This page lists some general ideas and tips on wildlife gardening.
Erecting nestboxes is an excellent way of helping birds in your garden. This design is a winner almost every time and I strongly recommend it. I have built and erected hundreds of nestboxes and have settled on this design as the easiest and cheapest to build. The above picture shows a simple small-holed nestbox suitable for blue tits and coal tits with a hole diameter of 25mm. The front, sides and lid and are all 20cm long and 15cm wide. All sections are cut at right angles. The most tricky part is cutting the base to fit neatly inside the sides. I do not fit a hinge on the roof but instead allow one side to pivot outwards from the top on two opposite nails. It is important to be able to open a nestbox as each October old nest material should be cleared out. Tits prefer clean empty boxes and to rebuild new nests inside each year.
The above box was assembled by my daughter on a children's nature activity event at work. If the hole size is increased to 32mm, great tits and house sparrows could also make use of the box. I have two such larger holed boxes in addition to this one on two birch trees in my front garden. Blue tits have nested in this one and house sparrows and great tits in one of the others.
Some sources recommend that the roof should be sloping to allow rapid water drainage in the rain but I have found that most people struggle with the box construction when trying to make a sloping roof as some rather tricky angled cuts are necessary. Build a box with a straight lid and fix it up on a slightly forward leaning tree trunk. I tend to put boxes up just out of arms reach at 2.5 to 3.5 metres high. However, in a private garden you could get away with erecting your box a little lower. Please take great care if you choose to use a ladder. I have not yet fallen off one but working from ladders is one of the most common causes of accidents. Try to avoid positioning a box where it will be in full sunlight at midday as there is a chance that the chicks inside could overheat in hot weather.
Starling nestboxes work well too. Scale up the measurements and make a larger hole. This box is next to the car park at Kenfig National Nature Reserve. The pair of Starlings took up residence within a week of putting the box up. Note the roof is at a right angle to the back of the box the the box is erected on a leaning trunk to shed water. A similar box on my house had a pair of starlings successfully rear two broods in both years since I put it up.
I put this kestrel nestbox up high on an old telegraph pole on Sker Farm and I hope a pair will take up residence soon. It is unlikely that you will attract kestrels to nest in your garden unless it is very large or your garden is near suitable habitat.
I made this kestrel box from an old plastic drum found on the nature reserve beach. It is high up on an alder tree and has worked well. The inset shows one of two chicks ringed in 2006. Please remember that handling nesting birds is against the law in the UK. I have a licence from the British Trust for Ornithology.
If I had to choose just one plant to help bumblebees and solitary bees in my garden it would be Cotoneaster horizontalis. Its tiny dull pink flowers are not colourful and it grows in a rather peculiar way next to our garden wall. It may not be everyone's choice as a garden plant but bees love it! From April until the end of June it consistently out performs all my other plants as a nectar source. Our's grows in a sheltered sunny position and just buzzes with life. During the winter, the red berries are eagerly eaten by blackbirds. No wildlife garden should be without one!
It would take a few years for such a bush to develop and there are many non-woody plants that can be grown to help bees in a shorter period of time. In our garden, black knapweed and chicory have been very good in the borders from mid-July into the autumn and several ragworts weeded from the lawn and planted in a wildflower border have been successful. Finally, a garden plant that has worked well for us is purple toadflax.
Buddleja bushes are a good addition to any wildlife garden. Their flowers provide an excellant source of nectar in late summer
and autumn. Mullein moths occasionally lay their eggs on the leaves and their colourful caterpillars can be seen munching the leaves. My garden is small and
I am ruthless with my shrubs, cutting them down to 5cm above the lowest leaf axil each spring or occasionally every other spring. The bushes produce lots
of flowers but the plants do not take over the garden. By trimming like this in the spring the flowering is delayed into later summer. In addition, the
flowering time can be extended by cutting off the dead flower heads as soon as they begin to turn brown. There are several varieties, some of which are better
for butterflys than others. Our's are a traditional mauve.
My garden pond is made from a small plastic mould marketed as an 'instant pond'. It was actually quite difficult to put in and anything but instant. However, it has been excellent for wildlife with an abundance of frog tadpoles, dragonfly larvae and freshwater invertebrates. Some authors advise against such steep-sided ponds because they cannot support marginal wetland vegetation which is important for wildlife. I fully agree with this but have compensated to a degree by planting yellow flag iris, purple loosestrife and greater spearwort in pots on the base and shelves of the pond (see left inset on above picture). The leaves soon grew above the water surface. I have found that having lots of emergent vegetation in a lined pond causes excessive water loss during dry weather through evapo-transpiration. If you have shallow margins connecting your pond water to the surrounding ground, there will also be a tremendous loss as water wicks out through the soil. It will seem like your pond has a leak! If you don't want to keep topping up your pond during the summer, do not include shallow margins and keep cutting back excess emergent vegetation. To allow creatures to climb out, I piled pebbles in one corner (see right inset).
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