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!
  • Here comes the big one...

    On your marks, get set....

    Yes, the moment has come yet again to take up your prime position, next to the patio doors or peering out from the kitchen window, eyes peeled, feeders full, recording sheet at the ready.

    It's time to count your birds, along with half a million other folk who take up the challenge in what I think must be one of the best bits of citizen science anywhere in the world. Big Garden Birdwatchers, are you ready?!

    In fact, I've been having a healthy discussion with a wildlife-mad friend who says she doesn't do the Big Garden Birdwatch because so many other people do it. My response is that is exactly why she should do it - the very strength of the survey is that, with so many people taking part, the results are all the more meaningful. Science is all the better the bigger the sample.

    It is only by so many people taking part that we can break down the results by county and in some instances by city to identify the trends where you live.

    And think of the signal Big Garden Birdwatch sends out to the country, too. It says that caring for your garden birds is not a niche activity, it is something a caring society does, one that is passionate about saving nature.

    Then there's the pleasure bit of the Birdwatch too, and the anticipation. I'm hoping that my Long-tailed Tits come through during my hour, as they did last weekend. It was almost dusk when they arrived, so the photos won't win any awards, but I just adore their tameness:

    But what I'm really hoping for is a House Sparrow. A male visited the garden last week, only the second record this winter. Come on, Mr Sparrow - make my day, and give me another box to fill on my recording form!

    I'm sure you all know what to do to take part, but - just in case - here is the link to everything you need this weekend, bar the cup of coffee.

  • Jabba the Hutt turns up in my garden

    The removal of dangerous leylandii from my new garden continues apace, and today my tree surgeon came to the house to tell me he'd found something under the rotting bole of a dead 300-year old pear tree.

    There it was, poking up out of the ground, all large and white and fleshy.

    For those who like their Star Wars, it was like a miniature version of one of the films' baddies, Jabba the Hutt, who is depicted as a bloated, pale, slug-like thing with little arms.

    My Jabba had six little arms, and I'm pleased to say turned out to be a goodie, not a baddie. It is a larva of the rare and declining Stag Beetle, the first I've ever seen in the flesh.

    Last year I saw an adult Stag Beetle in the garden, but to know that they actually breed here was such a thrill. The blind larvae eat rotting roots and buried wood and on such a diet it can take them up to six years to reach maturity.

    I reckon that the difficulties of digesting such unpalatable material might be the reason why their body is so large - it is probably all gut!

    It's incredible to think that it will then metamorphose into a pupa, probably next autumn, and then emerge from being something so squidgy into the armour-plated adult.

    Knowing that a rare species is in your garden helps focus your efforts to give nature a home. For me, I now know that if I can keep a supply of dead wood from broadleaved trees buried in the soil, I'm likely to keep my population of mini Jabbas going.

  • Putting my back into it for nature!

    Sometimes in the garden there's nothing for it but to get physical!

    Who needs to pay gym fees when there are thickets to clear, ailing and overcrowded trees to be felled, branches to drag to be shredded...

    ...and then mounds of shreddings (six foot high in places) to be redistributed around the garden as mulches and pathways.

    Yes, the heavy work to start to restore my new garden has begun. The idea is to create a garden where I can test every gardening for wildlife feature imaginable and share the results with you.

    In getting out there with wellies on at every possible moment, what is then lovely is that you see and hear things: the Grey Wagtail passing overhead (just wait till I get my pond!), the Rabbit in the thicket (how did it get there?!), the bumblebee using the Winter-flowering Cherry on 7 January, buffeted by the breeze.

    Then there are the plants I've never seen before, such as finding this Chimonanthus (Wintersweet), I suspect the variant called Luteus on account of its pale, washed-out flowers, one of those winter plants just just have to get up close to and inhale deeply to soak up the scent.

    There's a long slog ahead - the skill is in enjoying the process, and so far I'm loving it!