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 13: 29th June
Why not create a Wildflower Patch
Wildflowers, plants and fungi are the life support for all our wildlife and their colour and character light up our landscapes. But without our help, this priceless natural heritage is in danger of being lost. Happily, we are now seeing more verges being left to go wild and the National Trust is planting large areas of wildflowers in Cookham. So what can we do to help in our own gardens?
The first step is to choose a small area of your lawn which you are willing to transform into a “meadow” You can easily plant wildflowers as plugs within the grass. Ox-eye daisy, poppies, meadow buttercup and cornflowers create the lovely primary colours. Cowslip, meadow cranesbill, yellow rattle, scabious and self-heal are also popular. Planting plugs of the semi-parasitic yellow rattle can help to reduce the vigour of your grass. Plant plugs directly into your lawn after your autumn or spring cut.
If you want to take the idea further, the simplest way to encourage wildflowers into your patch is to stop mowing. Say ‘no to the mow’! Adopt a two-cut approach to your lawn, mowing once in autumn and then again in spring, removing all of the cut grass. This will lower fertility and give perennial wildflowers a chance to push through the grass.
You’ll soon see species such as rough hawkbit, yarrow and hoary plantain coming through, depending on your soil type. Your once sterile lawn will soon be buzzing with life – and you’ll have the time to enjoy it, now you’re not doing all that mowing.
Starting from seed: Use seeds to raise plug plants yourself by planting the seeds into pots or a small nursery bed. They are much more likely to be successful if grown this way rather than distributing them over existing grass. The Eden Project recommends British wildflower specialists Emorsgate Seeds
Buying plug plants: these are available online –check they’re from a UK source.
For a display of wildflowers in a bed or border, lay a couple of inches of inert substrate, such as sand and simply sow direct at a sowing rate of 2g per square metre. Sand helps to keep competing grasses at bay and your wildflowers will thrive in these nutrient-poor conditions, creating a garden that pollinators will love you for.
WAGA Weekly 12: 22nd June
Peat Free Compost
What is peat?
Decayed organic matter and vegetation gradually, over thousands of years and under certain very particular wet conditions, turn into peat.
Why do we need peat bogs?
Peat bogs are a vital habitat for many species of wildlife. Rare and wonderful things live there
including unusual grasses and sedges, dragonflies, insect-eating sundews and curlews. In addition, peat bogs act as an extremely useful sponge and absorb and store around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon.
A peat bog
What is the current situation?
Of the UK’s original 95,000 hectares of lowland peat bogs, fewer than 5,000 hectares are thought toremain in good condition!
What happens when the peat-bogs are dug up?
When peat is dug up its unique habitat is disturbed and wildlife species are endangered. In addition,the very act of digging releases carbon into the atmosphere accelerating climate change.
Where has it gone?
The answer is to gardeners! Almost all the peat that has been extracted has gone into horticultureand of that about two thirds have gone into domestic gardening. Gardeners use compost of onetype or another for seed sewing, potting on or soil conditioning. Traditionally, peat has been a majorcomponent of most brands of compost, but now it’s really important that gardeners switch to usingonly peat free compost. RHS trials show that bark and wood-fibre-based mixes can produce just asgood a result as peat. There is no excuse any longer for using peat!
Where can I buy Peat-free compost?
Most of our local garden centres stock peat-free products although supply is currently rather erratic.I have bought and used various brands of peat-free compost. The products vary in both price andquality. I myself have been particularly happy with SylvaGrow peat-free products available fromStubbings www.stubbingsnursery.co.uk. An alternative is to use homemade garden compost!
WAGA Weekly 11: 15th June
Please don’t use pesticides or toxic slug pellets
Every garden centre seems to have shelves full of poisons for killing “pests”. Most chemical pesticides are not selective; they kill a wide range of organisms rather than just the target pest. Killing beneficial insects, such as bees, lady bird beetles, and wasps, results in a range of problems in the garden food chain, as well as reducing pollination. Most supposed pests have a role in a thriving wildlife garden.
SLUGS and SNAILS are part of the garden’s cycle of wildlife. They are eaten by frogs, toads, birds and hedgehogs. If slugs and snails are a problem, avoid using slug pellets based on metaldehyde or methiocarb as these poisons will get into the food chain. Search out alternatives such as pellets based on ferrous phosphate branded “Ferramol”. This has been tested by the RHS to show that there is no adverse effect on other creatures if used in moderation. Beertraps are advocated by some wildlife gardeners and Nemaslug is another biological control. Further products include Sluggo Organic which is safe around pets and wildlife, Strulch, a soil enricher for putting round strawberries which is a slug and snail deterrent. Finally wool pellets can also be used as a barrier.
GREENFLY and BLACKFLY – diluted household detergent is effective against them and the Wildlife Trusts think this does not harm other insects. Lacewings, Ladybirds and their larvae are also voracious consumers of aphids.
Other solutions include:
Hand picking – although time consuming and intensive, removing areas of infestation by hand may be beneficial to the rest of the plot.
Biological control – Whitefly can be targeted by a parasitic wasp, Encarsia. This works by attacking and paralysing the nymph of the whitefly reducing the number of whitefly and its impact on vulnerable plants.
Companion planting – By planting close together with species that attract predatory insects or disguise vulnerable plants, the impact on crop species can be reduced as pests are less likely to find their food plants. Beans and brassicas will benefit from nasturtiums nearby which will attract aphids away from them.
Deterrents and Barriers – Many potential garden pests are sensitive to specific features. Slugs for example do not like copper tape or bands, or the sharp edges of eggshells so surrounding plants with such materials may keep many species away.
The key point to remember with pest control in gardens is that you are not trying to remove the pest completely but to protect your plants and crops from serious damage. Most creatures that we see as pests are seen by birds, frogs and hedgehogs as food, so encouraging more diversity within the garden will always be beneficial to wildlife.
Box Tree Moth- this recently imported species from Asia, is creating havoc in gardens locally. However, some organic, non-toxic treatments include:
The mixed nematode biological control sold as Fruit and Vegetable Protection has some effect on the larvae. Agrinova xentari is another biological product advocated by organic gardeners.
The RHS reports sightings of blue tits feeding on the caterpillars in some locations. It is not yet clear if this predation will result in a reduction of box tree moth numbers
Further information from Sarahraven.com, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts
WAGA Weekly 10: 8th June
A Wildlife Pond
Why are they important?
In the past, most villages had one or more ‘natural’ ponds which acted as a mecca for local wildlife. This is now a rarity, though Cookham is luckier with water habitats than many places. Notwithstanding this, one the best things you can do to boost the biodiversity in your local area is to create a wildlife pond and to persuade your neighbours to do the same! Garden ponds can be vital homes for wildlife - individually they may be tiny but collectively they are fantastic!
How to make a small pond
For wildlife, the bigger the pond the better but if, like most of us, you have a small garden or are concerned for the safety of small children, you can still make a tiny wildlife pond . The pond in our front garden is made from a small pre-formed liner bought from a garden centre. We dug a hole, sunk the liner into the ground, put stones and rocks round the outside, filled it with water from our water butts (low in nitrates and phosphates) and added a few water plants like hornwort, watermint and an oxygenating floating weed. To help wild-life to can get in and out easily we added a couple of ramps – one made from an old roof tile, the other a small log.
You don’t even have to dig – you can make a pond in a tub or a bucket. Take a container as wide as possible), seal up any drainage holes using a silicone sealant and put it in a partly sunny place. Create shallows and deeper areas in the container by adding a brick, stones and pebbles and then put in some water plants. Now fill your bucket pond and see what comes!
This Spring we spotted in our pond a frog (maybe two!), tadpoles growing larger by the day, at least one newt, pond snails and numerous damselflies and water loving insects. We also have birds coming to the pond to drink and bath. Fish are not recommended for wildlife ponds as they eat pond creatures including tadpoles and water fleas.
In hot weather we top-up our pond with water from our water butts. We also try to keep the surface of the pond clear and use a child’s fishing net to get out leaves and petals which have fallen into the pond. We shake the debris out by the side of the pond to allow trapped insects to escape.
Where can I go for more information?
www.bbowt.org.uk/actions - How to build a pond
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
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
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
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?
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.
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)
Heathers (bees and moths)
Alliums (bees and moth caterpillars)
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 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
This information is accurate to the best of our knowledge.