The Greatest Outdoors

Category: Our Local Wildlife

Why garden for wildlife? And some dos and donts.

We take a short break now, just in case you are losing the motivation to do this, to say why we should garden.

Gardening is good, for start. Children especially love gardening and if you can start gardening early it is a serious life skill which they will have and be able to pass on. Growing things, being outside, getting exercise, using different tools, working with the seasons… the list goes on. Then you can grow your own food. I mean what is there to NOT like about gardening?

But gardening for wildlife? That’s even better.

It is not pretty much shown that there is MORE biodiversity in suburban and urban gardens than there is in the countryside and farmland. This is because there are more variations in garden habitat than there is in farmland. Gardens are now an important lifeline for not only our local birds, but migrant ones as well.

Why is biodiversity important? It is important because it creates resilience in the environment. A biodiverse habitat is one which is healthier on every level. Birdsong, bees, flowers, insects… they create a sense of life which in turns give us a sense of life. Think about a humming patch of brambles compared to a concreted over garden. I think you know what I mean.

Planting leeks

So here are some dos and don’ts for gardening for wildlife

  1. Do start small. I have given a masterplan and once this bit is done you can start seeing where you can begin. Keep working on the masterplan for a couple of days to get to REALLY KNOW you garden. If it is very large garden section off an area which you want to transform. A small win is much more heartening than running out of puff half way and having nothing to show for it.
  2. Do be patient and have faith. When you garden you work with the fourth dimension – time. This is very difficult, especially if you are a new gardener and have no idea what you are doing. But start small and manageable. Do things which have easy wins (I’ll go through this as we go along.)
  3. Do use native plants. Where possible, use native plants. Now this does not mean ripping out old established exotics, as they are called. Keep them especially if you love them and they are adding to the garden. But when you are getting in new plants make sure they are native. Here’s why:-
    1. Native plants do better in this climate. (Yes, that is just so obvious, right?)
    2. If they escape they will not become an invasive nuisance.
    3. They just support a better range of wildlife. It has been shown that native plants tend to support up to four times more wildlife, especially insects.
    4. They decompose better.
    5. Their leaves can be composted and/or used as mulch. Exotics tend to take much longer to decompose and can end up clogging your garden.
  4. Start simple. If you have no idea what a tool does, do not buy it. Work with what you know.
  5. Invest in a beginner’s gardening book and a gardening journal. Even get one aimed at children – this way you can both learn together! A gardening journal will help you record what you have done if you have a poor memory. It is also a great way to chart your progress, success and failures.
  6. Do enjoy it! Please, enjoy gardening. If it is too much hard work, just get a birdfeeder. I will talk about some easy wins in my next posting, in case you don’t want to go an an all out assault on the garden.

Here are the don’ts

  1. Don’t use any kind of -cide Whatever happens, DO NOT ever use any kind of herbicide or pesticide. These are deadly to wildlife. Salting, slug pellets, Roundup, etc… they are bad for the wildlife and really REALLY bad for the soil.
  2. Don’t think of weeds as weeds We are now rethinking our dandelions, buttercups and daisies, nettles, dock and willowherb. Manage them so that they are part of your garden, rather than pulling everything out. It will save you time as well! They are critical to wildlife and biodiversity. Learn to live with them.
  3. Don’t spend loads of money Gardening is not meant to be an expensive hobby. Share everything – from seeds to tools and information. One of the best places to go to is an allotment to get information of how you could do things. Join a local gardening club. They will have loads of good ideas for you too!

I’m sure I have left out loads of things, so if you have any ideas, leave it in the comments section below!

Tomorrow: Easy wins!

Take a look at your site

How to grow a Wildflower Cottage Garden - Lovely Greens
Wildflower Patch

Welcome back to day two.

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Have you decided the kinds of animals you’d like to attract? Good. Now before we take a look at the plants, we need to look at your site. The site and the wildlife – plus what else you want out of your site and the work you want to put into it – will determine the kind of garden you will have.

Taking a look at the site is a lesson in mini geography.

Draw a map

Draw a map of your site. It doesn’t have to be to scale, just in the right shape. Make sure you have key features in the site. It should include

  1. Your house
  2. Fences/ Borders
  3. Any other important features like oil tank, a pond if you have one, seating area, paths, levels, decking, etc.
  4. Where the sun rises and sets THROUGH THE YEAR. This is called the ASPECT
  5. Wind direction

A word about Aspect

Aspect is the most important factor in the garden. It will determine what kinds of plants you have and it may even determine you reconfiguring the garden. When you do the aspect you may discover that your shed is in the sunniest part of the garden, which is a waste of space.

How to do aspect?

  1. Get your compass points – N, S, E,W.
  2. The East is where the sunrises and it then travels to the West, mostly in the Southerly direction. This is why South facing sides are sunnier, better, warmer. You really want a South Facing garden.
  3. This about how the sun travels in the winter AND the summer. Is there any part of your garden that is in permanent shadow? Is there a part which gets lots of wind?
  4. Shade all of this on your map.

Soil, etc

Now you are ready for the last bit. Look at your soil.

Is it clayey? Retains lots of water? Sandy? Lets the water drain out.

Soil can be easily improved over the course of the year. You can do this by mulching. This is introducing compost to sandy soil.

You can also introduce sharp sand into clayey soil – although this is harder. Once you have done this, you are ready to move to the next step.

Long, narrow garden plan with a series of circular lawns. | Narrow ...
Here is a complete garden plan

You don’t have to do a super complicated plan. Just get to know your garden. I suggest you spend about three days doing this in short bursts – like half an hour each. This is because ideas will come to you as you do this.

Vision board

Get a vision board or a little folder which you keep ideas as well. Collect these as you get to know the kinds of wildlife you’d like to attract.

Tomorrow: The Benefits of Gardening and Wildlife Gardening

Creating a secret garden on a rainy day

Plants for a wildlife garden / RHS Campaign for School Gardening
From the RHS website for school gardening

Sometimes it is hard to know where to begin with creating a wildlife garden. But nothing could be simpler. Today we have a rainy day and gardeners love planning on rainy days.

I will walk you through how to do this.

Rule No 1: Have a variety of habitats

Wildlife gardens are mini ecosystems, so you need to have different types of places for your creature friends to live. Any garden, no matter how small can be a wildlife garden. You just need to have different types of places which support different types of wildlife.

Wildlife Friendly Garden Planting workshop — Transition Stirling
Transition Stirling

So, first think about the types of wildlife you’d like to support with your garden.

Here are some beings you could consider:

  1. Insect life: Bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies, spiders
  2. Soil: Earthworms, beetles, woodlice. Some people love snails and slugs, and that’s fine, but you then have to bear in mind to garden so that they don’t destroy your efforts
  3. Pond life: Frogs (frogs in slugs btw), water invertebrates like beetles, etc (for some people with larger ponds you could have dragonflies and damsel flies)
  4. Birds: Garden birds and migrant passerines and thrushes like blackcaps and fieldfares
  5. Mammals: Hedgehogs

Tomorrow: What kind of plants would you like to have?

Going Bats!

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Bats are some of the most charismatic wildlife which we have. They are funny and lovely and adorable and very useful. They eat insects and are an important indicator that our ecosystem is in good nick.

There are many things which you can do for bats and many of them involve you doing nothing at all.

Bats often hibernate in roof spaces in the winter – so just leave them to get on with it. There is no need to call pest control – bats are clean and quiet.

Bats also use trees for this purpose. If you have trees in your garden, especially older ones, if they aren’t about to fall on your house, just leave them there.

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The Northern Ireland Bat Group are a very active group which holds talks and activities for children. They also tell you have to identify your bats!

Link onto their page to see how you can get involved or indeed find out about the bats in your area.

Here are three fascinating facts about bats:

  1. You can use a bat detector to detect the kind of bat – it works on a series of clicks and pips – essentially bats have different kinds of calls. The bat detector makes their sonic frequencies audible to human beings.
  2. There are 8 types of bat in Northern Ireland. They are Common pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle, Nathusius’s pipistrelle, Leisler’s bat, Brown long-eared bat, Whiskered bat, Daubenton’s bat, Natterer’s bat.
  3. Bats have nurseries where mothers and young roost together and look after their young. A female bat mates before winter, overwinters and then becomes pregnant when spring arrives.

Here are some bat related activities from the Bat Conservation Trust.

You can make an origami bat, a bat hat and learn to draw a bat. Bats are our friends! We should love them. If you find a bat call the Northern Ireland Bat Group and they will come and rescue it for you!

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Have you seen this bird yet?

Swift - Wikipedia

You have most probably heard them rather than seen them. They are called the Swift and they spend all their lives in the air.

The Swift’s Latin name is Apus Apus, which means without feet. This is because their feet are so crippled that they can barely use them. They are the ultimate bird as they barely spend any time on land or sea.

They spend all their lives in the air and only come down to breed.

They fly all the way from sub-Saharan Africa and nest in either cliff ledges and caves or the eaves of roofs.

You can tell they are Swifts by how they scream as they fly. They are also known as Devil Bird because of this. Swifts make nest from their saliva. This saliva is harvested in countries like Indonesia. The industry is so huge that there are giant warehouses which house the swifts. The nests are sold for their weight in gold. They are eaten as a dessert or drunk for medicine.

You too can make a kite and fly like a swift!

Kites - Bird | Teaching Resources

Or you could get a map out to see where they come from. See how many countries Swift must fly across to get here? Can you name them?

Here are three cool swift facts:

  • They fly sleeping – half of their brain is asleep when they fly!
  • They eat flying – they catch insects! This is why places which have lots of insects are great for swifts. They are often found flying above trees! They don’t like flying too near the ground or they could get grounded
  • If the swift is grounded it cannot fly! To save it you must pick it up and throw it into the air! Isn’t that amazing.

Things you can do for Swifts

  • Make sure you leave your eaves unblocked if you have Swifts that visit. They are site faithful and return to the same place each year
  • Plant a wildlife garden
  • Write to your MLA/MP and ask them to make sure that they have a good policy to look after our heritage buildings and wildlife

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