30 Days Wild Activities – Hedgehog Watch

Hedgehog at Night by Mark Wheadon

Hedgehogs are abundant in urban and suburban areas and can frequently be found in gardens, as these provide safe, accessible spaces for them to forage and rear their young. They are most active between April and September with the main mating season occurring between May and June. Female hedgehogs give birth during June and July, although some will go on to produce a second litter later in the summer. All of this means that now is a great time to look for hedgehogs – and if you’re taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge, then this will also contribute to your month of wild activities.

If you’re lucky enough to have hedgehogs in your garden, why not take the time to record their behaviours for Hedgehogs After Dark. This project, organised by Hedgehog Street, aims to learn more about the ways in which hedgehogs are using our gardens and the behaviours that they are showing through the spring and summer. Until Sunday 26th July you can submit your observations to their website and have the chance of winning an exclusive hedgehog hamper in their prize draw. Visit their website for lots of information about the different behaviours they are interested in and how to submit your findings (you will need to register as a Hedgehog Champion to do this).

Keep reading for some top tips on making your garden attractive to hedgehogs and how to watch them, either with or without a trail camera.

Is your garden hedgehog friendly?

There are several things that you can do to make your garden more attractive to hedgehogs:

Improve access – Gardens are only useful for hedgehogs if they can access them. Plus, hedgehogs move long distances throughout the night to find enough food, so creating networks of gardens that they can move between is important. By cutting a 13cm diameter hole in the bottom of a fence or removing a brick from the base of a wall, you can help to provide access and link your garden with surrounding ones.

Provide shelter – Try to keep some areas of your garden wild and overgrown, as this will provide secure nesting and feeding spaces. An artificial hedgehog home will also provide a safe and warm space for hedgehogs to overwinter and for a female to birth and raise her young in the spring and summer. Try not to use pesticides or slug pellets in the garden, as these are poisonous to other animals as well as slugs.

Provide food – Make sure that there are lots of worms, beetles and earwigs in your garden by growing wildflowers and providing log piles. Leaving areas of the garden which are overgrown or making a small wildlife pond will also help to encourage a diverse range of invertebrates. (Make sure your pond has sloping sides or piles of rocks to allow any animals to escape.) You could also provide a shallow dish of fresh water along with meaty dog or cat food, some chopped unsalted peanuts or sunflower hearts.

Tips for watching hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so the best time to watch them is during late evening. Throughout the night they can travel up to 2km searching for food and/or mates. (This great video shows radio-tracked hedgehogs moving between gardens in a suburban area of Brighton). If you have a suitable window looking out onto your garden, then you can watch them from the warmth of your home. Make sure that you turn any inside lights off and keep noise to a minimum. If there is no illumination from street lights, visibility will be best at twilight (before complete dark) and around the time of the full moon (provided it isn’t too cloudy).

If you can’t watch the garden from a window, then wrap up warm, get into stealth-mode and venture outdoors. As with any wildlife-watching endeavour, the most important thing is to be still and quiet. It might also help if you can get low to the ground which will provide a hedgehog-level view of their activities. Don’t be tempted to try to get too close to them, however, and never attempt to pick them up or interfere with their natural movements.

Using a trail camera to watch hedgehogs

One of the best ways to view the hedgehogs in your garden is using a trail camera. If you’re lucky enough to own one of these, then setting it up to record at night is a great way to see if any hedgehogs are around and, if so, what they’re getting up to. Here are some tips to maximise your chance of getting great footage:

• When siting your camera, think about where the hedgehogs are likely to be moving around. If you have a hole cut in your fence and you know that hedgehogs are using it to access your garden, then you might want to point your camera towards this. Similarly, if you have provided any food or water, then setting your camera up near to this is a great way to capture footage of them feeding.

• Position your camera low to the ground. Think about the size of the hedgehog and where it is most likely to trigger the infrared beam.

• Set your camera to the highest sensitivity setting. If you find that it is triggering far too much, particularly in the absence of any animals, then you can always reduce this later.

• As you’ll be recording hedgehogs mostly in darkness, having a camera with invisible night vision LEDs could be a bonus, as these will not startle the animals. Plus, models with adjustable night-time illumination (or which adjust automatically) will give you the most control over your image quality.

[The Browning Strike Force HD Pro X is one of our bestselling trail cameras for hedgehog watching and is used by lots of great projects, such as London Hogwatch. For more information or advice about trail cameras, please get in touch with us and chat with one of our experienced ecologists.]

No hedgehogs?

Maybe you don’t have a garden, or you have one but haven’t seen any hedgehogs using it. You can still view lots of great hedgehog videos on the Hedgehog Street YouTube channel. Or, if you use Facebook, why not watch this talk by ecologist and hedgehog fan Hugh Warwick, recorded for the Summer Solstice ‘Wonderland’ Festival this spring.

Further reading

Hedgehog
Pat Morris
#235985

An all-encompassing study of the hedgehog and its habitat, shedding new light on conservation efforts crucial to the survival of this charming creature.

 

The Hedgehog
Pat Morris
#212733

This booklet presents general information on biology and behaviour of the hedgehog.

 

 

RSPB Spotlight: Hedgehogs
James Lowen
#239043

A lively, readable and well-illustrated account of one of Britain’s most loved but most vulnerable animals.

 

 

A Prickly Affair: The Charm of the Hedgehog
Hugh Warwick
#241371

In this glorious book, Hugh sets out to answer our questions about hedgehogs, from the practical to the sublime.

The NHBS Guide to UK Tree Identification

Trees are a vital part of our ecosystem and essential to all life. Trees offer habitation and food to wildlife, they provide us with oxygen, clean the air, conserve water and stabilise soil. As such, trees are invaluable to our environment and to human well-being. 

In the UK there are at least fifty native tree species, and they come in many different sizes and shapes. All trees have distinct features that can help with identification. In this blog we will focus on 10  common native trees and provide you with the most important things you need to look out for, so you can recognise Oak from Elder or Silver Birch from Ash. 

How to Identify a Tree: 

By looking at the overall features as well as where the tree is growing you can work out what the species is. Below are some key characteristics to look out for when trying to identify a tree :

  • The size and shape of the tree
  • Leaves and needles
  • Flowers and fruit
  • Bark, buds and twigs

10 Common British Trees and How to Identify Them:

1. Oak (Quercus robur)
Oak by Gedomaru via Flickr

Where to find: The ancient, wise oak is one of Britain’s most iconic species, standing tall for hundreds of years, it can be found across the country

How to identify:

The common pedunculate oak is a large deciduous tree growing up to 40m tall, with a grey bark when young and darker brown with fissures as it ages.

Look out for: Its oval to oblong shaped leaves with its familiar deep lobed margins with smooth edges. Oak can be easily identified by its distinctive acorns that hang on long stalks. 

2. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
Ash tree by David Radcliffe via Flickr

Where to find: Ash is a common, widespread tree often found amongst British hedgerows and in many mixed deciduous woods in the UK.

How to identify: 

Ash grows tall, up to 30-40m, the bark is pale brown and fissures as the tree ages.

Look out for: The tree can be recognised by its pinnately compound leaves, usually comprising three to six opposite pairs of light green, oval leaflets. The buds are one of its defining characteristics. The buds are a sooty black with upturned grey shoots. Sadly, ash is also identified by a serious disease called Ash dieback that is a substantial threat to the species. The fungus appears as black blotches on the leaves, and the whole tree appears to be dying back. 

3. Common Lime (Tilia x europaea)
Lime tree by louis.quinzexv via Flickr

Where to find: The sweet smelling lime is native to much of Europe, found scattered across the wild it is more commonly found in parks and along residential streets

How to identify: 

Common lime is a tall, broadleaf tree, and is a natural hybrid between large-leaved and small-leaved limes. 

Look out for: The Common lime has dark green heart-shaped leaves. It is known for its sweet, smelling white-yellow flowers, that hang in clusters of two to five and  develop into round, oval fruits with pointed tips. The common lime can be distinguished from other lime varieties by the twiggy suckers around the base of its trunk. 

4. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn by David Lee via Flickr

Where to find: An ancient tree steeped in mythology and folklore, hawthorn is most commonly found growing in hedgerows, woodland and scrub. 

How to identify:

Hawthorn is identified by its dense, thorny foliage, and if left to fully mature can grow to a height of 15m.

Look out for: Shiny lobed leaves, and five petalled, sweet smelling flowers that are similar to cherry blossoms. It is characterised in the winter by its deep red fruits, known as haws.  

5. Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Hazel by Stoutcob via Flickr

Where to find: Used regularly for coppicing, hazel can be found in a range of habitats, including woodlands, gardens and grasslands.

How to identify:

A small shrubby tree, with a small, grey-brown bark, and can reach up to 12m when left to grow. 

Look out for: Leaves are oval, toothed, and have soft hairs on their underside. It is familiar for its long yellow catkins that appear in Spring, and crop of hazelnuts in the winter. 

6. Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Alder via Flickr

Where to find: Common Alder enjoys moist ground and so can be found along riversides, fens and wet woodlands, providing shelter to fish. 

How to identify:

Alder is a deciduous tree that grows to 25m. It is broadly conical in shape, and the bark is dark and fissured.

Look out for: Small cone like fruits and young catkins that harden when pollinated. It can also be recognised by its purple buds and purple twigs with orange markings in winter.  

7. Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Holly by Douglas Cox via Flickr

Where to find: A favourite in Christmas decorations, holly is widespread and found commonly in woodland, scrub and hedgerows. 

How to identify:

The dense, evergreen tree has a smooth bark and dark brown stems. It can grow up to 15m in height. 

Look out for: Holly can be easily identified by its dark, evergreen, shiny leaves that have prickles on the edges, as well as its bright red berries.

8. White Willow (Salix alba)
Willow by Bill Cheesman via Flickr

Where to find: The weeping, romantic willow can be spotted growing in wet ground, for example along riverbanks and around lakes. 

How to identify: 

White willow is a large, fast growing tree growing up to 25m, with an irregular, leaning crown.

Look out for: Willow is distinguished from other trees by its slender, flexible twigs that drape into the water. White willow appears more silvery than other willows due to its pale, oval leaves, that carry silky, white hairs on the underside. In early Spring look out for its long yellow catkins.

9. Silver Birch (Betula pendula)
Silver Birch by Jan Roles via Flickr

Where to find: A pioneer species, silver birch is a popular garden tree, and thrives in moorlands, heathland and dry and sandy soils.

How to identify:

Can be easily recognised by its silvery, paper bark. It has drooping branches and can reach 30m in height. 

Look out for: Its triangular-shaped leaves that grow from hairless leaf stalks. In Spring flowers appear as yellow-brown catkins that hang in groups, once pollinated female catkins thicken and darken to a crimson colour. 

10. Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder by Rüdiger Heiß via Flickr

Where to find: Historically known for its magical properties, Elder appears in hedges, scrub, woodland, waste and cultivated ground.

How to identify: 

Elder can be identified by its short greyish-brown trunk, that develops deep creases as it ages. The tree can grow to around 15m.

Look out for: Elder has compound leaves, each leaf divided into five to seven leaflets. In summer Elder is recognised by its creamy, sweet, smelling white flowers that hang in sprays, and later in autumn develop into deep, purple berries. 

Recommended reading and guides:

Collins Tree Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Europe

#151916

An essential, definitive, fully-illustrated guide to the trees of Britain and non-Mediterranean Europe.

 

 

The Tree Name Trail: A Key to Common Trees

#115887

This 12-page laminated fold-out chart contains a full-colour illustrated key to the leaves, twigs, fruits and seeds of the commonest broadleaved and coniferous trees of Britain and Ireland.

 

 

London’s Street Trees: A Field Guide to the Urban Forest 

#249755

London is home to an astounding diversity of tree species and this portable book offers a field guide to their identification, as well as suggested walks to see them.

 

RSPB First Book of Trees

#226307

Through beautiful full-page illustration accompanied by key information about each creature, books are designed to encourage young children’s interest in the outside world and the wildlife around them.

 

 

Trees: A Complete Guide to their Biology and Structure

#229286

Roland Ennos sheds new light on trees and their structure by answering questions from the apparently obvious to the obscure but fascinating.

 

Tree Story: The History of the World Written in Trees

#248320

A dendrochronological delight, the beautifully written and illustrated Tree Story reveals the utterly fascinating world of tree-ring research and how it matters to archaeology, palaeoclimatology, and environmental history.

 

Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs

#209999

This AIDGAP guide covers 36 of the common broad-leaved deciduous species, or groups of species, that are most likely to be found in the UK, as well as a few rarer trees.

 

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Small Mammal Identification  

Harvest Mouse by Charlie Marshall via Flickr

Small mammals are charismatic animals, but often elusive. They are rarely seen as more than a passing glimpse of a small scurrying creature. Although sadly often viewed as pests, small mammals are an important part of our ecosystems.

In this blog we will focus on some of the most common, native species of rodent and insectivore in the UK, providing key characteristics that will help you to identify them in the field.

Mice

There are four species of mice in the UK. All have relatively large eyes and ears and long scaly tails with little or no hair.

Wood mouse by Vince via Flickr
Wood mouse/Field mouse– Apodemus sylvaticus

Identification: The wood mouse is a stereotypical’ mouse in terms of appearance and has a chestnut-brown back and white belly. Long tail, large ears and big eyes. Moves quickly by hopping/jumping.

Size: 8-10cm with a very long tail of up to 10cm.

Habitat: Often found in woodland and fields but also common in a variety of other habitats. Generally the most often caught in small mammal surveys.

House mouse by Richard Adams via Flickr

 

House mouse – Mus musculus

Identification: Greybrown all over including the undersides.

Size: 7-9cm with a tail of up to 10cm.

Habitat: Commonly associated with houses, buildings and barns, although also found in the countryside. This species is one of the more commonly spotted due to its cohabitation with humans.

Harvest Mouse by Charlie Marshall via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvest mouse – Micromys minutus

Identification: A very small mouse with golden fur and white undersides. Its long tail is prehensile and can be used as an extra ‘limb’ to hold onto vegetation as it climbs.

Size: The UK’s smallest rodent; roughly 5-7cm in length.

Habitat: Lives in long vegetation such as reed beds, marshes and roadside verges. Builds small, round nests made of intertwined grass stalks.

Did you know? The average adult harvest mouse weighs roughly the same as a two pence piece!

Yellow-necked mouse by Teemu Lehtinen via Flickr
Yellow-necked mouse – Apodemus flavicollis

Identification: This species looks almost the same as the wood mouse in appearance, except that the yellow-brown colouration on its back continues around in a band across the neck.

Size: 9.5-12cm, very slightly larger than the wood mouse. Tail 8-12cm in length.

Habitat: Woodland, hedgerows and gardens; range is restricted mainly to southern Britain.

Voles

In comparison to mice, voles have much shorter and more rounded snouts. They also tend to have smaller ears and eyes in proportion to their body size. There are three species of vole native to the UK: two of these species – the bank and field vole – appear very similar and are easily confused.

Bank vole by Peter Trimming via Flickr
Bank Vole – Myodes glareolus

Identification: Red-brown upper coat with a pale cream/grey underside. The bank vole’s tail is about half the length of its body. This is an important distinguishing factor for comparison with the field vole which has a proportionately shorter tail.

Size: 9-11cm, tail length 3-7cm.

Habitat: The bank vole is often found in hedgerows, heathland, grassland and woodland, as well as in more urban areas.

Field vole by Jeremy Halls via Flickr
Field Vole – Microtus agrestis

Identification: The fur of the field vole is more yellow-brown than the bank vole. It is often described as ‘cooler’ in colour. The underside is creamy-grey. Its tail is about a third of the length of its body (shorter proportionately when compared to the bank vole). For this reason it is also known as the short-tailed field vole.

Size: 9-12 cm in length (not including tail).

Habitat: Ungrazed grasslands and areas of tussock are the preferred habitat, although this adaptable mammal will find a home wherever grass is available.

Did you know? The field vole is estimated to be the most abundant mammal in the UK, although it is rarely seen. Look out for small round tunnels in areas of long grass. You may even find a ‘lawn’ at the entrance with shortened grass and piles of grass cuttings.

Water vole by Peter Trimming via Flickr
Water Vole Arvicola amphibious

Identification: Dark brown fur and a hairy tail which is about half the length of the head and body. Characteristic bright yellow teeth.

Size: Up to 22cm in length excluding the tail. Roughly rat-sized (double the size of the field and bank voles).

Habitat: As the name suggests, this vole spends much of its life in the water. They live in burrows alongside river canals and are most often spotted swimming.

Did you know? When startled, water voles dive into the water making a characteristic ‘plop’ sound. So, be sure to keep an ear out when walking alongside rivers.

Shrews

There are four species of shrew native to the UK, although only three are found on the mainland. The other – the greater white-toothed shrew – is found only on islands such as Guernsey, Alderney and Herm.

Shrews tend to be smaller than most other species of small mammal found in the UK, and have a distinctive long pointed snout and very small eyes and ears.

Common shrew by Jo Garbutt via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common shrew – Sorex araneus

Identification: Fur is three-toned, transitioning from dark brown on the back to paler brown to white on its undersides. The common shrew has a tail which is roughly half the length of the body; this is shorter, proportionally, than that of the pygmy shrew.

Size: 4-8cm in length, tail 2.5-4.5cm.

Habitat Widespread across a variety of habitats including gardens, hedgerows, grassland and woodland.

Did you know? Common shrews have a very high metabolism and must eat every 2-3 hours in order to survive.

Pygmy shrew by Andrew via Flickr
Pygmy shrew – Sorex minutus

Identification Two-toned fur going from a grey-brown upper to an off-white belly. The pygmy shrew has a longer and wider tail in proportion to its body when compared with the common shrew; roughly two-thirds of its body length.

Size: 4-6cm in length, tail 3-5cm.

Habitat: Widespread across a variety of habitats including hedgerows, grassland and woodland.

Water shrew by Ulrike & Jörg via Flickr
Water Shrew – Neomys fodiens

Identification: Black/dark brown fur on top, with a very contrasting pale grey underside. Often have little silver ear tufts and white hairs around the eyes.

Size: 6-10cm, the UK’s largest shrew species. Tail 4.5-7.5cm.

Habitat: Usually found near streams and wetlands. If you see a shrew swimming, it is most likely this species! They even swim underwater to hunt for prey.

Did you know? The water shrew is a venomous mammal. Its saliva can paralyse even larger prey such as frogs and newts.

Other

Hazel dormouse by Frank Vassen via Flickr
Hazel DormouseMuscardinus avellanarius

Identification: Golden fur, big ears and eyes. The most characteristic feature is their incredibly fluffy tail. This means that they are sometimes mistaken for a young squirrel.

Size: 6-9cm, tail 5.5-7cm.

Habitat: Dormice are arboreal, meaning that they spend most of their lives in trees, although they return to the ground to hibernate during winter. Despite their name, hazel trees are not a habitat requirement – although they are often preferred. Found in coniferous, deciduous and mixed woodland.

Did you know? The hazel dormouse is not technically a true mouse. They are related to both mice and squirrels but are classified in their own separate family.

Recommended reading/guides:

How to Find and Identify Mammals
#210208

Provides a solid grounding in mammal identification skills. Includes excellent illustrations of mammals, their tracks and signs and also discusses survey methods using the latest techniques and technologies.

 

 

Live Trapping Small Mammals: A Practical Guide
#248012

Provides practical advice on trapping small mammals.

 

 

 

Guide to the Land Mammals of Britain
#200858

This laminated pamphlet is produced by the Field Studies Council and contains images of all of Britain’s land-based mammals. Provides a useful overview and aid to identification.

 

 

A Guide to British Mammal Tracks and Signs
#128853

This Field Studies Council guide is the perfect solution to identifying the presence of mammals from their tracks and signs. Footprints, dropping and feeding remains are all included in this helpful laminated pamphlet.

 

Water Vole Conservation Handbook
#196267

This handbook aims to improve the understanding and awareness of the requirements of water voles.

Anabat Swift Firmware Update – May 2020

A new firmware update (V1.6) is available for the Anabat Swift. This update will introduce the following changes:

• Spanish language added.
• Low battery warning messages clarified
• Bug fix: “Constant Recording” didn’t always start when expected
• Bug fix: Display of months in the schedule editor
• Several usability improvements
• Improved menu layout

 

This update should be installed on all your detectors as soon as possible to ensure that they continue to run smoothly. Full instructions below.

Method 1 – Using an SD Card

Step 1 – Download the update file using this link and copy it to the root directory on your SD card. Make sure the file is named swift.adx. You can use the same SD card to update multiple Swifts.

Step 2 – Insert the SD card and fresh batteries into your Swift then power it on. Make sure that there isn’t a second SD card in the Swift. After a short time the following message will appear: “Swift update 1.6 available. Would you like to update?” Press “Yes” to start the update. Do not remove the batteries or power off the detector while the update is being installed. The red Mode lights will flash in sequence while the update is being installed. When the flashing stops, your Swift will restart with the new firmware. You may get a message about a new “bootloader available”; if so, please proceed with this update by pressing the “Upgrade” button.

If your Swift doesn’t detect the software update on the SD card, it may be using a very old firmware version. If this is the case you will need to follow Method 2 (below).

Method 2 – Using Insight and a USB cable

If you haven’t used your computer to update your Swift previously, you will need to follow Step 1 to install the necessary software on your PC. If you’ve already done this before, skip ahead to Step 2.

Step 1 – Install the required software as follows:

For Windows PCs, click here to download and run the following program to install the Anabat Swift USB Driver for Windows. Mac users don’t need to install this driver.

Next, click on one of the following links to download and run the installer for Anabat Insight. Please choose the download that matches your Operating System version.

• Anabat Insight for 64-bit versions of Windows 10, 8, & 7  (most computers)
Anabat Insight for 32-bit versions of Windows (usually older computers with less than 4GB RAM)
Anabat Insight for Mac

Step 2 – Ensure you are connected to the internet. Run Anabat Insight and install any Insight updates that are available. This will be indicated by a green bar near the top of the program window. Ensure the Swift’s battery holder is fitted with fresh batteries.

Step 3 – At the top of the Insight screen, click on the menu that says “Devices”. You should see “Swift” under this menu. Click on “Swift”. (*If you don’t see this then you may have an old firmware version that requires an extra step – in this instance, see below for further instructions).

Step 4 – A window will appear displaying your current firmware version and the latest version available from Titley Scientific. Press the “Download” button to download the new firmware to your computer. Once downloaded, you can press the “Start” button to install the new firmware on your Swift. Once complete, the text “Finished” will appear.

Step 5 – Once the installation is complete, remove the batteries and then reinsert them to restart your Swift with the new firmware. You may get a message about a new “bootloader available”; if so, please proceed with this update by pressing the “Upgrade” button.

*Additional step for old firmware versions
This step may be required before step 3 if you have a particularly old firmware version. Please follow the steps below and then resume the above procedure from step 3.
1. Remove the battery holder from your Swift.
2. Hold down the power button (in the centre above the screen) while re-inserting the batteries. Make sure to hold the button down for a few more seconds after getting the batteries in place. The screen on the Swift will remain black. (This step is required for this firmware update only and will not be needed in the future.)

Troubleshooting

If your Swift fails to turn on after the update, try removing the main battery pack and the clock battery (coin cell) for a few minutes. Reinstall the batteries and then try again.

If you are still encountering any difficulties with this process, please contact Andrew Dobson (andrew.dobson@titley-scientific.com) for assistance.

The NHBS Guide to UK Butterfly Identification

Orange Tip image by L Wilkes

Butterflies are an iconic and popular sight during the spring and summer months. They are also important indicators of a healthy ecosystem and provide valuable environmental benefits such as pest control and pollination. As food for birds, bats and other mammals they are a vital part of the food chain and have been used for centuries by scientists to investigate navigation, pest control and evolution, as well as countless other subjects.

In the UK there are currently 57 resident species of butterfly and two regular migrants. Of these, it is estimated that 76% have declined in abundance, occurrence or both over the past 40 years. Almost all of these losses can be attributed to man-made changes such as habitat destruction and pollution, along with larger patterns of weather and climate change.

Recording and monitoring butterflies is a vital step in ensuring their conservation. Contributing to citizen science projects such as Butterfly Conservation’s Butterflies for the New Millenium, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, or via the iRecord app are vital to gain a picture of how our butterflies are faring. Although at this time it is not possible to travel to survey and record butterflies, sightings within your garden or on your own land, as well as those spotted on local walks, still provide a valuable source of data. (Please read the most recent Covid-19 statements on each of these websites before undertaking any surveys.)

In this article we have compiled a short guide on which butterflies you are likely to see outside this spring/summer, as well as some tips on the features by which you can distinguish certain species.

Gardens

For many butterflies we need look no further than our back gardens. In the UK many generalist species of butterflies survive and thrive in the network of gardens that stretch out across the country. These species are drawn in by the bountiful supply of nectar offered by flowering plants such as Buddleia, which are seldom without a visiting Red Admiral or Peacock. Gardens with unmanaged patches are even more favourable, as these can provide larval host plants such as thistles and nettles, the latter of which are used by four different butterfly species.

LOOK OUT FOR:

1. Large White: Large and often found near brassicas and nasturtiums
2. Small Tortoiseshell:
Medium-sized, often bask in open sunny spots
3. Red Admiral: 
Large and territorial with unique black and red colours
4. Painted Lady:
Large fast flyers with very angular wings
5. Small White: Medium-sized with yellowish under-wings, eat brassicas
6. Peacock:
Large, dark butterfly with distinct eyespots on its wings

Grasslands, Parks and Fields

Grasslands are an incredibly valuable habitat for many of the UK’s moths and butterflies. Semi-natural grassland, pasture, arable land, urban parkland and any areas with rough unmanaged grass will all support a variety of butterfly species. In the height of summer these areas can be teeming with Skippers, Common Blues, Ringlets and Meadow Browns. Be sure to inspect any flowering plants (particularly thistles and knapweeds) as these can act as vital nectaring points for many butterflies. Pay close attention for the fast and subtle movements of smaller species as these can often disappear against such a busy environment. A prime example of this is the Small Copper which is notoriously hard to spot due to its minute size, fast flight and discrete colouration (when its wings are closed).

LOOK OUT FOR:

1. Meadow Brown: Very common, with dull orange patches on the wings
2. Green-veined White: Have a distinct green colour around the wing veins
3. Small Copper: Small and fast, has deep brown and bright orange wings
4. Common Blue:
 Small with a vivid blue colour and unbroken white border
5. Six-spot Burnet (moth): Has distinct pattern, often feed on Thistles
6. Ringlet: Common, wings can appear black and have distinct yellow rings
7. Marbled White: Large slow flyers with a unique chequered pattern

Hedgerows and Woodland-Edge

Edge habitats are well known for their butterfly diversity and abundance, housing many threatened and elusive species. There are a few species which you are likely to see in these areas, however, bear in mind that species such as the Brimstone, Speckled Wood and Gatekeeper can also occur in several other habitats. Sunny areas with flowering shrub such as Bramble are hotspots for activity, particularly for Gatekeepers. Holly Blues may be hard to spot as they are mostly arboreal, only descending to feed on flowering plants such as Ivy. Woodland interiors are unlikely to yield many butterflies, particularly those with little light and/or limited forest floor plants, however open sunny glades are worth visiting.

LOOK OUT FOR:

1. Brimstone: Large with a powdered yellow/green colour and slow flight
2. Comma:
 Large with a uniquely scalloped wing edge and fast flight
3. Gatekeeper: Small size, often found around hedges with bramble growing
4. Holly Blue:
 Very small, flying around tree tops, especially those with Ivy
5. Speckled Wood
: Medium size, very territorial and regularly sun bask
6. Silver-Y (moth): Fast flying with a distinct silver ‘Y’ on the upper wing

Butterfly Conservation

Thanks to Butterfly Conservation for letting us use their images throughout this article. For more information on UK butterflies and how you can help them, please visit Butterfly Conservation.org. Here you will find a wealth of information to help you find and identify butterflies and moths.

Butterfly Field Guides

Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland
#245262
The illustrations in this guide, from originals painted by Richard Lewington, show 58 British butterfly species. The paintings are a quick identification aid to the butterflies most likely to be seen and all are drawn to life size.

 

 

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland
#245485
This handy pocket-sized book has become the essential guide to identifying the butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. It contains over 600 superb illustrations of the life stages of each species, together with beautiful artworks of butterflies in their natural settings.

 

Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide
#245243
Packed with beautiful photography, this is the definitive guide to all 482 species of European butterflies (42 more species compared to the first edition) with additional information on over 60 species found in the far east of Europe, stretching as far as the Urals and Caucasus.

 

Collins Butterfly Guide
#173624
This comprehensive guide describes and illustrates about 440 species, depicting both males and females and – where there is significant variation – subspecies. Distribution maps accompany every widespread species.

 

 

The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland
#245487
Provides comprehensive coverage of all our resident and migratory butterflies, including the latest information on newly discovered species such as the Cryptic Wood White and the Geranium Bronze. The definitive book on the subject, it includes fully updated distribution maps.

 

Field Guide to the Caterpillars of Great Britain and Ireland
#248267
This beautifully illustrated field guide covers caterpillars of the moth and butterfly species that are most likely to be encountered in the British Isles.

 

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Wild Flower Identification

 

Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys). Image by L Wilkes

Plants and fungi are not only beautiful and interesting to study, but they also provide the building blocks on which all of our other wildlife (and ourselves) depend. Monitoring their abundance and diversity is key to understanding the health of our habitats. Plus, there are numerous studies that suggest that being around plants has benefits for our mental wellbeing, including improved concentration and memory as well as a better overall mood.

Spring and early summer are the perfect time to study your local plants as many will be in flower at this time, making them much easier to identify. (For other times of the year, a guide such as the Vegetative Key to the British Flora is invaluable – but it may take a bit of practice. For beginners, we suggest starting during the flowering season).

In this article we’ve featured a number of wild flowers that you’re likely to find, either in your garden or when out walking. These are separated into Town and Country/Woodland, but bear in mind that there will be some overlap, so it’s worth looking at both lists. Chances are that you’ll also find a few species that aren’t included here – you can find lots more information on the Plantlife website, including ways to submit your findings to their records. Or why not check out one of our wild flower ID guides listed at the bottom of the post?

Town

Here you will find nine of the most common species that you’re likely to encounter in urban areas. Pay particular attention to parks, waste ground and walls, and don’t forget to check the pavement cracks too.

LOOK OUT FOR:

 

Image by Catherine Singleton via Flickr

1. Daisy – Bellis Perennis
Flowers March-October.
Easily recognisable flower with a yellow centre and numerous white petals. Abundant in short grass such as parks and garden lawns.

 

 

Image by Far Closer via Flickr

2. Silverweed – Potentilla anserina
Flowers May-August.
Common on bare or well-walked ground such as the sides of tracks. Easy to recognise due to the silver-white underside of leaves.

 

 

Image by Siaron James via Flickr

3. Bramble – Rubus fructicosus
Flowers May-October.
Very abundant on waste ground as well as on heaths and in hedgerows and woodland. Thorny shrub with white or pale pink flowers.

 

 

Image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr

4. Scarlet Pimpernel – Anagallis arvensis
Flowers April-October.
Commonly found in gardens as well as arable fields, dunes, cliffs and heathland. Low growing and sprawling. Flowers are red with a purplish base.

 

 

 

 

Image by cazstar via Flickr

5. Rosebay Willowherb – Chamerion angustifolium
Flowers June-September.
Abundant on disturbed ground, verges and railways. Produces tall spires of purplish flowers. Often found in dense stands.

 

 

Image by Franco Folini via Flickr

 

6. Ivy-Leaved Toadflax – Cymbalaria mularis
Flowers May-September.
Often found on old walls and in pavement cracks. A straggly plant with ivy-like leaves and small lilac flowers with a yellow spot.

 

Image by Dean Morley via Flickr

7. Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) – Buddleja davidii
Flowers June-October.
Likes dry, disturbed places such as waste ground, railways, walls and roofs. Long sprays of purple, white or lilac flowers; a favourite of butterflies.

 

Image by Melanie Shaw via Flickr

8. Feverfew – Tanacetum parthenium
Flowers July-September.
Found in walls, pavement cracks and on waste ground. Flowers similar to a daisy but with shorter, broader petals. Aromatic leaves.

 

 

Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

9. White Clover – Trifolium repens
Flowers May-September.
Found in most types of grassland as well as on waste/disturbed ground. Globular clusters of flowers on long stalks; usually off-white or pale pink. The leaflets usually have a pale chevron shape near the base.

 

 

Country/Woodland

This list features nine species commonly found in the countryside and wooded areas. Hunt along the hedgerows and meadows as well as on river banks and in woodland clearings.

look out for:

Image by saydelah via Flickr

1. Cow Parsley – Anthriscus Sylvestris
Flowers late April-June.
Extremely common during May on roadside verges and in woodland rides and clearings. White flowers radiate out from the stem on spokes. Fern-like leaves.

Image from Lawn Health via Flickr

2. Germander speedwell – Veronica chamaedrys
Flowers March-July.
Common in grass and roadside verges. Bright blue flower with a white eye on a sprawling stem. Leaves oval and toothed.

 

Image by Amanda Slater via Flickr

3. Meadowsweet –Filipendula ulmaria
Flowers June-Sept.
Likes damp ground such as roadside ditches and wet woodland. Long stems with clusters of cream, fuzzy flowers which smell of honey or almonds.

 

Image by Melissa McMasters via Flickr

4. Herb Robert – Geranium robertianum
Flowers April-October.
Likes banks, woods, gardens and walls. Purple flowers with lighter stripes on petals. Whole plant may sometimes turn red.

 

Image by Siaron James via Flickr

5. Bugle – Ajuga reptans
Flowers April-June.
Common in damp deciduous woodland and other shady places as well as unmanaged grassland. Forms long stems with rosettes of green-purplish leaves and blue flowers marked with white.

 

 

 

Image by muffinn via Flickr

6. Red Campion – Silene dioica
Flowers April-October.
Likes hedgerows and woodland clearings. Five-petalled pink/red flowers on long stems with opposite leaves.

 

Image by johndal via Flickr

7. Greater Stitchwort – Stellaria holostea
Flowers late March-June.
Common in hedges and verges as well as in woodland. White flowers with five petals, split halfway to the base. Sprawling with narrow leaves.

Image by johndal via Flickr

 

8. Yellow pimpernel – Lysimachia nemorum
Flowers May-September.
Fairly common in moist, shady woodland (deciduous). Low growing/sprawling with yellow star-shaped flowers.

Image by Katja Schulz via Flickr

 

9. Lesser Celandine – Ficaria verna
Flowers February-May.
Likes slightly damp soil in woods, fields and churchyards. Yellow flowers on long stalks and glossy heart-shaped leaves.

 

Further reading:

The Wild Flower Key: How to Identify Wild Flowers, Trees and Shrubs in Britain and Ireland
#143162

 

 

 

 

Collins Wild Flower Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
#225655

 

 

 

 

Harrap’s Wild Flowers: A Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland
#245027

 

 

 

 

Guide to Flowers of Walks and Waysides
#236523

 

 

 

 

 

Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families
#229143

 

 

 

Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
#198409

Please note that this book is currently out of print – however, second-hand books may be available online.

The NHBS Guide to UK Reptile Identification

Slow worm image by Smudge 9000 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The UK is home to six native species of reptile – three snakes (adder, grass snake and smooth snake) and three lizards (common lizard, sand lizard and slow worm). In early spring, snakes and lizards begin to emerge from hibernation – if you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of one in your garden or when out walking in the countryside. (Interesting note: adders have now been recorded as being active during every month of the year in the UK, a behavioural change which is thought to be linked to overall warmer weather).  

This article aims to provide you with some of the key characteristics of each species which will help you to identify what you’re looking at. You will also find a list of field and identification guides at the bottom of the page which will give you lots more information about each species and help you with your ID.

Snakes

Snakes are part of the suborder Serpentes and, though they vary greatly in size and colour, their limbless, elongated bodies make their overall form very distinct (although some legless lizards, such as the slow worm, may often be mistaken for a snake). The skin of a snake is covered in scales and is a smooth, dry texture – this skin is shed periodically throughout the snake’s life. All snakes are carnivorous and many species have specialised skulls with extra joints enabling them to swallow prey much larger than their heads. Most species are non-venomous and either swallow their prey alive or kill it by constriction. 

All three snake species in the UK reproduce by producing eggs. However, both the adder and smooth snake incubate eggs internally whereas the grass snake lays them in rotting vegetation such as compost heaps. 

Adder (Vipera berus)

Adder image by Jo Garbutt via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 60-80cm in length.
• Colour: Greyish with a dark and very distinctive zig-zag pattern down its back. Red eye.
• Habitat: Prefers woodland, heathland and moorland but may also be found in grassland or on the coast.
• Interesting fact: The adder is the only venomous snake in the UK. However, bites are very rare as adders are reclusive and would prefer to retreat than confront a human. 

Grass snake (Natrix helvetica)

Grass snake image by Bernard Dupont via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 90-150cm in length.
• Colour: Usually greenish in colour, with a yellow and black collar, pale belly and dark markings down the sides.
• Habitat: Favours wetland habitats but can also be found in grassland and gardens, especially those with a pond.
• Interesting fact: The grass snake is the longest snake found in the UK.

Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca)

Smooth snake image by Odd Wellies via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 50-70cm in length.
• Colour: Usually dark grey or brown in colour. Similar to an adder but with a more slender body and without the zig-zag pattern along its back.
• Habitat: Very rare. Mainly found on a few sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, although a couple of reintroduced populations exist in West Sussex and Devon.
• Interesting fact: The smooth snake is a constrictor, coiling around its prey to subdue it and crush it to death.

Lizards

Most lizards have four legs and run with a side-to-side motion. However, some, such as the slow worm, are legless. Lizards are mainly carnivorous and often employ a ‘sit-and-wait’ approach to catching prey. In the UK, lizards feed primarily on insects, molluscs and spiders.

Although all three species of UK lizard lay eggs, both the common lizard and slow worm incubate these internally, ‘giving birth’ in the late summer. Sand lizards lay shelled eggs that are buried in the sand where they are kept warm by the sun. 

Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

Common lizard image by Gail Hampshire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 10-15cm in length.
• Colour: Variable, but most commonly a brownish-grey, with rows of darker spots or stripes down the back and sides. Males have bright yellow or orange undersides with spots, while females have paler, plain bellies.
• Habitat: Heathland, moorland and grassland.
• Interesting fact: If threatened by a predator, the common lizard will shed its tail which continues to move – the lizard uses this distraction to make its escape. Although able to regrow its tail, the new one is usually shorter than the original.

Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)

Sand lizard image by xulescu-g via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

• Size: Up to 20cm.
• Colour: Female sand lizards are a sandy-brown colour, with rows of dark blotches along the back. Males have green flanks that are at their brightest during the breeding season, making them easy to spot.
• Habitat: The sand lizard is very rare and can only be found on a few sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey with a few reintroduced populations in the south east, south west and Wales.
• Interesting fact: Sand lizards dig burrows for overnight refuge and hibernation. 

Slow worm (Anguis fragilis)

Slow worm image by Oliver Haines

• Size: 40-50cm.
• Colour: Smooth, golden-grey skin. The males are paler in colour and occasionally have blue spots. The females tend to be larger with dark sides and some have a dark line down their back.
• Habitat: Slow worms live in most of Great Britain apart from Northern Ireland and are also present on most of the islands in Scotland and the Channel Isles.
• Interesting fact: Although similar in appearance to a snake, the slow worm has eyelids (which snakes do not) and can drop its tail when threatened by a predator.

In addition to the six native reptiles, several species of non-native reptile can be found in the UK – these include the wall lizard, green lizard, aesculapian snake, European pond terrapin and the red-eared slider.

Recommended reading:

Amphibians and Reptiles
#206083
A comprehensive guide to the native and non-native species of amphibian and reptile found in the British Isles. Professor Trevor Beebee covers the biology, ecology, conservation and identification of the British herpetofauna, and provides keys for the identification of adult and immature specimens as well as eggs, larvae and metamorphs.

Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians
#174837
This detailed guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands has been produced with the aim of inspiring an increased level of interest in these exciting and fascinating animals. It is designed to help anyone who finds a lizard, snake, turtle, tortoise, terrapin, frog, toad or newt to identify it with confidence.

 

Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Ireland
#113260
This laminated pamphlet is produced by the Field Studies Council and covers the 13 species of non-marine reptile and amphibian which breed in Britain, as well as the five species which breed in Ireland. These include snakes, lizards, frogs, toads and newts.

 

Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe
#246563
This excellent field guide covers a total of 219 species, with a focus on identification and geographical variation. The species text also covers distribution, habitat and behaviour. Superb colour illustrations by talented artist Ilian Velikov depict every species.

 

 

The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland
#235838
This book is designed to be an interesting and informative guide to the amphibians and reptiles that are found in the wild in Scotland. The authors have focused on those species native to Scotland, plus those which are non-native but are breeding in the wild.

Gardening for Wildlife: Creating Habitat

In the first of our two-part series, Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food, we looked at how to attract wildlife to your garden by including plants for pollinators and providing food for birds and mammals. In the second of our two-part ‘Gardening for Wildlife’ series, we look at how to create nesting or overwintering habitat effectively for the wildlife that visits your garden. Natural nesting sites for birds, insects and mammals have become rare in the broader landscape due to changes in farming, woodland management practices and building construction techniques. Wildlife-friendly gardens can provide fantastic habitat for invertebrates, birds, amphibians and mammals by making a few simple changes and by letting a bit of wildness back in.

Mining Bee © Ed Phillips

Insects

It is easy to provide habitat for insects in your garden just by leaving the lawnmower in the shed. Setting aside a patch of grass to grow longer should encourage wildflowers to grow in your lawn, and will provide food and shelter for insects and small mammals. Creating a log pile in which beetles, woodlice and earwigs can shelter is also an easy way to increase garden wildlife habitat. You can provide additional nesting space for solitary bees or overwintering quarters for other insects by creating or installing an insect house. These can be homemade and constructed to your own design, or you can purchase purpose made houses. These are particularly important for solitary bees, who use tunnels in wood, mortar, plant stems or artificial houses to nest. They lay eggs and place a food source in a series of cells, and then block the entrance with materials such as mud, leaves or fine hair. Other nest sites can be provided by leaving dead wood and stems standing and leaving a patch of bare earth or mud bank for mining bees.

Vivara Pro Seville Nest Box

Bird Boxes

Providing bird boxes in your garden can be an excellent way of helping wildlife, as natural nest sites can be rare due to changes in house construction and woodland management techniques. There is a vast array of nest boxes available for many different species of birds, so it is worth knowing which bird species visit your garden before selecting a box. A good place to start is by providing a nest box with a 32mm entrance hole that is suitable for house sparrows or blue and great tits, who are enthusiastic occupiers of nest boxes. Most nest boxes are made of breathable materials such as wood or wood fibres mixed with concrete (Woodcrete or WoodStone). The advantage of Woodcrete and WoodStone nest boxes is that they are much more durable and can last for 10 years or more. Purpose-built nest boxes are available for many different species such as swifts, treecreepers and even robins. For more details on our most popular nest boxes, please see our series of blog posts on nest boxes suitable for different locations. For more details on where to hang your nest box, please see our blog post

Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr.

Mammals

Gardens are extremely important for hedgehogs and can provide excellent opportunities for foraging and hibernation. Leaving a pile of fallen leaves or a log pile can give them a place to shelter during the daytime or you can choose to invest in a hedgehog nest box. These can provide a safe place for hedgehogs to sleep or hibernate – there is even the option of installing a nest box camera so that you can watch footage of them using the box.

Hedgehogs can travel up to 2km each night, eating as they go. Allowing them to move freely between gardens is important to ensure that they can obtain enough food and find safe spaces to sleep. If you have a garden fence, cut a hole at the bottom measuring 13 x 13cm to allow hedgehogs to pass through on their nightly wanderings. You could also remove a brick from the bottom of a wall or dig a channel underneath. 

Bats also use gardens for foraging, so increasing the number of invertebrates in your garden will help to attract them. Bats naturally roost in a variety of spaces including holes in trees. With natural cavities being rare, providing a bat box can be a great way of helping them and our series of blog posts on the top bat boxes for different locations, and our advice on where to hang your bat box is a great place to start. The best time to watch them is at dusk when you can sit in the garden and see them whizzing around catching mosquitoes. Alternatively, you can invest in a bat detector and identify the species visiting your garden. For both bats and hedgehogs, connectivity to other patches of suitable habitat is key. Hedgehogs use hedgerows or need access through fences to be able to visit multiple gardens, and bats use treelines and hedgerows when foraging.

Image by Erik Paterson via Flickr.

Amphibians and Aquatic Invertebrates

The easiest way to help aquatic invertebrates and amphibians is by creating a pond or small body of water. Even if you have a small garden, you can create a mini pond with an old belfast sink or a washing up bowl. Choose a warm, sunny spot that will be good for dragonflies and tadpoles, consider planting a few native freshwater plants and wildlife such as pond skaters, damselflies and water beetles should soon find the spot. Please ensure that ponds are positioned with safety in mind if you have children, and that you include rocks or sloping edges so that wildlife can get in and out. There are fantastic guides to creating a pond available, such as the Wildlife Pond Book, and once your pond is up and running you can even try some pond dipping. It is not recommended to collect frogspawn from the wild, but you can encourage amphibians into your garden by providing damp areas such as log piles or a frog and toad house.

Watching Wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are several ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you a great view of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects and aquatic invertebrates. Read our blog post to find out how to choose a pair of binoculars. Alternatively, trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors such as hedgehogs and birds. These standalone weatherproof cameras use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. Options include the Bushnell NatureView Live View, which has interchangeable lenses for excellent close-up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge which offers amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on how to choose a trail camera. For a really close-up insight into what the wildlife in your garden is doing, consider installing a nest box camera. See our guide on how to choose a nest box camera for advice on the different options. A hedgehog nest box camera can also give you really amazing footage of hedgehogs feeding and nesting.

By providing food resources and suitable habitat for wildlife, you can ensure that your garden becomes a sanctuary for the animals around you and a spectacle of nature right on your doorstep.

Recommended Reading

The Wildlife Pond Book
#246688
£11.99

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Making Wildlife Ponds
#231864
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Nestboxes: Your Complete Guide
#241181
£10.95

 

 

 

 

RSPB First Book of Pond Life
#202385
£4.99

 

 

 

 

FSC Freshwater Name Trail
#175156
£3.30

 

 

 

 

Recommended Garden Products

Bee Brick
#244140
£24.95

 

 

BeePot Bee Hotel
#244760
£39.95

 

 

 

Bee and Bug Biome
#245924
£19.99

 

 

 

 

Red Mason Bee Nest Box
#217452
£10.99

 

 

 

 

Vivara Pro Seville 32mm WoodStone Nest Box
#234956
£21.95

 

 

 

Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box
#193705
£12.50

 

 

 

 

WoodStone Swift Nest Box
#217160
£34.99

 

 

Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box
#234963
£21.95

 

 

 

House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box
#201458
£37.50

 

 

Hedgehog Nest Box
#179141
£45.95

 

 

 

 

Igloo Hedgehog Home
#216719
£19.50

 

 

 

Large Multi-Chamber WoodStone Bat Box
#246918
£47.99

 

 

 

 

 

Magenta Bat 5 Bat Detector
#171849
£86.95

 

 

 

 

WoodStone Frog and Toad House
#209839
£17.99

 

 

 

NHBS Pond Dipping Kit
#244947
£31.99

 

 

*** Please note that all prices in this post are correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time. ***

Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food

Spring is blooming all around us, with primroses, wood anemones and blackthorn flowering now and foxgloves on their way. Birds are building nests ready for eggs and the sky will soon be full of wheeling summer migrants such as house martins and swallows.

Wood anemone. Photo: S. Webber

With many of us being confined to our homes, those of us lucky enough to have a garden or outdoor space will probably be spending a lot of time outdoors. Being surrounded by nature is a fantastic way to boost our mental wellbeing, and gardens can be an invaluable resource for wildlife. By following some basic principles, you can turn your garden into an oasis for wildlife and enjoy some brilliant wildlife spectacles up close.

Planting for wildlife

Attracting insects to your garden is one of the primary ways in which you can help wildlife and also increase productivity of plants and trees. You can provide vital food resources for bees, butterflies, nectar-drinking moths and other insects by planting pollinator friendly plants with high levels of pollen and nectar. Lavender, verbena and buddleia are well known for attracting bees and butterflies, but other plants can be equally important, such as goldenrod for hoverflies and late flowering plants such as ivy.

Peacock butterfly on buddleia. Photo: Andrew Fogg, www.flickr.com

The Royal Horticultural Society has a fantastic database of plants for pollinators so that you can choose plants that will flower across the seasons to provide a year-round resource for pollinating insects. Increasing the insect diversity in your garden will also encourage insectivorous birds and mammals into your garden. 

 

 

Wildflower borders and meadows

Another option is to create a wildflower border by scattering either annual or perennial wildflower seed mixes on to bare soil. It’s a low maintenance option that will provide invaluable habitat for insects. The UK has lost 96% of its species-rich meadows so these are a beautiful and valuable addition to the garden and broader landscape. It’s best to choose a mix of native plants such as poppies, cornflowers and corn marigolds (annual) or ragged robin, buttercups, yellow rattle, knapweed and grasses (perennials). If you wish to create a permanent area of meadow grassland with perennials then the RSPB has a guide to creating a wildflower meadow. Wildflower seed mixes can be ordered online.

Wildflower meadow. Photo: cristina.sanvito, www.flickr.com

Seeds and fruit

It is also good to think about plants and trees that will produce fruits and seeds for birds. Native species such as hawthorn, elder, and rowan provide a fantastic autumn feast of berries, and if you leave the heads on sunflowers after they have flowered, goldfinches can take the seeds. Fruit trees such as crab apple offer blossom for insects and birds in the spring, and fruit for species such as blackbirds in the autumn. The wild type native trees and shrubs usually attract more birds than some of the cultivars, so they are worth seeking out. Most of these plants and trees can be ordered online.

Feeding birds and mammals

Finally, providing supplementary food for birds and other wildlife can help increase their overwinter survival prospects and give you the most dazzling display of wildlife behaviour.

Greenfinch and goldfinches on a seed feeder. Photo: Nick Holden, www.flickr.com

Investing in a wide range of bird feeder types and food sources will ensure the most diverse range of birds visit your feeders. Peanuts are very popular with blue and great tits, sunflower seeds will draw in finches such as chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches and nyger seed is a favourite of siskins. During the winter birds need extra calories so suet balls can be supplied in feeders, or apples left out for ground feeders such as blackbirds and redwings. In addition to hanging bird feeders, a bird table will offer space to ground feeders such as robins and chaffinches. Ensure that feeders are placed at height and away from windows, and not too close to cover, to avoid sudden predator attacks. Birds and mammals also need fresh water so offering a water bath with sloping sides is important, as well as providing a fascinating focal point for watching your garden wildlife.

Hedgehog. Photo: milo bostock, www.flickr.com

Gardens have been shown to be an increasingly important habitat for hedgehogs and with their numbers in steep decline, feeding hedgehogs can give them a much needed extra food resource. Leaving food such as tinned dog or cat food (excluding fish flavours) or cat or dog biscuits will encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden, particularly if there is access from neighbouring gardens via a ‘hedgehog highway’ hole in the fence. Hedgehog feeding stations or nest boxes can provide a useful way of protecting the food from other garden visitors.

Watching wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are a range of ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you great views of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects. Read our blog post to find out How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars. Alternatively trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors. They are standalone weatherproof cameras that use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. With options including the Bushnell NatureView Live View, that has interchangeable lenses for excellent close up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge that has amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on How to Choose a Trail Camera.

Recommended Reading


Wildlife Gardening
#244291
£14.99

 

 

 

 

Wild Your Garden
#249932
£12.99  £14.99

 

 

 

 

The Garden Jungle

Pb   #249709  £7.99  £9.99

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618
£9.99  £12.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Gardening
#226117
£9.99

 

 

 

 


Making Garden Meadows
#212003
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Gardening Products

 

Droll Yankees Lifetime Seed Feeder

From £19.99

 

 

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder
#238813
£15.95  £17.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Slate Hanging Bird Table
#236543
£26.99

 

 

 

Droll Yankees Bird Lovers Suet Ball Feeder
#176819
£7.99

 

 

 

 

Challenger Peanut Feeder
#238828
£2.99  £6.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defender Metal Niger Feeder
#238816
£19.50  £21.95

 

 

 

 

 


Echoes Bird Bath
#195520
£25.96  £37.99

Our ten favourite spring garden activities for children

This spring is destined to be a different and difficult one for most of us. Some things, however, remain the same – the leaves and buds on the trees are unfurling, the flowers are blooming, and the outside world is gearing up for a new year of growth and renewal. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then getting the children outside each day is a great way for them to burn off some energy and to get some fresh air and vitamin D.

With this in mind we have put together ten of our favourite garden activities, most of which are suitable for children (and adults) of all ages – although supervision may be required for the younger ones.

  1. Learn about the insects and bugs in your garden

Insects and bugs are fascinating to children of all ages. As soon as the weather warms up in spring, the garden fills with the buzzing of flies, bees and wasps, whilst the soil teems with beetles, worms and other creepy crawlies. A butterfly or sweep net is ideal for catching flying insects and those in the long grass, while a pooter can be used to pick up tinier specimens. Or simply get down on the ground with a hand lens and see what you can find. There are lots of great field guides that will help you to identify your specimens. FSC guides, such as the Woodland Name Trail and Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland provide a great starting point. Or, for a more in-depth investigation, the Guide to Garden Wildlife covers not only insects and bugs, but also birds, mammals and amphibians. It also provides suggestions for some great nature-related activities.

  1. Install a nest box (and watch the eggs hatch from the comfort of your home)
Image by gordon.milligan

It’s never too late to install a nest box. Even in late spring you may manage to entice a breeding pair of birds in time to lay a late clutch of eggs. At the very least, you will provide a useful winter roost space and the box will be ready for the breeding birds next year. You can even equip your nest box with a tiny camera which will allow you to watch all the nesting, rearing and fledging action from the comfort of your home. Kits are available which contain everything you need to get started; choose from wired, wireless or Wi-Fi options. See our blog post on nest box cameras for more information.

  1. Learn to identify plants

Rummage around in the wilder parts of your garden and you’re likely to find a wide range of plants that your little ones can study and try to identify. Even in the most manicured of outdoor spaces, you’re sure to find some ‘weeds’ that will provide a useful starting place. This is a great way to learn about common and Latin names and to study the different parts of flowers. The Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families will help you to identify the family to which your flower belongs, and the Collins Wild Flower Guide is a beautifully illustrated guide for those wanting a more in-depth look.

  1. Watch (and listen to) the birds
Image by Airwolfhound

Get to know the birds in your garden by installing a feeder. During the spring there should be plenty of wild food sources for them to use, but protein-rich foods such as black sunflower seeds, mealworm and high-quality seed mixes will provide a valuable addition to their diet. (Avoid feeding fat balls and peanuts at this time of year, as they can be harmful to young birds.) If you’re not sure what kind of bird you’re looking at, the RSPB website has a great identifier tool which includes information on 408 species found in the UK. Once you’ve identified your bird, the website also allows you to listen to its song, helping you to further improve your identification skills.

For a fun garden game, why not play bird bingo? Simply draw a 3×3 grid on a piece of paper, and write the name of a common garden bird in each square. Put a cross in the square when you spot the bird – the winner is the first to cross off all nine squares.

  1. Grow something pretty or edible

If you have space, now is a great time to sow some seeds. Sunflowers and sweet peas provide a great splash of colour in the summer and will provide food for birds (sunflower heads) and pollinators (sweet peas). Peas and beans are both easy to grow in a small space and are happy in pots. Strawberries and bush varieties of tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets.

Making seed bombs is another excellent activity to do with children and, when planted in the garden, will provide much needed flowers for pollinating insects. The Wildlife Trusts have a recipe that’s simple to make, along with a list of recommended flower seeds to include.

  1. Be a weather watcher
Image by Paper of Light

In most temperate countries (and particularly in the UK), the weather is constantly changing, making it a fascinating thing to track and record. A weather diary is a great way to do this. You can include as much information as you like, or keep it simple with just pictures for the younger children. You could even make a weather board, where the day’s weather is displayed every day. Wind speed, temperature and humidity can be easily measured using an anemometer, and rainfall with a simple rain gauge. (For more economical options, use a large yoghurt container with measurements marked on the side as a rain gauge and a piece of lightweight fabric tied to a pole to track the direction of the wind).

Clouds are also endlessly interesting – learn about the different types with Weather WizKids which has lots of information and explains how they are formed, why they look the way they do and how we can use them to predict the weather. Why not also investigate some of the old-wives tales pertaining to the weather? For example, is it really true that ‘swallows high, staying dry; swallows low, wet will blow’, or ‘Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’?

  1. Make a pond
Image by Alex Thomson

Recent surveys have shown that some amphibians, such as frogs, are now more common in garden ponds than they are in the wild. When planted with a variety of submerged and emergent plants, a pond will provide a complex environment with a variety of micro-habitats, and is also an attractive feature for the garden. Even in a small space it’s easy to use a bucket or other container to create a small aquatic environment which will provide valuable habitat for amphibians, insects and lots of other species. Take a look at the Wildlife Trusts website for a step-by-step guide to making a garden pond (including a handy list of suitable aquatic plants) or this RSPB page for advice on making a mini pond from an old washing-up bowl. Always ensure that younger children are supervised around water.

  1. Weave with nature

Weaving with natural materials is a fun activity and a great choice for several reasons: it is cheap to do and the results, while temporarily beautiful, can be composted, making it the ultimate in sustainable art. To begin, make a simple frame from four twigs, held together at the corners with a small amount of natural twine. Wind more twine from side to side around the frame leaving gaps between each winding, and then repeat in the other direction. Collect a wide selection of leaves, twigs, weeds, flowers, feathers and grass and weave into your frame in a pattern of your choice. For the best results, try and include as many different colours and textures as possible. Hang your masterpiece inside or in the garden to enjoy until the colours fade, and then throw it on the compost heap or in your garden waste bin.

  1. Eat some weeds

Did you know that lots of the weeds in your garden are actually edible? And what’s more, many contain higher amounts of trace elements like iron than their supermarket equivalents such as spinach and kale. Nettles are extremely common, very easy to identify, and can be made into a tasty soup (don’t worry, they lose their sting as soon as they are cooked). Similarly, dandelion leaves, fat hen, hairy bittercress and chickweed are prevalent in most gardens and can be used as salad greens. Children will love knowing that they have picked some of their meal for free, and that they are eating the garden weeds. If you’re unsure about what you’re picking, there are lots of helpful guides and images on the internet. Or you can invest in a book such as Food for Free, Foraging, or the compact and economical FSC’s Guide to Foraging.

  1. Draw from nature
Image from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Sketching from nature was once a vital part of the naturalist’s skill set. Accurate drawings of specimens, alive or dead, played a vital part in classifying and sharing information about new species. Although this process has largely been replaced by photography, the act of putting pencil to paper and studying a specimen closely enough to draw it accurately can provide an excellent opportunity to study its structure and finer details. Flowers, plants and feathers are ideal starting points as they won’t fly or scuttle away; but insects, birds and other animals can also be fun to try. Keep notes of when and where your drawings were made and, over time, they can form the basis of a wonderful nature journal.

During these troubling times, we hope you can find inspiration in nature and we wish you all the best of health.

For a great selection of garden wildlife books and ID guides, take a look at the Garden Activities for Children collection at nhbs.com.