Gardening for wildlife

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!
  • Fancy a day out among wildlife gardeners?

    If you like wildlife gardening, and love learning more, you might like this: the Wildlife Gardening Forum is laying on a Wildlife Gardeners Day on Saturday 19 May 2018 at The Wetland Centre, London.

    I know, because I'm speaking at it, but don't let that put you off!

    To attend, it doesn't matter if you are an expert or beginner - all you need is the interest and passion to do more for wildlife in your garden. And anyway, we're all on the learning curve, every one of us!

    Also speaking will be the godfather of wildlife gardening, Chris Baines, plus the wildlife gardening author, Kate Bradbury. And there will be 14 different workshops to pick and choose from, ranging from earthworms to dragonflies, bumblebees to Hedgehogs.

    Plus there will be stalls from a wide range of different organisations, and plants to buy.

    I mention this now because bookings opened this week, and I think it may fill up fast - you can book here.

    The Forum has been doing some great things over its 13 year existence. It focuses on promoting and getting a better understanding of the science of gardens and their wildlife, which then informs many of the things we do here at the RSPB with regards to wildlife gardening.

    The Forum's fast-growing new website is a mine of information, led by the indefatigable Dr Steve Head.

    I've been a Trustee for a number of years, and the bonus for everyone is that 'membership' is free.

    This photo was the summer conference last year looking at how best to create wildflower meadows in your own garden or local greenspace

    So I hope I see many of you there on 19 May - it will be great to be among so many like-minded people.

  • Pretty Polly

    I had a first in my garden this week. Funny how we have such a clear sense of what has visited before, and who is a newcomer.

    This one was perched on one of my SquirrelBuster birdfeeders, and could easily be passed off as a House Sparrow from behind, being just rather brown and streaky.

    But that tail is too forked, that wing bar too broad, those wing and tail feather margins too well outlined as if in white pencil.

    Turning his head, however, he showed his true colours - and that colour is red. And a bit of pink. Oh, and a black moustache (or is that goatee beard?)

    It's a Redpoll. A Lesser Redpoll, to be precise, the species found in the UK, the North Sea countries across the Channel, and the Alps.

    The rather paler and chunkier Mealy Redpoll turns up in the UK in small numbers in winter but is frosty-looking rather than this warmish brown.

    After shocking declines in the late 20th century, our Lesser Redpoll is staging something of a comeback, and they are beginning to visit winter feeders in increasing numbers. Certainly my Redpoll looked like he knew what he was doing when he visited mine.

    The 'poll' bit is interesting. It was a Germanic word way back that came into English meaning 'head', or at least the bit of the head that grows hair. So the Redpoll is very well named indeed, and better than had it been called the Redhead, which would have had different connotations.

    'Poll' you'll recognise too from 'tadpole', which just means 'toad head', which is ironic given that it applies to frog larvae as well as toad larvae. I always distinguish between them as 'tadpoles' and 'toadpoles' when perhaps it should be 'frogpolls' and 'toadpolls'.

    Oh, and it you're due to go to the polls soon, then it is because the old way of voting was for someone to count the number of heads.

    But I can definitely say my favourite poll is this one, and hopefully now he has headed off to moorlands or heathlands for a successful breeding season so that more of his kind can return next year.

  • Help keep watch for the Asian Hornet

    Have you heard of the Asian Hornet? It flirted with the headlines in 2016 and 2017, and we'd like it if it never became headline news again, but that's where we need your vigilance.

    So let's start at the beginning. The Asian Hornet comes from America. (Ok, ok, it comes from East Asia, but I wanted to ensure you were concentrating!) In its homeland, it is just part of the natural web of life, but it was accidentally imported to mainland Europe, possibly in a consignment of pottery, with the first record in 2005 in France. Since then it has become established and spread widely.

    The problem is that the Asian Hornet is a voracious predator of other bees, which in Europe just don't have the experience and evolutionary mechanisms to deal with this new threat. The Asian Hornet seems to target the nesting sites of, in particular, colonial bee species, so in summer it is often found hovering in front of Honeybee hives waiting to pick off returning workers, and sometimes the colony becomes too scared to even leave the hive.

    A number of other bee species are also at risk from the Asian Hornet, so its impact on such a key group of pollinators is deeply concerning.

    The good news, as far as the UK is concerned, is that Asian Hornets have only been sighted three times here so far – twice in southwest England and once in Scotland. Even better, these were reported quickly to the relevant authorities and fortunately were not able to establish themselves.

    But the risk is very high that they will arrive again. So the RSPB is encouraging everyone to be vigilant and watch for Asian Hornets as now is time of year when mated queens could be emerging from hibernation (for, like most bumblebees, it is only the queens that survive the winter).

    If enough people keep an eye out for Asian hornets, and report any suspected sightings quickly to the authorities, there is a good chance of preventing Asian Hornets from colonising.

    It means knowing what to look out for, and where.

    To get your eye in, it helps to know what our own native Hornet looks like, which is larger than a wasp but still with lots of yellow on the abdomen (the tail end). Here's one I photographed a couple of years ago.

    There are also some really large hoverflies in southern Britain that have evolved to look like Hornets. Here is one (below) in my garden, called Volucella. They, too, have plenty of yellow on the abdomen. And there are also some large native woodwasps that look rather similar.

    The Asian Hornet is not quite as big as our Hornet, and is much darker, but with an orange face and one thick orangey stripe across its abdomen. This excellent photo by Gilles San Martin shows its features off brilliantly.

    In the spring, it appears to be much more interested in visiting flowers than in killing bees

    If you think you have seen one, the advice is not to try and kill it yourself, but to alert the authorities using this website here. It is important they know of all potential sightings so they can build a picture of if, when and where Asian Hornets are arriving, so don't be afraid to send in a report even if you weren't quite sure.

    And just familiarise yourself with it. There is more information on the RSPB website here, and here.

    What I don't want to do with this blog is demonise the Asian Hornet (for it didn't ask to be brought to Europe). And especially I don't want to demonise our own native Hornet or wasps. Yes, they can be scary, but our native species are an important and integral part of the natural foodchains. They are part of 'our nature'.

    The story of the Asian Hornet is yet another reminder of how careful Humankind needs to be as it assists – sometimes knowingly, sometimes unwittingly – non-native species to move around the globe to places where their impacts can be catastrophic, or expensive, or both.