Wildlife – Beneficial Garden Creatures

Creatures

This section covers a selection of the larger, more easily identified garden friends and the ways in which you can make your garden more hospitable to them.

Frogs and toads

beneficial garden creatures - frogs and toads Both these amphibians rely on water for breeding, but the rest of the year can be found in damp, warm, shady places at a considerable distance from ponds. Frogs can change their colour to match their background, so you might find a vivid green and yellow one in the lush vegetation at the edge of a pond and a dark brown one in the compost heap. Toads have a grey-brown warty skin.

Most male frogs hibernate at the bottom of a pond, while toads and other frogs overwinter in damp, hidden places such as under stones or old logs. They return to their home pond in early spring, where they mate and the female lays the spawn. Frogspawn is the familiar blobs of spotted jelly; toads lay long strings of eggs. Both spawn and tadpoles have many predators including newts, ducks, goldfish and many insects.

Usefulness

Frogs are major predators of slugs. Toads also include some snails and numerous ants and woodlice in their diet.

To encourage them

Build a suitable pond in the garden if possible. Make sure you have secure, damp places where adults can shelter and hibernate.


Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs do not like wet places, but otherwise live well in all rural and suburban areas. They hunt mainly at night from mid-spring to mid-autumn, sometimes travelling a mile or two in search of food. They hide during the day, perhaps under shrubs or a hedge or in long grass. By mid-winter they will have constructed a winter nest to begin hibernation.

Usefulness

A hedgehog’s diet includes a large proportion of pests such as slugs, millipedes, cockchafers and caterpillars, although it will eat almost any insect and sometimes birds’ eggs and small mammals.

To encourage them

Make sure that your garden has plenty of daytime shelter and hibernation sites such as low, thick shrubs, leaves in hedge bottoms, behind a shed or under log piles or a heap of prunings. Avoid using slug pellets and other pesticides. Check hazards such as fruit nets regularly, and put ramps in cattle grids and steep-sided pools. If you must have a bonfire, first make sure there are no hedgehogs under the bonfire pile. If you have a hedgehog in the garden, supplement its diet with cat food in the autumn to help it build up strength for hibernation.

Slow-worms

Slow-worms look like snakes (although they are technically legless lizards), varying in colour from grey to coppery or dark brown. They bask in partial sunlight, in long grass at the base of a wall, for example, but spend much of their time underground, so they are rarely seen.

Slow-worms need a warm place to have their young, and sometimes choose a garden compost heap, where you may find them during late summer. They hibernate underground.

Usefulness

Slugs form a major part of the slowworm’s diet.

To encourage them

Long grass and stones in a warm, sunny spot provide ideal conditions for these creatures.

Newts

Newts look something like lizards, but have no scales and move very slowly. The adults spend the summer and autumn on land, hiding under stones or logs or in thick grass and emerging at night to feed. Most newts also hibernate on land during winter, returning to pools to breed in the spring. They wrap their eggs individually in water plant leaves.

Usefulness

Newts eat slugs and snails, worms and a variety of insects.

To encourage them

Build a suitable pond in the garden and make sure there is long grass and other shelter nearby.


Bats

All bats have mouse-like furry bodies and large wings. The bats that you are most likely to see around the garden are the small pipistrelles, but there are several other common species. Pipistrelles roost mainly in warm, dry hollows in trees and in crevices in buildings, often behind tiles or weatherboarding and sometimes as low as 2.1m (7ft) from the ground. Some other species use cellars and tunnels. Bats hibernate in winter.

Usefulness

Bats eat many insects including cockchafers, midges, craneflies (daddy longlegs), moths and aphids. Some species eat insects as they fly around, while others eat them from foliage or the ground.

To encourage them

To provide food, encourage insects into the garden with, for example, a meadow and attractant plants. Put up a bat box if there are no natural roosts. Bat boxes simulate tree holes or crevices in buildings and can be used by many bat species. They are simple to make or, alternatively, you can usually buy them from your local Wildlife Trust. Fix your box in a sheltered position, which preferably has some morning sun and shade in the afternoon, and where the entrance is clear of overcrowding branches.


Birds

Some gardens may attract up to a dozen bird species to nest, but many more may visit in search of food.

Usefulness

Birds can be a mixed blessing: some, such as blackbirds, peck ripe fruit and sparrows savage seedlings and crocus flowers. However, there are many birds that are beneficial to the organic garden.

The song thrush is well known for its snail bashing, and both blackbirds and thrushes eat caterpillars. Small birds such as bluetits, long-tailed tits and even house sparrows will pick aphids off plants, and bluetits have been known to account for 95 per cent of codling moth cocoons. Robins are particularly welcome when you are digging a plot where soil pests may be overwintering as they will feed off them. Starlings on a lawn are probably probing for leatherjackets, and even seed-eaters such as finches will collect insects to feed their young.

To encourage them

Provide different levels of vegetation: a tall tree as a song post if possible, as well as shrubbery and undergrowth. A hedge, thick shrubs and climbers (especially evergreens) will make good nesting sites for many birds, and you can provide artificial sites with nesting ledges on walls and fences and nest boxes.

Nest boxes attract birds that naturally nest in hollow branches and tree cavities, which are not often found in a suburban garden. The design of the nest box will influence which birds take up residence. A closed box with a small entrance hole suits bluetits and great tits. Bluetits need an entrance of only about 2.8cm (1-1/10in) diameter, and increasing this to approximately 3cm (1-1/5in) will allow great tits in. Any larger, and sparrows will take over. Site these nest boxes on a wall or tree, making sure they are in a fairly open position so that the hole is directed away from prevailing winds and shaded from hot sun.

The other main type of nest box is simply an open box with sides and a roof. Robins and spotted flycatchers will nest in this type of box. Site the nest box where it is surrounded by plenty of vegetation to act as camouflage. Alternatively, you can fix one inside the garden shed if the window is left permanently open so the birds can get in and out.

A pond or bird bath is another useful garden feature, valuable for providing drinking water and a place to bathe. Thaw out or break any ice that forms on the bird bath in winter. Some birds may be particularly attracted by running water — a small bubbler fountain, for example, will provide this.

Provide a natural “larder” by growing flowers which attract insects, which in turn provide food for birds. Choose shrubs which have a good berry crop, and leave seedheads on flowers until the seed-eating birds have visited. In winter, put out food on a bird table every day. Site the table at least 1.5m (5ft) above the ground, and at least 2.1 m (7ft) away from bushy cover in which a cat could hide. Put out a range of hard and soft food: seeds (especially sunflower seeds for the tits and finches), peanuts, fat and scraps such as cheese rind, bread and cooked potato. Clear away any stale food regularly, and put any damaged apples on the lawn for the blackbirds to eat.

27. January 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Organic Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on Wildlife – Beneficial Garden Creatures

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