Wildlife Gardening in March and April
N.B. If your new to David’s monthly column then please be sure to read the ‘setting-the-scene’ opening piece first.
March and April in a Wildlife Garden
The main attractions in the early months of the year are centred on our Spring Meadow. This is a double patch of the garden, partly overshadowed by two one hundred year old walnut trees, and clearly visible from the bungalow. It is cut from mid-June until the late autumn and then left to develop its floral impact.
The Spring Meadow shows its snowdrops from the middle of January, reaching a floral peak during February and early March, the succession of flowering continues with hundreds of wild daffodils* that sway in the winds but never crash, as do the more developed types that are often sold in garden centres. These single-flowered wild daffodil plants provide early season nectar to the recently emerged bumblebees and later generously seed around the area, so increasing the bulb population year by year.
During late March the daffodils loose their impact, but now the cowslips exert their influence and the area is covered in their delicate blooms. Visitors have expressed surprise that cowslips thrive in grassland that is cut as a lawn for the summer and autumn, but survive they do! Indeed they are happily joined by the delicate white flowers of rare meadow saxifrage (planted as plugs several years ago) and by dozens of twayblade orchids that have naturally seeded into the area.
The wild pond, located within the Summer Meadow, has a mass of hatching frog spawn in mid-March, with the predatory palmate newts snapping up the less mobile pond life. The adult frogs maintain a very low profile at Forest Edge as they are under constant attack by both birds and mammals. During the day we have seen herons, stoats and buzzards (pretending to be ospreys and taking the frogs from the pond surface) snatching the unwary amphibians whilst at night the tawny owls** take their share.
During March slow worms are again becoming active and can be located warming themselves beneath strategically located paving slabs.
An incipient dawn chorus has now started up and the males are distinctly uppity with each other at times. We have an obligatory male great tit that has taken to attacking his own reflection in our windows and has adopted, along with a blue tit, one of the nesting locations in a sparrow terrace box.
The array of bird feeders attracts generally the traditional species, but marsh tits, greater spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches are frequent visitors also. Pigeons, chaffinches and dunnock patrol the areas beneath the feeders but they never successfully perch on the feeders. Green woodpeckers are residents on our main (wildflower-rich) lawn, consuming the ants that live there in profusion and the birds also attack the large, twenty-year-old yellow-meadow ant nests*** in the Summer Meadow.
* English daffodils, native to the adjacent Harewood Forest, populate the Spring Meadow yet at the far end of the garden, in the Summer Meadow, we have the Welsh variant that has a stronger yellow colouration.
**We occasionally protect the frogs from too great a predation by herons with a cotton cordon around the pond. One morning there was a tawny owl tied up in the cotton, presumably ensnared during a night-time swoop that failed to note the hazard. She was successfully released and survived to ‘tell the tale’.
***Several mounds are allowed to develop. The ants provide food for slow worms and green woodpeckers, whilst a divergent flora develops on the surface of the older nests.
© David Beeson
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/