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!
  • Making Abodes for Tired Toads

    Every month, we focus on a particular Giving Nature a Home activity fit for the season, and my thoughts for October turned to snoozing. After all, there is a whole host of creatures that need to find a safe bed for the winter, and that includes our much loved amphibians: Frog, Toad and the three species of newt.

    Most of you will have one or more of these living in your garden, so this is a great time to think about whether you have enough suitable spots for them to snuggle down for the next few months.

    They can't stay in the open, so they need somewhere hidden from the light and the wind where they won't get too warm or cold or be at risk of predators. For Frogs, that usually means in the mud at the bottom of ponds, but for Toads and newts they like to crawl under log piles and leaf piles and mounds of rocks.

    All the better, however, if they can get a little way underground. In the countryside they might be able to find an old animal burrow but, in your garden, where will they go? Where have you got that fits the bill and won't get disturbed?

    Here's your chance, then, to build them the perfect winter retreat. You'll only need an hour or so to do this, and it is a great activity for kids to take part in too, so we're hoping that many of you will give it a go.

    In a nutshell, you just dig a shallow hole in a sheltered, out-of-the-way, shady area of the garden, fill it with some logs and rocks, put your diggings back over the top, eh voila! You've created a network of underground cavities in which several amphibians might find a perfect hideaway.

    Our mini video shows how simple it can be. But can you come up with something even more creative? More artistic? We'd love to hear. And we hope your hopping friends have sweet dreams.

  • A pioneer with the eggs and bacon

    There are many aspects of wildlife-friendly gardening that can be done within the bounds of conventional gardening.

    However, there are some areas where I feel we need to break the boundaries and challenge convention, where we redefine what is thought of as normal.

    So I was delighted to receive an email from one of my RSPB colleagues up in Scotland, Toby Wilson, telling me what he has done with his front lawn which is bold and I would say very beautiful. 

    What happened is that, a couple of years ago, Toby noticed a little patch of Bird's-foot Trefoil growing in his lawn. If you don't know it, it is that glorious low-growing plant in the pea family with clover-like leaves and whorls of yellow flowers that, in bud, are flushed with red, hence the name I knew it by as a kid - Eggs-and-Bacon.

    It grows in short grass, especially on downland and near the sea, and is not only great for nectaring bees but its foliage is munched upon by the caterpillars of Common Blue butterflies (above) plus several attractive day-flying moths, including Six-spot Burnet, Burnet Companion and Mother Shipton (below), whose wing markings are said to look like the knarled face of the 16th century prophetess of the same name.

    Based on just that one little clump of Trefoil, Toby stopped mowing between May and August and without any further intervention it has expanded to glorify the whole lawn. He also sowed some Yellow Rattle, by simply scattering some seeds and it has also taken well.

    Now there is some apprehension in Toby's household as to what the neighbours might think, but I'd say that's all part of being a pioneer. The results in the 48 seconds of Toby's video speak for themselves...

  • Time to stand and stare...

    "What is life if, full of care, you have no time to stand and stare."

    For me, a crucial part of wildlife-friendly gardening is taking time out to stop and observe which creatures are taking advantage of your hospitality.

    So I was delighted to get an email from Katy Fielding telling me how she turned watching her garden's wildlife into what I'd call a party. ("Well, we stayed up into the early hours playing Scrabble, if that counts as a party," Katy said).

    Katy lives on the edge of Pirbright village, near Guildford, and she invited her friends Laura Korhonen, Becca Bratt, Jonathan Pruskin and Chris Calow to take part in a 'garden bioblitz' over a weekend in August, which is where you try and find as many different types of animals and plants as you can. I'll let Katy take up the story:

    "We used a range of relatively simple equipment: a camera trap, three small mammal traps, a footprint trap, moth trap, pitfall traps and butterfly net. We used bird feeders to attract birds and corrugated iron sheet to attract reptiles and invertebrates.

    "Overall we identified over 200 species of wildlife which we were all really chuffed with! Some highlights were 14 species of butterfly, and around 40 species of moth over two nights in the moth trap, including a Poplar Hawkmoth. (The photo is of a Lesser Swallow Prominent moth in the team's collecting jar, with the amazing Lewington moth book behind).

    "We caught a Yellow-necked Mouse in one of my small mammal traps and we got a Hedgehog through the footprints trap. We also had a very talented plant identifier who got well over 50 wild plants in the garden.

    "We identified some interesting flies, beetles and spiders with over 100 invertebrate species but we all felt we barely scraped the surface of the invertebrates as none of us were particularly talented in this area but we gave it a good go! (Spot the Common Darter dragonfly in this photo).

    "It was a great excuse to catch up with a group of friends I rarely get to see, doing something we're all passionate about and have the opportunity to learn from each other. It was wonderful proof that there is so much diversity in gardens and so much to get excited about right on your doorstep.

    And was it exhausting?

    "Well, we didn't get up early either day to record birds as the over-riding feeling was that this was supposed to be relaxed and we all work and needed a lie in (don't judge us!). We did a lot of counts from the picnic blankets!"  

    Maybe, if you stand and stare, you'll find something exciting in your garden today. There's every chance that you will!