May, 2018

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!
  • Inspiration for the wildlife-friendly garden: The seaside

    I was lucky enough to spend a week in May enjoying sights such as this:

    I was in Pembrokeshire in west Wales where Choughs seem to call from every clifftop and Gannets plunge dive offshore, and I took the Puffin photo above on the incredible island of Skomer, where some 30,000 breed.

    While there’s nothing you can do to make your garden perfect for Puffins, I’m always on the look-out for lessons I can bring back to the garden, and I do believe there are things we can glean from our wonderful coasts. Apart from the stunning views, perhaps the thing that strikes you most as you wander the cliff footpaths is the amount of wildflowers, and with them the numbers of insects to be seen once the sun is out.

    Right now, with spring at its peak, the cliffs and banks where I was staying are becoming painted with the pink of Thrift...

    and the white of Sea Campion...

    Later in the season around our coasts (so the following photos are from my archivbes rather than last week!), sandy beaches and dunes might host Sea-holly...

    ...while Yellow-horned Poppies grow on seaside shingle.

    You may live a long way from the sea, but all of the plants above are garden worthy, and all are good for pollinators no matter where you live, so they are a great way of bringing a flavour of the seaside to your garden.

    And the other lesson I brought back from holiday was that one of the things that makes the coast good for wildlife is that it provides lots of steep, sunny banks where insects can burrow. No wonder you see so many mining bees and other such insects there.

    So, if you have a flat garden, why not introduce some contours. All it takes is a low, sandy, south-facing bank and many burrowing insects will love you for it.

    And then you can sit back in your deckchair and dream of Puffins (which is my excuse for sneaking in another photo of one...)

  • Dual!

    Last May, I was witness to great drama in my pond as a Grass Snake caught and consumed a large Common Frog.

    Although not quite a Crocodile attacking a Hippopotamus, it was nevertheless in a back garden context quite a sight, and something I've never seen before in many, many years of nature watching.

    So when this week, almost a year to the day, I saw a commotion in the pond, I wasn't surprised to go out and find a repeat underway, with a luckless Frog firmly grasped by its head as the snake began to dislocate its jaws to swallow it.

    However, what I wasn't expecting was a sudden thrashing in the water and a second large Grass Snake to emerge and grab the Frog from the other end.

    A terrible tug of war ensued, with the noses of both snakes getting closer and closer as they swallowed the Frog from their respective ends, before eventually one snake won the tussle and was left to finish its meal in peace.

    It was a potent reminder that the battle for life - and death - goes on right outside our back doors. My Crows are currently picking out dozens of pond snails from my pond and winkling them out of their shells; my Blackbirds come to the pond at dawn to pick off Emperor Dragonflies that emerged overnight but haven't yet fully hardened their bodies. Smooth Newts grab the dragonflies, too, but later in the summer I expect repeat visits from Little Egrets to pick off the Newts, and those Emperor dragonflies that survive will be back to lay their eggs but also feed on smaller insects around the pond.

    It is of course how nature works, an endless battle for survival, no matter how difficult it may be to watch at times.

  • Inspiration for the wildlife-friendly garden: spring woodland

    I'm just back from a wonderful break in Pembrokeshire, island hopping, enjoying the Puffins, and strolling - nay skipping - across miles of golden sands.

    While there, I had the pleasure of visiting the National Trust’s Stackpole Estate in west Wales, where the woodland flowers were putting on a grand performance.

    Stealing the limelight were copious amounts of Primroses still in flower, an injection of creamy-lemon that seemed to illuminate the ground.

    In other places there were dense beds of Wild Garlic, gently wafting their aroma.

    Among them on the woodland floor was a supporting cast for the eye to pick between. Sanicle, Wild Strawberry, Dog's Mercury, Honeysuckle, Wild Clematis, Black Briony.

    Then there was upright rocket-shaped Bugle, standing like miniature oriental pagodas...

    Plus the unfurling fronds of Hart’s-tongue Ferns...

    And every now and then, Early Purple Orchids would put in a starring cameo...

    Good wildlife-friendly gardening takes inspiration from natural habitats, and the lesson I took from this woodland is all about how glorious our tapestries of native woodland flora can be, rich and diverse and for the most part perennials coming up year after year.

    It has made me all the more determined to try and achieve something similar in my garden, recreating a bit of spring woodland glory in shadier corners.