May, 2017

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!
  • The Wildlife-friendly Garden: June

    Let me guess what you'll be doing in the garden this month!

    Weeding? Unless you have been very diligent, there are likely to be young weeds that germinated in April, that still looked small and innocent in May, but are now turning into robust brutes, anchoring themselves in for the battle with you ahead. 

    Weeds are typically described as 'a plant in the wrong place' but for me it is those pernicious weeds that are the real challenge - the bindweeds, Annual Meadow Grass, Creeping Thistle. Give them an inch and they'll soon take a mile.

    Look at this bindweed shoot in my garden - it is as if butter wouldn't melt, it appears so innocuous. But underground those snap-happy roots will be zooming out in all directions

    And the very worst weeds? Surely those that sneakily grow from right at the base of your cherished plants. Go in with a fork and you risk damaging the plant you want to keep; go in too gingerly and you leave half the weed behind.

    Watering? We didn't do too badly for rain in May down here in Sussex, and by the look of the forecasts, most of you got a bit of a drenching at times. Any plant that has got its roots down probably doesn't need much extra water for now, but I bet this month there'll be times when you need to be out with the watering can for anything in pots or those plants recently planted out. Oh, and hanging baskets of course, the thirstiest of all inventions.

    Harvesting? If you've got a veg patch, then hopefully you're picking some well-earned produce this month. I'm just starting to enjoy the first broad beans of the year. I hated them when I was a child; for some reason I now love them them when grown by my own fair hand. And one of the best plants in the veg patch for bees.

    But I hope you will find time for a spot of Watching, too. There is so much going on in gardens at the moment, from young birds taking their first tentative hops, skips and maiden flights, to dragons and damsels emerging from ponds. Expect Large Skipper and Ringlet butterflies in rural gardens soon, and bees aplenty in your borders. My pond in the last few days of May was already busy with mating pairs of Azure Damselflies, the bright blue males clinging determinedly to their plainer females as they delicately laid eggs in the pondweed.  

    And hopefully, by taking us up on our challenge last month of leaving the mower in the shed for a few weeks (the idea being that longer grass has been shown to have benefits for all sorts of wildlife), you'll have time to consider our June challenge - of creating a Wildlife Sunbed. The only real problem with the idea is that the sheets of corrugated roofing materials tend to be sold in 2 metre lengths, rather too big for most cars. I'm hoping someone spots the commercial opportunity and starts marketing them in smaller sizes for wildlife-lovers. Even better if you know a roofer from whom you can cadge some offcuts.

    Have a great month - it is one of the best in the garden for amazing wildlife experiences.

  • Underneath the arches!

    There is one place in my garden that I'm itching to look every day but I have to be really disciplined. "No, Adrian - once a week and once a week only!"

    That thing that lures me so much is my Wildlife Sunbeds. These are my sheets of black, corrugated roofing material, laid in a number of different places, and they are one of the wildlife wonders of the garden.

    What makes them so good are five big reasons:

    1) The bitumen covering and dark colour mean that it soaks up the heat of even weak, milky sunshine, meaning that cold-blooded creatures can soak it up and get themselves going in the morning (I could do with that myself).

    2) Because it is roofing material, it is waterproof, so anything living under it can keep out of the cold rain.

    3) But equally, it is so dark and shady under there that at least the atmosphere is humid rather than bone-dry.

    4) The corrugations mean that there are effectively multiple tunnels for creatures to use.

    And 5) It is one of the few really safe places in the garden where creatures can escape from predators such as cats.

    So what kind of wildlife can you find under these wonder-sheets?

    Well, reptiles love them - it is THE place in the garden to find Slow-worms, those wonderful legless lizards that look as if made from bronze.

    In my garden, my sheets are where Short-tailed Field Voles make their nests. If you ever want to see a rodent that is adorable, it is these fellas.

    And these are their little igloos of dried grass.

    But even if all you turn up is just a millipede or some other minibeast curiosity, it is like lifting the lid on a different world. The important thing is just having a quick glimpse for a few seconds, before returning the startled inhabitants bacvk to their dark, warm, humid world of safety.

    And given that roofing materials are something you can get down your local DIY store, that's why we've made it our  'Activity of the Month' for June. You can find all the instructions you need to make your own here on our Giving Nature a Home pages.

    And if the roll-call of Sunbed Creatures hasn't quite done it for you, I bet it would for your kids/grandkids/nephews & nieces!

  • When wildlife drama comes to the garden

    I always say that the garden can throw up some of the most powerful encounters with wildlife you can have.

    So it was last Thursday, when I peered out of the bedroom window to see something writhing on the edge of the pond, attracting the attention of a Crow.

    Going down to investigate, I found this - a Grass Snake swallowing a full-grown Frog.

    I admit I had mixed emotions. I work hard to make my garden a home for Frogs, and to see one being predated like this elicits considerable sympathy for the Frog's demise.

    But this is Nature, the battle to survive, and to have a top predator like a Grass Snake in the garden is also a wonder and a privilege.

    It took over ten minutes for the Grass Snake, jaw totally dislocated, to complete its meal.

    And with one last gulp, the deed was done.

    Indeed, it was astonishing to see how little there was to show that such a feat of swallowing had just occurred - by now, the only sign was a rather fat belly.

    (You can clearly see, by the way, the tell-tale yellow and black collar that instantly distinguishes the Grass Snake from our other snakes, the Adder (with its zigzag stripe down its back) and the very rare Smooth Snake.)

    And then the snake was off, swimming across the pond, slithering over a log and disappearing into the long grass. And I just sat there awhile in the stillness and silence.