Wildlife Gardening in August

N.B. If your new to David’s monthly column then please be sure to read the ‘setting-the-scene’ opening piece first.

Christmas Present Ideas for Wildlife Enthusiasts

© Laurie Campbell: Small honeybee

© Laurie Campbell: Small honeybee

So what will Father Christmas be bring your friends this Xmas? I know what I want! Bees.

I had a brief, and painful, excursion into beekeeping some twenty years ago. The bees were, I’m told, much more aggressive than is usual but additionally my limited skills and lack of time ensured a rapid change of direction! This time I hope to do much better (and be stung less!).

Forest Edge is dominated, on its western flank, by half a dozen huge wild cherry trees that must be 100 years old and turn white with spring flowers. Yet their protein-rich pollen and sugary-sweet nectar is seldom fully exploited by the bumblebees, whose numbers grow too slowly in the early months of the year to cope with such a glut. But a strong colony of honeybees would be ideal to respond to both the rich food supply and to help pollinate the flowers. The latter would quadruple the fruit set and an abundance of luscious berries would be gobbled up by our local fruitiferous* birds with glee.

(* I made that word up! But it sounds good.)

Enjoying modern approaches to life I’ll find it hard not to plump for the new highly insulated plastic hive that I’ve mentioned previously. If I opt for a small early insert of bees they may be able to exploit the cherry harvest in their first year.

Sadly the adjacent forest and grain-orientated agriculture would be a poor provider of nectar for much of the year, but hopefully someone will plant oilseed rape.

So suggestions:

1) is a bee hive and bee colony.

2). Last winter saw a huge increase in our nesting boxes, so there is little opportunity to add to their number. Many of the BTO recommended boxes  were used, but those that remained empty will shortly be relocated to hopefully more favourable locations.

If you have yet to look at these composite material boxes, then it is worth an explore. Certainly I’ve given up with wooden boxes for here even hardwood structures have a limited lifespan.

Bat boxes are also worth considering.

3) Whilst a camera for your bird box is an attractive proposition (it will only be in use for a small part of the year so, before you invest, consider if there is some other location that you could also cover with the camera.

How about a motion detecting still camera that you could set for the local fox, badger or woodmouse? These are waterproof and could provide hours of frustration!

4). But all these Christmas selections are possibly looking too close to home. Perhaps we should all invest in something more regional or global and longer-term. Annette and I salve our conscience when we travel by buying conservation land. We have helped buy small chunks with the RSPB but often opt to support World Land Trust (http://www.worldlandtrust.org/). We use the same organisation to ‘carbon-offset’ travel etc.

5). For children binoculars, reference books and their like are always popular, but why not invest time rather than money. Offer to take the little darlings out for a wildlife adventure (like night deer watching or pond dipping) or buy them a commercial wildlife experience. Kids love to be given time to explore for discarded mouse nuts or find badger sets or even humble rabbit holes. They are all great adventures the very first time they happen. There are dozens of attractive wildlife locations near you.

6). How about BBC Wildlife* magazine? Bird feeders? Wildflower seeds or plants for the garden?

7) I’ve just enjoyed reading: An Orchard Invisible by Jonathan Silvertown. All about seeds and survival strategies in plants. Got it half price on Amazon!

Anyway – good shopping.

Soil

South-west Hampshire, and the adjoining parts of Dorset, are dominated by heathland. The wildlife there is totally different to ours in the north-west of the Hampshire. Yet the climates are nearly identical. Heathers and carnivorous plants thrive in suitable heathland locations yet are totally absent from my neck of the woods.

Why the difference? Yes, soil of course.

The sands and gravels that underlie The New Forest region’s soils allow soluble minerals to be leached out, resulting in nutrient-poor habitats. Sometimes the iron in the soil can be re-deposited as a ‘hard pan’ about 0.5m down and that stops further water movement and wonderful acid bogs occur; fabulous for wet, acid-loving calcifuge (calcium-hating) plants such as sundews and cotton grass. Sometimes a soil profile can be viewed in a riverbank or quarry and the details can be easy seen. Often you’ll notice the grey nature of the wet layer (called a gleyed layer) above the iron pan that occurs because the water excludes all oxygen and the iron minerals fail to show their oxygenated reddish tints. Deep plough such soils and the iron pan is destroyed, the soil dries and the vegetation changes within a very short time span.

The chalk downlands are calcium-rich, so support calcicole (calcium-loving) plants, and is very free draining; so contrasting vegetation develops.

© David Beeson: Forest Edge.

© David Beeson: Forest Edge.

My own garden lies above a few hundred metres of chalk rock, yet we are not ‘free draining’. This is because on the hilltops the calcium carbonate has been washed away, but the silt that it contained has been left behind as sticky, yucky clay. So I have calcicole plants, but ones that can tolerate clay rather than thin chalky soils. In one of two spots locally the clay has had all its calcium washed away, so an acid heathland can even develop on top of the clay and chalk.

The underlying rocks have huge impact on the soils and wildlife of an area. Purchase a geology map of your area and start to explore the effect of geology on your local wildlife.

So another possible Xmas present for yourself or a wildlife friend – a local geology map.

Forest Edge

It is Summer Meadow cutting time.
Some patches are being left as vole cover over the winter, but other parts need cutting to stop succession and to reduce the returning of nutrients into the soil. All cuttings will now be cold composted for use elsewhere in the garden next autumn, whilst some vegetation is piled for slowworm and rodent homes.

Biennial cutting of the conservation hedgerows is now completed, but some mature trees will require a trim of their ever-growing branches before the spring. With that the garden is ‘put to bed’ for the winter and the wildlife gardener can put up their feet, read a good book or go in search of the winter wonderland of cold weather wildlife.

David is an ex-lecturer in Environmental / Biological Sciences.
He has written for most of the UK gardening magazines, including the RHS.
Forest Edge’s garden has been widely covered in magazines and has been featured in a BBC’s Gardeners’ World special.
He also maintains a blog at https://nwhwildlife.org/