue of Garden News magazine.


    I've long known that Susan in her spare time is a really dedicated gardener, and this year she sent me some photos of her latest addition - a new pond - so I thought it was time to share them with you.


    Susan and her husband, Dave, started with marking out the shape with rope.

    Then it was just a case of digging the hole...

    ...and adding the liner

    ...before adding plants and decorative block edging

    I know that makes it sound simple, whereas we know it must have been hard graft, but anyone who has done it will know it is so rewarding. Just look at the results! Already they have had baby newts and their first Frog in years.


    Susan is one of those gardeners who works hard to have a good looking garden, complete with rich planting, sculpture and even railway memorabilia. And then that additional aspect of wildlife gets woven throughout.


    For example, they have a row pleached Hornbeam trees, those that have a slender stem and are them pruned into box shapes at the top. Susan explained that she and Dave planted them around 10 years ago and now it is the perfect floating hedge where Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Collared Doves and Starlings all nest despite the path underneath.


    Susan and Dave open their garden as part of the National Gardens Scheme, and next year it will be open on Sunday 30 July, so if you're in the Bedfordshire area next summer, pop it in your diary and go along and be inspired at how good a wildlife-friendly garden can look. Alternatively, check out Garden News in the next week or so for more inspiration from Susan and Dave.

    Oh, and have a very happy Christmas. May Santa bring you all the gardening goodies you desire.

  • Letting your barriers down for wildlife

    One of my RSPB projects at the moment is working with Barratt Homes on their largest development in the UK which is at Kingsbrook, Aylesbury. Construction of the houses started in July, and they are incorporating all manner of wildlife-friendly features so that nature has a home at the same time that the new residents have a home, to the benefit of all.

    One of the key things that Barratt are installing, to their immense credit, are what we call Hedgehog Highways. It is a grand name for something that is just a little hole under a fence or wall, but it is a big step for a developer to take.

    This picture below isn't Kingsbrook. This is a bog-standard housing estate. As well as the lack of greenery, you can see how the world is full of barriers. The gardens are impenetrable boxes. This part of our planet has been closed off to anything that can only walk or hop, so not only to Hedgehogs but also creatures such as Frogs, Toads and newts.

    What a difference, however, if we make the effort to connect our little havens up. So we'd love you to have a think about whether there are things you can do to make it easier for wildlife to get in and out of your garden.

    Maybe you have lovely hedges, in which case wildlife has the corridors it needs. But if your garden is surrounded by impenetrable boundaries, can you open up a new welcome?

    Here's me taking a saw to an inconspicuous bit of fence in a corner of my garden. The hole only needs to be about 12cm square (5 inches) to serve most smaller creatures.

    We've got a full page of tips about things you can do to create nature's highways and byways.

    It also talks about how trees and shrubs are so important for birds moving through gardens, safe stepping stones.

    Even a strip of longer grass is the corridor of choice for many creatures.

    It's the kind of job that can take very little time to do, so we hope you feel inspired to open up your world and drop your barriers!

  • What's on nature's Christmas menu?

    I've got a steady stream of House Sparrows, Great Tits and Goldfinches now visiting my feeders, but I've got up to 25 bird species each week visiting the garden and for many my supplementary food isn't what they are after.

    So what is the garden offering the rest of them?

    It's one of those dificult questions of wildlife gardening, for getting a detailed understanding of what the Dunnocks, Robins and Wrens of this world are tucking into is really difficult - the likelihood is that they are taking a whole range of natural foods, from seeds to insects to spiders.

    The Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests are likely to be wheedling out all manner of the tiniest insects, with moth eggs thought to be a key part of the diet of the Long-tails. Meanwhile, the Blackbirds are polishing off the windfall apples, and the Pied and Grey Wagtails have enjoyed picking a thousand tiny bits of something off the forzen surface of the pond this week, but who knows what?.

    It means that when people ask what natural food you should let your garden produce, the answer is more to do with making habitats. If you have a mix of trees, shrubs, long grass and short grass, flowers and climbers, with ponds and bog gardens, log piles, some bare soil, and lots of sunny margins, you'll be creating a winter hamper without needing to worry what is in it. 

    But at least for two birds I know exactly what their foodie focus is at the moment. For my Blackcaps, it is the Common Myrtle, a much underrated shrub for small gardens. The berries are only ripening now, which is excellent as all the Holly and Pyracantha berries have long since been stripped by the Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons.

    For my Blue Tits, their attention is on ravaging my Winter-flowering Cherry (Prunus x subhirtella), which has burst into life with the warm weather this week. I was lucky to find some intact flowers to photograph, for the tits have been busy pretending this is a confetti factory. Presumably they are eating the sugar-filled nectaries at the base. I have a sweet tooth myself, so I can't deny them their pleasure! My garden doors are open to all, whatever their tastes.