Supporting,and Encouraging, Wildlife into Your Garden.

It would appear, and I’m desperately hoping I haven’t jinxed it now (the SLVC team will lynch me if I have!), that the weather is finally starting to pick up. That yellow orb in the sky known as the Sun is making itself ever more present and with it comes the emergence of some of our wildlife. I noticed a definite increase in activity from garden birds and bees and even a couple of butterflies over the weekend in my garden 🙂

Although not strictly a “Veterinary” subject, I do personally think it’s important to support our native wildlife and whilst we’re socially restricted more than usual, I thought I’d take the opportunity to blog about it.

In the UK we have approximately 250 species of bees, of which about 90% are solitary bee types; we have one native species of honey bee and 25 kinds of bumble bees. I don’t know about you, but I love to hear the deep baritone ‘Barry White’ buzz of a fat, fuzzy-bummed bumble bee as they meander from one flower to another. Bees are essential parts of our world-wide ecosystem because they pollinate many crops (both commercial and domestic); home growers owe much of their Tomato, Strawberry and Bean growing success to these winged heroes.

Gardens have increased in importance as bees’ natural habitats have declined, and diseases and heavy pesticide use have also taken their toll on all bee species. Other beneficial wildlife in your garden is affected by pesticides, so where possible cut them out altogether. Just by building sites such as log piles (leave the bark on the logs) you will attract natural predators such as slug-eating hedgehogs, frogs, beetles and centipedes, who will control garden pests as nature intended without harming your buzzing buddies. An easy, fun to do activity to do with children currently stuck at home is a “garden critter” hunt to see what is living in their own garden, and it’s one some parents in the Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre team have done with much fun and success 🙂

Bees are fairly easily pleased; a selection of flowering plants and a drink will attract them to visit you. With just a little bit of thought you can provide a year-round haven for them; now I’m not naturally ‘green-fingered’, so for those of you like me, here’s a brief guide to bee friendly, seasonal plants. Spring = Daffodils, Grape Hyacinth, Alliums and Bluebells; summer= Lavender, Aquilegia, Geranium, Foxgloves, Comfrey and Thyme; autumn= Sedums, Japanese Anemones, and Autumn Asters; winter = Snowdrops, Crocuses and Helebores. Planting like this isn’t just fab for fuzzy bees; it also provides something cheering for us to enjoy in the cold, duller months.

Although it’s very tempting, try not to get rid of garden weeds like Dandelions early in the year. These (generally) unwanted weeds provide an essential source of pollen for hungry bees at the start of the flowering season. When you do get rid of them, if you dig them out (rather than weed-killer them) and chop the roots off, they can be a tasty treat for rabbits and guinea pigs. Another common lawn weed, Clover, is popular with bees in both its red and white varieties.

Remember to plant ‘simple’ flowers, as double or multi-layered types can be hard for bees to harvest nectar from. Keep in mind, also, that different bee species pollinate different types of flower; long-tongued bees are adept at getting into Foxgloves’ deep flowers, whereas short-tongued types prefer shallower, flatter flowers like Geraniums. Fruit trees, such as Apple, are always popular and if you can keep a ‘wilder’ part of your garden for Brambles you’ll be rewarded with a good crop of juicy Blackberries, thanks to bees’ pollinating talents.

Those who like the wilder, more laid-back approach to gardening will have their philosophy appreciated by bees; cottage garden- and native wild-flowers are brilliant for bees, as is Ivy.

It isn’t just bees that will be attracted to a flower filled garden; Butterflies will also come. There are masses of flowers and flowering shrubs that you can choose from, covering spring through to autumn, that butterflies will love. Bright, cheery Primroses and Aubrietia will get their season off to a flying start (no pun intended), and in summer, Buddleia, fragrant Honeysuckle and Hebe will be the plants/place to be seen – like the Cannes of the insect world J. Autumn’s cooler days are when Ivy, Hyssop and Michaelmas Daisies will provide natures’ bounty for your winged garden wildlife.

Having provided a food source, don’t forget to supply water for your visiting wildlife. If you’ve got a pond, great; all you need to do is create a shallow area that your winged friends can rest at whilst quenching their thirst. If you haven’t got a pond just pop a few stones in the bottom of a shallow dish, fill it with water, et voila – a refreshment station worthy of a Queen (bee)!

Bug Hotels are a great way to help solitary bee species as these creatures like to create homes underground, in old tunnels and in small cracks. Whilst we’re in lock-down at what should be the start of kids’ Easter school holidays, why not make a bug hotel together? There are some great, simple ideas on the internet if you need inspiration.

A little planning put into the layout of your garden will also encourage a good variety of birds into it.

Deep flower beds and borders with low level plants as well as camouflage from taller varieties will give the cover those smaller, shyer birds, such as Wrens and Robins, like. If you have dense bushes and shrubs, or thick Ivy on a wall, you may well find that one of these choose to build a nest in it.

A diverse garden environment will support many types of grubs, larvae and insects that birds eat and a ready, natural food source will again encourage pairs to breed and nest with you. If you have the skills, enthusiasm and tools then why not build your own bird boxes of even a bird feeder? Like a bug hotel, these are fab activities to do with children to keep them occupied, and your local wildlife will appreciate your efforts. If you do make something, feel free to send photos to us here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre, we’d love to see them!

Until next time; stay safe (at home), stay well, and be happy 🙂