WAGA Weekly

Each week during the 2020 Awards we'll be providing information, updates, ideas and tips.  You'll find them all here, the latest at the top.  Hope you find them useful - and let us know if you have suggestions for content.

WAGA Weekly 9: 1st June

Leave some lawn to grow long - and welcome wildlife

The temptation for many in lockdown Britain, is to get on with jobs in the garden - including getting that lawn into the classic British stripe. But results released recently by Plantlife (the British conservation charity for wildfowers, plants and fungi) demonstrate the spectacular benefits both we and our garden wildlife receive from not mowing just a small patch of the garden.


Smaller plants, already with seeds in the soil like clover, daisies, dandelions, and selfheal and will get a chance to flower instead of being continuously cut down by the mower. 

Research undertaken in Every Flower Counts – Plantlife’s largest-ever survey of the humble lawn - reveal not only the astonishing diversity of wild flowers growing on Britain’s lawns, but that incredibly simple changes in mowing can result in enough nectar for ten times more bees and other pollinators.

 

  • Over 200 species were found flowering on lawns including rarities such as meadow saxifrage, knotted clover and eyebright.

  • The top three most abundant lawn flowers are daisy, white clover and selfheal. Over half a million flowers have been counted, including 191,200 daisies.


Every Flower Counts found that 80% of lawns supported the equivalent of around 400 bees a day from the nectar sugar produced by flowers such as dandelion, white clover and selfheal.


Plantlife asked participants how often they mowed their lawns and those who had left their lawns unmown for No Mow May revealed very different – and exciting – results for our beleaguered pollinators:
 

  • Cut once every 4 weeks:  The highest production of flowers and nectar sugar was on lawns cut once every four weeks. This gives ‘short-grass’ plants like daisies and white clover a chance to flower in profusion, boosting nectar production tenfold.

  • Un-cut:  All areas of longer unmown grass were more diverse in their range of flowers, with other nectar-rich plants like oxeye daisy, field scabious and knapweed increasing the range of nectar sources for different pollinators.


Between 1980 and 2013, every square kilometre in the UK lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly.  So now, the dense patchwork of lawns provided by British gardens really can throw our pollinators a lifeline. Without a healthy insect population the whole food chain of birds, mammals and flowers starts to fall apart. Not only do we want more insects – we need them. We just have to let the flowers bloom in our lawns.

WAGA Weekly 8: 25th May

Hedgehog shelter/access

When did you last see a hedgehog?  The hedgehog population in the whole of the UK is now less than 1 million – down from 30 million in the 1950’s!  Why is this? The reasons are numerous and are mainly down to our changing way of life.  For example, more of the countryside is covered with concrete, farming methods have changed, garden fences and security gates make hedgehog roaming difficult and the increasing use of poisonous slug pellets which are eaten by slugs and then eaten by hedgehogs.

Where do they live?

Hedgerows,   grasslands, woodlands,  orchards, some rural and surburban gardens.  They are nocturnal and they wander for up to 3KM a night in search of food.   They hibernate from November to March. The female gives birth in a sheltered nest similar to that used for hibernation.  She may have 1-2 litters in May to Sept with 2-5 hoglets per litter.


What do they eat?
Beetles, worms, caterpillars and slugs!


How can you help?

  • Encourage worms, beetles and moths into your garden.

  • Put a hedgehog shelter in your garden. Buy one or make one at home. Half fill it with dry leaves and hay and partly bury the shelter in leaves and branches (see photo above).

  • Provide small amounts of supplementary food - dog or cat food, wet or dry, or special hedgehog food - plus a small shallow bowl of water.

  • Create easy routes in and out of the garden. A hole in the hedge is the best option but a 12cm square hole cut in the bottom of your fence will do.

  • Think hedgehog – cover fences with climbers , move bonfires in early autumn before setting fire to them and make sure that your pond has a slanted and not too steep sides.

 

The exciting result
We have done all these things and we now have a hedgehog that visits our garden every night – so exciting! Here is a short video taken in our garden a few nights ago.

WAGA Weekly 7: 18th May

Fruit Trees and berry-bearing shrubs

These are very important for wildlife as many blossom early in the year, providing an important food source for our pollinators at the end of winter.

Cherry, gooseberry and blackcurrant are all early providers of food for insects and for us too, a couple of months later.  Throughout the summer, raspberries, blackberries, apples, pears and plums provide the same benefits. Blackberries can grow just about anywhere.  Pollinators transfer pollen between flowers, which then allows those flowers to be fertilized. That in turn means they are able to produce fruits and seeds, both for us, and  from which the next generation of plants can grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fruit trees reach old age faster that many other tree species.  For example a 50 year old apple tree can have the same features as a 300 hundred year old oak.  Features such as hollow trunks, rot holes, dead or decaying wood and sap runs are vital for supporting over 400 species of saproxylic invertebrates that live there.  Birds and bats also make their nests there.

 

Apart from the fruit providers,  wildlife will also appreciate our many native berry-bearing species including rowan, holly, whitebeam, spindle, dog rose, guelder rose, elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and ivy.   Attractive shrubs like cotoneaster, pyracantha and berberis are especially good for a wide range of birds.

WAGA Weekly 6: 11th May

Climbing Plants

Early in April, I was thrilled to discover a blackbird’s nest high up in our clematis on our pergola and we have had such fun watching the blackbird family grow and ultimately fledge.  We also found a robin’s nest in the ivy – the robin having chosen to ignore our new robin nesting box a few feet away!  These are just two reasons to grow climbing plants in the garden but these plants are valuable for wildlife in many more ways.  Here are some good examples:

Clematis   For maximum wildlife value, go for the small flowered types.  c.Cirrohosa is an absolute favourite for winter bumblebees and c.Rehderiana with its cream coloured bells attracts bees and numerous other pollinators.   If you have a suitable hedge, try growing the wild clematis (Old Man’s Beard) winding through it – you can recognise it by its low key, cream coloured flowers in July/Sept followed by fluffy white seed heads lasting throughout winter. The tangle of foliage will provide a home for spiders and the foliage will be eaten by several species of moth caterpillars.

Honeysuckle This easy to grow climber with sweet smelling flowers is loved by bumblebees, honeybees and some moth species.  The clusters of red berries that follow are eaten by birds such as finches, Blackbirds and Blackcaps.  Dormice use the bark in their nest.

Ivy The arrow shaped glossy leaves are eaten by some moth caterpillars and the flowers by the caterpillars of the Holly Blue butterfly.  Ivy offers great cover for insects and provides nesting sites for robins and Spotted Flycatchers.  The flowers are a superb autumn nectar source for butterflies, wasps and bees and are the sole food for the Ivy Mining Bee.  The hard berries are rich in fat and a staple winter food for Woodpigeon and Mistle Thrushes.

Wisterias The flowers are loved by bumblebees and honey bees.  While not much wildlife feeds on the foliage, the branches form wonderful platforms for nesting birds, such as Blackbirds, Robins and Spotted Flycatchers.

WAGA Weekly 5: 4th May

Bird Baths

A bird bath is one of the easiest ways of providing a water feature in you Wildlife Garden.

Birds need water for two reasons: drinking and preening. Water helps keep a bird's body cool both from the inside and outside. Water baths can also remove dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from a bird's plumage. When preening, birds carefully rearrange the feathers and spread oil from the preen gland so they remain waterproof and trap an insulating layer of air underneath to keep them warm.

 

The most basic birdbath can be just a plastic plant pot tray like the ones above – minimum 1ft in diameter – placed in a quiet part of the garden close to bushes.  Add a stone inside for perching and watch the result!  My own is this type and I have just watched a blackbird spending a couple of minutes in there refreshing himself. All our local birds have enjoyed it including goldfinches, robins, dunnocks and crows.

 

Keeping a bird bath clean helps to prevent birds catching diseases.  Clean your birdbath regularly and change the water. A layer of algae, dead leaves or bird droppings will soon build up, so give the bath a thorough clean every week or so.

 

An RSPB birdbath for under £20. Enjoy the entertainment your garden birds provide!

WAGA Weekly 4: 27th April

Vegetable Patches and Containers

Why is a vegetable patch/container one of the WAGA criteria?

The vegetable patch isn’t the obvious place to want to share with wildlife.  It is where you grow food for you and your family, and you don’t want to see it go straight into the mouth of some rodent or mini-beast!  However, on the other hand, you need helpful pollinators in order to produce vegetable crops and the key is to learn how they can be happy bedfellows.

What to plant?

For a small vegetable patch, restrict yourself to three or four types of reliable veg and salad crops.  Runner beans are a star plant for bumblebees and honey bees - dwarf cultivars can be as little as 40cm tall.  Choose carrot varieties that are resistant to carrot fly like Flyaway.  Plant early potatoes or salad varieties.  For pots and raised beds choose vegetables that don’t need much space to grow - radishes, spring onions, salad leaves  and  rocket and possibly a cherry-type tomato and a courgette.

Where to plant?

Ideally you need a sunny spot and well-drained fertile soil.  Why not trying growing veg (such as a wigwam of runner beans) scattered amongst flowers?

Companion Planting

Some plants attract predators that feed on the vegetable crops.  For example, try planting Basil with tomatoes, marigolds with beans and potatoes and nasturtiums with cabbages.

Seed saving 

Many people already save a few of their home-grown beans or peas to provide ‘seed’ for the following year.  However, many root vegetables if allowed to flower are adored by insects.  Try leaving the odd carrot, onion, leek or parsnip to grow on, and you may also be able to harvest your own seed for use next year! 

WAGA Weekly 3: 20th April

“Dead wood is dead good!”

Shelter Features in your garden

Dead Wood/Log/Stone Pile: 1 square metre (minimum) left undisturbed

In woodlands, fallen wood occurs naturally and many species have adapted to use this habitat. But in our increasingly tidy countryside, fallen and dead wood is not so common.

Dead wood habitats, such as log piles and wood stacks, can support a surprisingly wide range of garden wildlife. Some types of beetle will use the wood to feed and breed, while woodlice, centipedes and millipedes may take shelter in the dark, damp conditions it provides.

We are aiming to encourage hibernation habitats, food for hedgehogs such as beetles as well as ants’ nests for feeding woodpeckers. Birds feed on insects that make their home in old wood.

The most important point is that these areas should be left  UNDISTURBED. 

The importance of decaying wood:  Standing and fallen decaying wood and old plants are very important for wildlife. Even just one or two bushes, if kept beyond their natural life, are of great value to insects, fungi, mosses and lichens.

In large gardens, a decaying tree with a snagged bough or a small cavity might provide a nest site for a bird or bat.  Dead branches also make excellent song and display perches for birds.

Leave dead trees and shrubs standing (as long as they are not in a dangerous place) to decompose naturally.  The rare stag beetle has been seen in Cookham, flying to the base of a dead pear tree and crawling below ground to start a nest.

Create a woodpile     Take the worry out of disposing of those bulky cuttings and create a home for wildlife. Woodpiles are a valuable habitat for mosses, lichens and fungi, as well as many insects.

Leave woody cuttings from trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in piles within a shrub bed.

It is best to not cut the wood into small pieces. Larger diameter pieces are of most value, but even small twigs and branches should not be discounted, and neither should the cut stems of herbaceous plants. Logs at least 100mm thick (4 ins) with the bark still attached provide the best wood. Hard wood trees such as ash, oak and beech are particularly good and Birch logs can look attractive. Be careful of freshly cut willow and poplar logs, as these can easily re-sprout if left lying on the ground.

Leave the pile in direct contact with the ground, in dappled shade and in compact piles to maintain humidity. Full sun will dry and heat the wood and it will support little life. Dense shade is good for fungi, but may be too cold for most insects.  Allowing a climber to ramble over woodpiles, logs and stumps can cover them and help retain moisture. Adding a pile of leaf litter can attract even more creatures, such hibernating toads or hedgehogs

Stone Pile Have you ever lifted a stone and marvelled at the beasties that lie beneath? You can create piles of rocks and stones in various locations around your garden to provide this type of dark, damp habitat. Try to create stone piles in both sun and shade as these will become different habitats over time, attracting a greater range of insects and invertebrates to the different conditions. Once in situ, leave your rock pile undisturbed and let the weeds grow up around it.

The RSPB also has a helpful video on woodpiles

WAGA Weekly 2: 13th April

 

Drought-resistant Plants (e.g. Lavender, rosemary and sedums)

I hope that you all had a good Easter.  My own garden was alive with wildlife last week - I spotted yellow Brimstone and red Peacock butterflies, blue tits,  blackbirds, dunnocks and greenfinches and lots of bees, ants and woodlice! 

 

However, I also noticed that the raised beds and pots of flowering bulbs were really dry and found myself thinking ‘We could really do with some rain!’ - an amazing thought after a winter of almost non-stop rain!  Our weather patterns are changing and our gardens and our wildlife need to be able to cope with longer periods of drought in an area like our own where a dense population makes high demands on water supplies.  We can help the community, ourselves and wildlife by planting drought-tolerant plants in our garden.

A comprehensive list of Drought-resistant Plants can be found in Beth Chatto’s ‘Drought-resistant Planting’ published in 2016 by Francis Lincoln – available from most on-line booksellers.  A few suggestions are listed below:

  • Lavender (bumblebees, honeybees, many butterflies and the Hummingbird Hawkmoth)

  • Herbs such as Rosemary, Sage, Thyme and Marjoram (Gatekeeper butterflies, bumblebees and other pollinating insects)

  • Sedums (bees)

  • Heathers (bees and moths)

  • Alliums (bees and moth caterpillars)

  • Catmint (bees)

  • Holly (Holly Blue butterflies and Thrushes)

  • Wisterias (bees and provides platforms for nesting birds)

  • Long ornamental grasses (provides cover for bugs and beetles)

A last thought – be tolerant in periods of drought. Lawns will go yellow but they quickly green-up again when the rains come.

WAGA Weekly 1: 6th April

 

Food Features in your Garden

Nectar-rich flowers or pollen-rich flowers (eg: Cosmos, Foxgloves, Buddleia)

Management of your Garden:

Composting at home

Now is your opportunity to start that compost bin you always planned

All bee species need three fundamental things :  nest sites, pollen, for protein food; and nectar for carbohydrate food.  This week I am writing about just two of these three things – pollen and nectar rich flowers.

 

No single plant will suit all bees and all types of other insects, so it is best to grow a wide variety of flowers in your garden – annuals and perennials – flowering at different times of the year.  Flowers in bright colours – purple or yellow – with open flowers are recommended.

Adrian Doble is WildCookham’s bumblebee expert and his plant recommendations are in the Let's BEE Friendly area at www.wildcookham.org.uk.

Garden Centres may be closed but most plant mail order companies are still operating.  Organic seeds can be obtained from the Organic Gardening catalogue or contact them at Long Road, Paignton, Devon, TQ4 7SX tel: 0333 240 0776.

 

I have used www.sarahraven.com and found that she normally stocks a wide range of bee-friendly seedlings and rooted cuttings.

 

Our local recycling company, www.greenredeem.co.uk currently has a deal with Thompson & Morgan who are offering discounted seeds and other gardening supplies – must be worth a look.

Spring is here.  Happy gardening!

Many of you will use a black compost bin or you can make your own like the one in the picture.

The secret of good compost is simple  - 50% wet peelings with 50% dry packaging eg cardboard egg boxes.

Into the bin go: raw veg peelings, apple cores etc. – not cooked items or meat.   Keep egg shells out too, as they attract mice.  You can wash them and when dry, crush them and spread round plants to deter slugs and snails.

See the compost as a 3 year cycle – Year 1 Jan -Dec fill up, Year 2 rest while the worms do their work, January year 3 spread around your wild garden plants!   Locating the compost in a warmer part of the garden will help the process.

 

That’s the basics.  Much more information from the website: gardenersworld.com which has a step by step visual guide to how to make compost.

If you need a bin, the RBWM website directs you to getcomposting.com where you can buy a basic black bin and – while you are there -a water butt.

Also do email us with questions on cookhamwaga@gmail.com

 

 

 

This information is accurate to the best of our knowledge.

via Wild Maidenhead

©2019 by WildCookham