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!
  • Stand back, it's Frog Rescue!

    One of the things I inherited in my new garden is a swimming pool.

    "Wow! That's so posh," people say to me. But then they see it!

    It was apparently built in the 1970s, but the problem was that Frogs (and other things) fell into the chlorinated water and died.

    So they stopped using it and, by the time I bought it, it was a green stinking soup where the only option was to cover my nose and pump it out.

    The plan is to turn it into a wildlife pond, but my first problem is that Frogs and spawn are in the (now) unchlorinated puddle at the bottom. So it was time to undertake a Frog Rescue before the puddle dries up.

    Here is our intrepid hero at work (that's me!). (You can see in the corner some of the planks and other structures I'm using in the short-term to help any wildlife that falls in to get out, but I check it daily just in case).

    Up came nine Frogs and giant blobs of spawn, transferred into the small ponds elsewhere in the garden.

    But this is where the story turns rather sad, for one of the Frogs turned out to be affected by some kind of disease. Terribly emaciated, I was astonished it was still alive.

    I am not expert enough to diagnose whether it is affected by one of these terrible Ranavirus-type diseases, thought to have been imported from abroad in the pet trade, that have been ravaging our Frogs and Toads.

    But it does lead onto a serious message, which is that I would normally not advocate the moving of amphibians and spawn. It is so tempting to raid an existing pond to stock a new one, but the basic advice is to let nature come under its own steam rather than risk moving these diseases around.

    Unless, of course, you have an emergency like mine and have to resort to orange buckets and, (drumroll), Frog Rescue.

  • Will the birds like their home-grown muesli?

    I love feeding the birds. It's better than TV for me, watching to see who's visiting and what they're up to.

    Of course most of what they eat is seed I've bought in from the RSPB. But I do like the idea of my garden providing some of it too.

    So this year I've got the bit between my teeth, and this week I've been sowing a cornfield.

    First step, prepare the ground. I'm sowing a large area - 300 square metres - so I went at it with a rotavator, but this works just as well in a small bed and is even worth trying in a large planter. 

    The land I'm sowing was under a closed canopy of rotting plum trees until a month ago, so I don't have a significant weed burden to worry about, so rotavating is all I'm doing to prepare the soil.

    Then it's onto the seeds. I bought 600g of cornfield annual wildflower mix - the basics are Field Poppy, Corn Chamomile, Cornflower, Corncockle, Corn Marigold, plus I went a bit posh and got a mixture with a bit of Opium Poppy, Field Forget-me-not and Night-flowering Catchfly.

    I also bought 600g of mixed cereals - oats, wheat and barley.

    I split them into six cereal bowls (and then got in trouble when there were no clean ones for dinner). This meant that I could better gauge how evenly I was sowing them across the plot, rather than having to try and guess an even rate over the whole area.

    Then it was a case of broadcasting the cereal seed and raking them in so they are buried an inch or so down, safe from pigeons, followed by scattering the annual seeds on the surface.

    And that's it - nature I'm hoping will do the rest.

    Here is a photo from Hidcote where they had sown such a mix, minus the cereals.

    A late winter or spring sowing tends to have few poppies (sadly) but I'll happily settle for something that looks like this.Especially if the sparrows and finches take up the invitation too!

  • Tales from the birdfeeder: Where do they put it all?

    You know those teenagers who seem to eat like a horse but never put an ounce of weight on (I remember the days!)? Well, watching the birds at the feeders today was just like that.

    In particular, my male Blackcap seemed to spend almost all the day sat in the fat feeder inside the squirrel guard - peck, peck, peck. I thought he might get to the point where he wouldn't be able to get out.

    Much of the time he had to share the feeder, either with my two House Sparrows, with Great Tits, Robins and Dunnocks, or as here with the male Blackbird. (The latter has to be ever alert in case the dominant female spots him and comes barging in - he is pretty scared of her, I can tell you).

    Of course, the need to feed like a glutton is a sign of the huge energy demands of these cold days and long, even colder nights on small birds. Research on tits has shown that they need to eat the same number of calories as their body weighs in grams (so an 11g Blue Tit, for example, will need to eat 11 calories a day, which would be the equivalent of me having to consume 70,000 calories a day. Even I couldn't manage that).

    That means our garden birds have to undertake an almost constant search for food; every day is a question of survival. It is where garden bird feeding - which I know most of you do - can be a real lifeline.

    As well as feeding fat balls, I also feed nyger, peanuts and seed, and this is where I unashamedly plug the RSPB “Fair to Nature” certified sunflower hearts that I've just started using,

    They are only just out, and the idea is that the farms the RSPB sources its birdseed from must meet rigorous conservation standards, set by Conservation Grade.

    For example, Fair to Nature farmers must have at least 10% of the area they farm as wildlife habitats.The RSPB has always been careful where it sources its birdfood from, but this takes our sunflower seed standards to the highest level.

    It's lovely to think that my birds are happy, but the place where their seed came from is full of happy wildlife too.