WILDLIFE IN MY GARDEN
One of the main motivations for my garden makeover was to attempt to create an environment which is more attractive to wildlife. This means not just offering sources of food but also some five-star accommodation! I hope that by providing sustainable sources of food (flowering plants and artificial feeders) and and suitable habitats (nest boxes and bug hotels), my garden will soon be teeming with life. I realize of course that the small size of the planting area, the steep slope, the barrier fences and the limited time I shall have for ‘tending’ the garden are all restricting factors here. This means: no space for a pond, however small and no ‘untidy corner’ as a refuge – both of which are high on the recommended list of features for a wildlife-friendly garden.
I’ve gone through numerous lists of recommended plants (see my list of links, books and sources) and have planted those I think will provide fragrance, colour, extended periods of flowering and varying forms for a range of insect visitors.
Providing Homes for Insects
The choice of plants should naturally attract a wide range of insects but more will be needed to help them survive adverse weather. A ‘bug hotel’, for instance, provides protection over winter and allows the larvae of bee species such as the red mason bee to survive. This type of ‘hotel’ can easily be made from scrap materials or even more easily bought from catalogues or garden centres. But remember to take into account a few basic rules for success: They should be securely sited on a wall, fence or post, facing South or South-east because insects need the warmth of the sun as early as possible. Most importantly, ‘bug hotels’ must provide DRY accommodation, in a sheltered spot and/or well-protected from driving rain (many commercially-available ‘hotels’ fail this requirement completely).
So here it is: My ‘home made’ hotel. This was made from a spare length of 7” x 1” planed redwood pine and a 12 mm thick plywood backing, coated on the outer surfaces with paint to match the fence. For solitary bees a compartment of garden canes, cut to about 150 mm and drilled out clean, provide a variety of ‘lodgings’ from 4 mm to 9 mm in diameter. Some smaller (2-3 mm dia) holes were drilled into a solid wood block that forms part of the pitched roof. Remaining compartments have been filled with pine cones and scraps of bark to provide crevices and protection for other tenants.
Feeding the Birds
Some birds already visit my garden briefly, but providing food throughout the year will attract them more regularly and may increase the range of species. Following the advice on the RSPB website, I’ve put up three feeders [photo]: one with mixed seeds, one with peanuts and one with fat balls. It only took half a day for these to be discovered by the local squirrel brigade, so they have had to be vandal-proofed.
The feeders I’ve chosen are robustly made and easy to take apart for regular cleaning. It’s a mistake to put out too much food at a time as it will be wasteful; it can go mouldy, seed can germinate if the weather is wet and it will all become unpalatable and even harmful for birds. So the plan is to give the birds small amounts of fresh feedstuffs frequently, best for the birds and my pocket as well.
The other important thing to provide will be water, so that’s the next job to plan. There is current concern over the spread of avian pox, a virus infection that affects dunnocks, wood pigeons and the tit family. It can be spread from contaminated perches (on feeders) and from poorly maintained bird-baths. The advice from the British Trust for Ornithology is to clean and disinfect feeders regularly and to put out fresh water daily. Although the virus is specific to birds it’s always wise to keep a pair of kitchen gloves solely for handling feeders and to wash hands thoroughly afterwards.
Providing homes for Birds
My garden is small so that there is only room for a couple of bird nest boxes. I’ve put an open-fronted box [photo] for robins in a North-facing position on the rear garden wall along with a nearby box [photo] for blue/coal tits. I hope that the robins don’t get too territorial and also that nest boxes will be out of reach of patrolling cats and squirrels, although fledglings will be at great risk wherever the nest boxes are fixed. As the climbing plants mature the likely spots for nesting will increase, so with any luck other birds may build nests regardless of any boxes I provide.
Both boxes were made from lengths of 150 x 20 mm timber [photo], painted only on the outsides and made weatherproof by gluing and screwing sections together. The dimensions comply with BTO recommendations, so I’m hopeful of becoming a landlady sometime soon.
Most of the gardens around my home are surrounded by solid fence barriers, so aren’t encouraging to hedgehogs. The majority are hard-landscaped in order to minimise maintenance and the fences prevent hedgehogs from moving around to find food, nesting sites and other hedgehogs.
I’ve read that a simple way of helping hedgehogs is to cut a 13 cm square hole in the fence at ground level, allowing easy passage between gardens. Alternatively, a simple channel dug under the fence would do the trick. When I looked at my fences I saw that there was a suitable gap under the West side, but no gap at all on the East. Many years ago I found a hedgehog in the garden but I haven’t seen one for ages. I’d far rather have hedgehogs to eat my slugs and snails than use slug pellets, some of which can harm wildlife.