Above: Bugingham Palace – Sue Hetherington’s Bug Hotel (Photo © Sue Hetherington)
Following Tuesday’s members evening exploring how to make our gardens even better for wildlife I have put together a summary of our discussion, some ideas of my own and a few useful links and recommendations of books. Thank you to all the people who contributed and sent me information and thoughts afterwards. Please feel free to write in (via the Contact us link) and tell us about your own personal gardens and what you are doing to make them more wildlife friendly and include some photos. It will be a way of bringing a taste of spring and summer into our lockdown lives.
One of our members suggested that we could put together a list of ‘Star’ plants for wildlife so I would be very interested to hear about your favourite plant. Ann suggested ivy and comfrey and mine would be pulmonaria officinalis (common lungwort).
Jenny sent me the following link which talks about allotments and their mental health benefits.
Martin K told me about a course run by the Field Studies Council on ‘Garden wildlife health, and what citizen science can tell us about the importance of gardens for biodiversity’. Here is the webpage: https://www.field-studies-council.org/biolinks-courses/
Sue sent me the following book recommendations:
- The Royal Horticultural Society Companion to Wildlife Gardening by Chris Baines which is a revised edition of How to Make a Wildlife Garden. Published 2016, Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd. (Currently out of print.)
- Wild your Garden by “The Butterfly Brothers” (Jim and Joel Ashton). Published 2020, Dorling Kindersley.
Members Garden visits
It was mentioned that Joe Clinch has a lovely meadow in his garden in Stony Stratford and as I also know that there are others living in Stony with lovely gardens I wondered if it might be possible for us to have a day next summer when we can organise a visit to a few of these gardens. Joe has kindly offered for us to come and have a wander around his garden.
A summary of our thoughts during Tuesday’s discussion
Thanks to Mervyn and Martin F for taking notes.
It is especially important to set up hedgehog highways – small holes under fence. They don’t need to be big – 13cm x 13cm is recommended.
Hedgehogs love fallen fruit from fruit trees
Purpose-built homes for wildlife
Mixed success with swift boxes and artificial house martin nests. Swift boxes are often not occupied but they might take a few years to move in. They are often used by other birds such as starlings and sparrows. It was suggested that one could block the access until later on in the year when the swifts arrive. Artificial martin nests can be useful to attract martins into the eaves even if they don’t actually use the nests but build a nest alongside – they are communal nesters so are attracted to eaves with nests already present.
We also talked about bat boxes and it seemed that these too have limited use by bats.
It was suggested that you can simply add seed to existing grass sward (this is not always particularly successful as the ranker grasses can out compete the resulting small seedlings)
Can provide useful cover for frogs, newts and grass snakes.
Best times to clear out a pond is the autumn.
One member had obtained a good pond kit from the RSPB
Plants to grow
- Ivy for pollen and berries and cover.
- Holly for berries
- Comfrey for nectar – it is also the food plant for the scarlet tiger moth
- Crab apple variety golden hornet
- Fruit trees
- Rowan for flowers and berries
- Climbers are good for birds’ nests.
- You can work with your neighbours in providing a range of habitats and sharing your interests
- Sheds without windows can provide very good nest sites.
- Can leave out chicken bones etc for foxes (this might cause a problem with rats!)
- Wood mice love runner beans.
- When tidying up for winter don’t overdo it: especially in green houses and sheds, there may be nooks and crannies which are hibernating places so be careful not to disturb.
- Avoiding everything harmful to wildlife: one member stressed the need to avoid the use of chemicals in gardens. Also take care with netting.
- Seeing wildlife: One member has recently used a wildlife camera to identify which animals are using his garden and was disappointed with the result – Identifying a rat, a cat and a wood pigeon J Although one member regularly saw foxes and badgers in his garden.
- Birds such as robins and blackbirds can become very tame if fed – they love mealworms.
- Rotted wood chip provides a good home for newts and frogs.
- Nest boxes – pros and cons of different heights. Safety from cats and other ground predators.
- Corvids taking bird food and predating on birds’ nests
- Several people are finding that they have fewer or no frogs in their gardens but more newts.
- The right location for bug hotels is important – sunny is best?
Below are a selection of notes that I prepared for Tuesday. I thought they might be useful for others to read:
So can we really make a difference to the fortunes of wildlife in our gardens?
Dr Jennifer Owen systematically recorded every living thing in her suburban Leicester garden from 1972 over a thirty year period and found 2,673 species including 7 insects new to the UK, 4 of which were new to science.
The presence of this huge diversity has been backed up by an increasing body of work and as the nation’s gardens cover about 4300square kilometres we can actually provide homes for a whole host of wildlife if we so choose.
This past year has demonstrated to many of us how much we need our outside spaces and how much healing and joy they provide in a restricted world.
There does not need to be a conflict between our personal requirements in a garden and those of wildlife – a well-designed and planned garden can cater for both. Diversity is important in terms of different habitats, having flowers and berries available for as long a season as possible and providing nooks and crannies for a wide variety of creatures to inhabit.
If you don’t have a garden then allotments are another option offering you the chance to manage a bit of space for your own personal produce but also for wildlife.
Gardens can be complex habitats and as we have designed them to provide shelter from the elements for ourselves so they provide shelter to many creatures. Many bird species now find refuge in gardens as the wider countryside is no longer so hospitable for them. Amphibians such as frogs, newts and grass snakes also often use garden ponds as these habitats are rapidly disappearing in the countryside.
Diversity and Design
- Different features we could have for wildlife in a garden.
Ponds, bog gardens, water and drinking baths, spring and summer meadows, flowery lawns, beds for arable weeds, hedges, trees, shrubs, fences and walls covered in climbers, piles of stones or stone walls etc., log piles, compost heaps, leaf bins, homes for wildlife (hedgehog houses, bee and bug hotels, bird and bat boxes ) bird feeders, vegetable plots or allotments
- If you were starting from scratch how could you create a strong design with wildlife in mind (what to put where, different garden shapes and sizes)?
Try to create a strong design on paper first so that the garden is pleasing on the eye and covers all the requirements you have for a garden as well as the wildlife (make a list first). Think about shapes, sightlines and divide the garden into rooms if you have the space. Try to have the wilder areas away from the house and at the edges of the garden but try to link up these habitats so that there are corridors between them. Think about the animals you are trying to attract and consider what they need for food, drink, shelter from weather and predators, safe places to have their young etc.
Meadows and flowery lawns
- What are the different ways in which meadows and flowery lawns are important for wildlife? Pollen and nectar for insects, food for insect larvae etc, cover and food for small mammals, amphibians, they improve the soil therefore good for soil invertebrates
- Types of meadow – spring (containing spring flowers and bulbs), summer (late summer flowering plants) and flowery lawns.
- Establishment (soil fertility, seeding versus plugs plants or leaving to colonise naturally). Meadows establish better on poorer soils but if you have a fertile soil you can still have a meadow but you need to establish strong growing plants and introduce yellow rattle. Plug plants work best on rich soils but seed works on poor soils. Flowery lawns tend to be colonised naturally by flowering plants.
- Management (when to cut, how much and what to cut with) Spring cut in June, summer cut in September. And remove all cuttings to reduce fertility – into a heap for grass snakes. Leave some areas long each year for butterfly larvae and cover. Use shears, a hand scythe or a reciprocating mower depending on area to be cut.
- Plants to include for spring and summer – primroses, snakes-head fritillaries, cowslips, bugle, for spring. scabious, oxeye daisies, knapweed, meadow cranesbill for summer
Providing for wildlife all year round
- Food – Bird seed especially important in winter and spring, hedgehog food especially important in spring, in dry spells and in autumn, plants for nectar and pollen for as long as possible throughout the year, berries for hungry winter birds. Lawns are good for worms and cranefly grubs etc. Do not use herbicides or pesticides as the balance will be upset and pests will become a problem.
- Homes – trees, climbers and shrubs for nests, ponds, log piles, messy quiet corners, bird boxes,
- Plants to grow for nectar pollen and berries – ivy is one of the best but it has to be left to fruit, wild flowers generally better for nectar and pollen but single flowers better than compound (some ornamental varieties don’t have any nectar or pollen).
Ponds and other water features
- What are the different uses that wildlife has for water? Why is water so important. To drink, to live in either permanently or for some of the time, to bathe in, for catching prey.
- List of possible ways to bring water into a garden. Ponds, bog gardens, water baths, moving water. The greater the number and variety the better.
- Management of ponds (algae, invasive or alien plants). Only fill up and top up with rain water or algae becomes a problem, floating plants cut out the light to algae and oxygenating plants in the water reduce the nutrients. Lists of invasive plants online.
- How to make the best wildlife ponds (location, profile of pond, plants). Best in the sun and away from shade and leaves falling in, but near cover, profile best with a big shallow end and a smaller deep end. Plants depend on size of pond – list online.
Finally, here’s a photo of Jenny’s allotment, for inspiration!