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!
  • Happy Hogging

    Our headline Giving Nature a Home activity this month is all about getting Hedgehogs into tiptop condition, through giving them some little handouts to supplement their diet.

    And, boy, do they need it, given the calamitous declines they have been going through. The latest estimate is that there are less than a million left (less than one for every 60 of us humans), although getting an accurate count is difficult. My gut feeling is that it is now way under that mark.

    But putting out food for Hedgehogs comes with two big problems to overcome.

    The first is the stark fact that many of you may not have Hedgehogs visit your garden. I don't currently, which I'm more than sure about as I have a trail camera trained on the paths overnight. Oh, how I'd love to download the images and see something other than fox, fox, another fox, two foxes, oh, and a fox....

    If you're like me and aren't visited by Hedgehogs, have you checked how easy it would be for a Hedgehog to get in and out of your garden? If your boundary is solid with fences, then do consider putting in some Hedgehog Highways.In most gardens, it is just a 15 minute job.

    But if you do get regular Hogs, or think you might, the next problem is how to put out food that won't be instantly scoffed by cats, dogs, Fox or even Crows and Magpies.

    Well, in Giving Nature a Home we've got something that might solve that problem. It's the homemade, under-a-tenner, Blue Peter type contraption, a safe feeding box that Hedgehogs can get into but hopefully little else.

    And here is the design knocked up into a 53-second video to guide you.

    Our webpage also advises what food to feed, and not to feed. Bread and milk? Nooooooooooo!

    Remember, once you've completed the activity, or if you've done it already, do tick it off on your Personal Plan. Haven't made one yet? It'll take you five minutes. Just go here, put in your postcode, answer a couple of questions, create a log in, and up pops your chance to tick off a whole range of activities to add to our totaliser.

  • Sploshing with the floral paintbucket

    Call me cheapskate, but I love those gardening activities that involve very little effort or cost for maximum reward.

    And right up there in the list is growing annual flowers. For the cost of a couple of packs of seeds and the effort of a bit of digging and raking, you can transform relatively large areas like a floral version of Jackson Pollock's colourful sploshes.

    This year, I have been trying out some different mixes in my garden, because what I also want to understand is which ones bring maximum benefit for wildlife.

    Once again, I've tried the regulation 'cornfield annual' mix, which tends to include Field Poppy, Corn Marigold, Scented Mayweed, Cornflower and Corncockle.

    I sowed the seed this spring. This photo was taken this morning, with the trees still casting shadows over the area, but you can see that, at the moment, it is largely a sea of gold. That's the Corn Marigold dominating, with not a dot of poppy red amongst it, which would have done better had I sown the patch in the autumn.

    I find that Corn Marigold is good for solitary bees and hoverflies, and the Cornflowers are good for bumble and Honeybees. However, the Corncockle and Scented Mayweed don't pack in the pollinators, and I rarely find birds in among the stems.

    So one mix I'm trying this year, which is my own concoction, is based around Echium 'Blue Bedder'.

    A form of Viper's Bugloss, the flowers are an intense lilac-blue, they have excellent germination rates, and grow to be knee-high. And the bumblebees ADORE it.

    In some areas, I've added some Pot Marigolds (Calendula) as I can't resist a bit of zing. But the promise of 'single flowers' on the packet proved not true, and the double blooms have little wildlife value.

    However, my added pleasure is that the House Sparrows are constantly rootling about in there, presumably finding insects for their latest broods from the production line of babies that have emerged from my birdboxes.

    Echium 'Blue Bedder' - remember the name; seek out a packet. It's a winner!

  • Sometimes you have to take a stick to wildlife...

    Having put in my new pond at the tail end of last year, it was always going to be interesting to see what wildlife turned up to use it.

    I've had my Grey Wagtails and bathing Sparrowhawks and tadpoling Little Egret; the Frogs and Smooth Newts have bred like wildfire; the Whirligig Beetles are now in a spinning flock 30 strong.

    But what of dragonflies and damselflies? The three small ponds I inherited are all too shady and I've seen no dragon or damsel approach them over the last two years, so the only records in the garden thus far had been of wandering and feeding individuals.

    Then, a couple of weeks ago, I had a brief view of a Broad-bodied Chaser at the top end of the garden.

    This is one species I am very fond of. They do indeed have a broad body, the broadest of any of our species, making them look quite robust, chunky dragonflies. Mature males have a blue body, young males are yellowy, and females have something of the look of amber about them, with bright yellow 'sidelights' along each side, as if illuminated. All four wings have a chestnutty patch at the base.

    They are found across much of England and Wales, and first reached Scotland in 2003. And what they like are two things: new ponds to colonise, and a prominent vantage point from which to survey their new territory, usually a bare stick or branch.

    So you know what this called for? A stick! They are something I'm not short of, so I stuck one in a pot and wedged it with pebbles, and then reached for the chest-high waders!

    I duly inserted my Broad-bodied Chaser perch into my brick island in my pond. And within 10 minutes...

    Hey presto!

    She has since gone on to lay eggs in the waterweed, bobbing down like a marionette to lay them one after the other in flight.

    Don't you love it when wildlife is easy to please?