July, 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!
  • Harvesting the skies for nature

    Sometimes in making a garden better for wildlife, you have to challenge yourself, and for me that comes whenever the DIY toolkit is called for. After all, I'm the kind of person who gets confused when instructions say to use Phillip's screwdriver, because I don't know a Phillip.

    In case you are the same, today's blog is all about fitting a water butt, and I'm hoping that by seeing a complete amateur in action (me), you'll feel that anything is possible.

    There are several reasons for wanting to collect rainwater:

    • It gives you a source of water for your plants, great if you don't have an outside tap, or if your flower beds and vegetables are far from one.
    • You can save money! Many of us are on water meters, so why pay money when nature gives us all this free water? 
    • Using tapwater to water your plants is a drain on the mains water supply, which can have major impacts on wetland habitats and their wildlife.

    I am also a big fan of using stored rainwater to top up ponds. Most tapwater is stuffed with nitrates, which will boost any algae and blanketweed you have.

    So here we go, brace yourselves as I bring out the powertools:

    Step one is to choose your butt, making sure it will fit in the space you have, next to a drainpipe. This butt below holds about 210 litres of water; more slimline ones are available for tighter spaces. I always get water butts with the stand, otherwise it is impossible to get a watering can under the tap.

    To get the water into the butt, it is possible to just drill a hole in the lid and slot it under a downpipe, but it will just overflow when full. So here I'm fitting a diverter kit to attach it to a square drainpipe, but you can buy diverters for round drainpipes too. Once the butt is full, it will then continue to flow down into the soakaway, drain or, in my case, rain garden.

    To fit a diverter, you will need to drill a circular hole of the right size in the side of the butt to take a connecting pipe, and that's where you do need the right drill bit.

    You then fit a connector, which is a simple matter of poking it through the hole and screwing the attachment on the reverse side, inside the butt.

    Then, with your butt on its stand in it what will be its permanent position, you mark the downpipe at the same level as the butt connector.

    And here's the scary bit - hacksawing through the downpipe.

    A diverter unit then slots in to the drainpipe.

    And then it is just a case of fitting a length of felxible pipe between the diverter and the inlet, pop the lid on, and you're ready for your first downpour.

    Keeping the lid on is important - it means that birds can't fall in and drown, mosquitoes can't get in to breed, and algae can't prosper in the dark. The water should keep fresh for ages. And all I have to do is scrape off that awful white sticker they put on the butt!

  • When garden wildlife gives you those heart-in-mouth moments

    Glancing out of the kitchen window yesterday, I saw a little bird flick across from my Cornus tree across the pond into the apple, with a swish and a dash the pricked my interest.

    On getting a better view, I found myself looking at this:

    If you haven't seen one of these before, it's perhaps no surprise, because this is a fresh-from-the-nest youngster of one of our most declined breeding birds, the Spotted Flycatcher.

    But many people of a certain age will recognise it, because this was once a common sight in larger (and some smaller) gardens across the country. Alas, no more!

    Sadly, there are thought to be barely 33,000 or so pairs left of this summer visitor from Africa, down 88% since the late 1960s.

    Why they have struggled so much just isn't known. Some suggest it could be a problem on their wintering grounds in West Africa; others say it could be an issue on their migrations routes to and from there; yet others think there may be too few flying insects to sustain them here in the woods and copses and parks they like to breed in.

    This bird is so fresh and spotty that I can assume it was reared somewhere near my garden. Given that adults are barely streaked, and only then on the upper breast, it is tempting to think that the name must have originated with these freckled youngsters.

    My bird was having a lovely time, even managing to catch one of my Common Darter dragonflies over the pond.

    Imagine, then, my horror when it launched on a hunting flight after an insect, only to bash itself against my bedroom window. I saw it drop like a stone down to the ground many feet below.

    I rushed down, heart in my mouth and found it lying on its back. I gently turned it over, and put it in the shade under a bench in the forlorn hope it was just stunned.

    And there it sat for two hours, half in and out of consciousness.

    But it then came to a little and clambered up a stick. And an hour later was gone.

    Imagine my delight today to find a baby Spotted Flycatcher using the same branches as yesterday's bird. And even coming down to the birdbath.

    I can't categorically say it is the same bird. But I like to think so. Let's hope its headache is gone and it piles on the energy ready for its long flight south.

  • We can see you!

    As I wander around the garden, no matter how quietly and gently I go, I'm always aware that certain wildlife is nipping off at my approach, disappearing into cover, sneaking quietly away.

    So using a TrailCam with night vision is a fascinating way of seeing who gets up to what in my absence.

    In the last month, I've had it set up looking down a path through my bed of annual flowers, in part because I wanted to see who had been leaping about in it. I had my suspicions!

    However, a sunbathing Blackbird was surely not the culprit.

    But this little chap (or chappess) might have something to do with it.

    Especially as it looks like he comes with friends.

    I knew the garden was busy with Foxes, but the beauty of a webcam is that it throws up things you don't know you've got, such as this fella, who the camera tells me visits each evening along the same path betwen 11.30pm and midnight:

    But I'll leave the last word today to a flashing pigeon...