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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife gardening’

Buddleia

By our back door we have a lovely big Buddleia plant which is now in full flower, the Insects, Bees and Butterflies love it, it looks spectacular with its covering of long purple flower spikes. The common name for the Buddleia is the Butterfly Bush which is quite evident when you look at it on a warm, sunny day it is a Butterfly magnet providing an abundant supply of nectar, it is definitely a must have plant in your garden if you love Butterflies, each flower spike is not just a single flower but is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers each one rich in nectar.

Buddleias are very easy to grow from seed and they will self-seed very easily, this plant was a seedling from my allotment which was growing in the onion bed, there are quite a few more growing there again this year which I will pot up and plant in my garden or sunny corner of my allotment, give to friends or to Thomas’s School for their wild garden.

This hot, sunny weather is wonderful for butterflies and will give numbers a real boost especially after the wet summer of 2012 which was the worst on record for Butterflies, but how do we know that 2012 was the worst on record? Every year, throughout the year there are many surveys to monitor butterfly numbers, you can take part in one of the worlds biggest surveys of Butterflies which starts this Saturday 19th July until Sunday 10th August, it is called The Big Butterfly Count. The Big Butterfly count is run by the charity Butterfly Conservation who have raised awareness of the drastic decline in butterflies and moths, and created widespread acceptance that action needs to be taken to protect these unique and beautiful creatures.

What you need to do

Count butterflies for 15 minutes preferably on a sunny day recording the maximum number of each species that you see at a single time and submit your sightings online before the end of August. You can submit separate sightings for different dates and places: parks, school grounds, gardens, fields and forests. This is a great family activity that you can do during the summer holidays, whilst you are away on holiday or as a class activity at school if you have time before the end of term. Submit your sightings online at before the end of August 2014.

For more information have a look at the Big Butterfly Count website, there is also a handy Butterfly Chart to download and print which will  help you to identify and record the species you spot.

Buddleia and Small Tortoiseshell

Buddleia not only attracts Butterflies and insects during the day, at night moths feast on the fragrant nectar rich flowers, so if you have space in your garden plant a Buddleia they are easy to grow, need very little attention and look stunning especially covered in Butterflies, if you keep removing the dead flowers this will encourage new ones, extending the flowering period and providing food for insects well into Autumn.

If you want to know more about attracting Butterflies to your garden click here.

Love your environment

Gill

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In the office this week we have been watching Sylvia’s latest video blogs, the first featured a large frog and the second a very tiny froglet, Kim has a pond in her garden and commented that she couldn’t mow the lawn because of the tiny froglets, Sylvia has froglets and toadlets in her garden, this got me thinking – how many people would be able to identify a toad from a frog?

 

Frogs & spawn

Frogs

What do they look like?

Common frogs have smooth skin which can be grey, olive green and yellow to brown with irregular dark blotches and a dark stripe around their eyes and eardrum and dark bars on their legs, they can lighten or darken their skin to match their surroundings, adults frogs grow to 6-10cm in length they can breathe through their skin as well as their lungs. In Spring frogs lay their eggs in large clumps this is called frogspawn.

Where do they live?

Common frogs are most active at night between February and October you can find them by ponds, lakes and canals and in meadows, woodland and gardens, in Winter they hibernate in pond mud or under piles of rotting leaves, logs or stones.

What do they eat?

Frogs eat snails, slugs and worms as well as insects which they catch with their sticky tongue.

 

Toad

Toads

What do they look like?

Common Toads have warty skin which can be dark brown, grey and olive green to sandy coloured, they have broad, squat bodies and they tend to walk rather than hop. To deter predators they secrete an irritant substance from their skin and can puff themselves to make themselves look bigger, females can grow up to 15cm long the males are slightly smaller, toads can live up to forty years.  In Spring Toads lay their eggs in long triple stranded strings in still water amongst water plants.

Where do they live?

Toads are more active at night and can be found in woods, parks, scrubby areas, fields, ditches, lakes and damp areas of the garden often in compost heaps, during the Winter they hibernate in deep leaf litter, log piles and in burrows.

What do they eat?

Toads eat slugs, worms, insect larvae and spiders occasionally larger toads eat slow worms, small grass snakes and harvest mice!

 

Provide the frogs and toads in your garden with a safe place to rest and hibernate by putting a

Frogitat – Ceramic Frog and Toad House

Frogitat - Ceramic Frog and Toad House

or a Woodstone Frog and Toad House Bunker

Woodstone Frog and Toad House Bunker

in a wild quiet corner of your garden.

You can watch Sylvia’s video blogs on facebook or by subscribing to ‘Sylvia’s Briefs’

Gill

 

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National Insect Week logo
 
Next week is National Insect Week (23-29 June) it is organised by the Royal Entomological Society and encourages people of all ages to learn more about insects.
 
Did you know that there are over one million species of insects in the world these are just the ones that have been discovered and named with possibly many more new species out there just waiting to be found? In the UK alone there are more than 24,000 species, they are very varied in appearance (shape, size and colour) and live quite differently in their own habitats, many go unnoticed in our day-to-day life, why not go and explore your patch to see what is living in your school garden or your garden at home.
 
Be prepared
Hopefully the sun will be shining but you may need waterproofs, old clothes and Wellingtons.The Minibeast GuideEquipment
A Minibeast/Insect Identification Guide, Camera, Magnifying Glass, Note Pad, Pencil and a suitable container (not airtight) to study your insects (release your insects as soon as possible and return them to where they were found, please take care not to injure the insects themselves or disturb their environment).
 
Where to look
Have a look under stones/rocks/plant pots/logs and rotting wood, in compost heaps and long grass, on the underside of leaves, on flower heads, in leaf litter and near ponds (always have an adult with you).

Dragonfly

Insects to look out for
  • Dragonflies and Damselflies
  • Ladybirds
  • Grasshoppers/Crickets
  • Beetles
  • Butterflies
  • Hoverflies
  • Aphids/Greenfly
  • Moths
  • Lacewings
  • Ants
  • Wasps
  • Bees
  • Earwigs
  • Flies
  • Bugs
Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moth

 
Once you find your insect, make a record of what it is, draw a picture of it or take a photograph, record where you found it, what it was doing or what it was eating/feeding on and the date.
 
When you have been on your Insect Hunt why not tell us what you find or send in your drawing or photograph to enter our free Family Zone competition for a chance to win a Ladybird and Insect Tower and a Field guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles for full details click here or have a go at our Insect Quiz in the School Zone for a chance to win your school a Solar Insect Theatre and a Minibeast Identification Guide for full details click here.
 
If you want to encourage more insects to your garden why not put up some Insect Houses, they will provide a safe winter haven as well as looking attractive.
 
Wildlife World Bee & Bug Biome

Bee and Bug Biome

Solitary Bee Hive

Solitary Bee Hive

The Butterfly Biome

The Butterfly Biome

 
An Insect Hunt is a great way to get children (and adults) outdoors and interested in their environment, everyone can take part whatever their age (I love it just as much as Thomas), here are some of our findings on our Insect Hunt last weekend.
 
Common Green Grasshopper

Common Green Grasshopper

Fritillary Butterfly

Fritillary Butterfly

 
Happy hunting
 
Gill
 

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All of our family are passionate about wildlife and have been watching  Springwatch avidly over the last 3 weeks, on one of their programmes they were encouraging people to take part in a survey to monitor the Hedgehog population by putting food in a friendly ‘trap’ this reminded me of the project that myself and Thomas did in February to detect whether we had mice in the greenhouse.

Most winters mice take up residence in my greenhouse there are many potential nesting places amongst the empty compost bags, fleeces and plant pots/seed trays, one year I even found a nest in the middle of a large ball of string it was very cute, although I love all creatures great and small mice can be very messy and smelly, they are definitely not toilet trained and have been known to nibble my young seedlings, so during the school holidays for a bit of fun we made a Mouse detector.

How to make a Mouse Detector

What you will need

  • A Plastic Pipe (minimum 30cm long, 7cm diameter)
  • or a Cardboard box (minimum base size 30cm x 20cm)
  • or an open ended narrow Wood Tunnel – see picture below (if you know somebody handy in DIY)
  • White paper
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Poster paint (non-toxic)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Tasty snacks – Peanut Butter/Chocolate/Bird Seed Mixture

mammal detector 1

How to make your detector

  1. Thomas’s dad made a wood tunnel using off-cuts and with a removable top (although this is not necessary) it measured approx. 40 x 15 x 15cm externally.
  2. Cut your white paper to fit in the bottom of your detector.
  3. If you are using a cardboard box cut two small holes at opposite sides of the box at ground level.
  4. Cut two small pieces of greaseproof paper to fit across your openings at least 4cm deep and glue or staple down.
  5. Mix your poster paint with an equal amount of vegetable oil and brush generously onto the greaseproof paper.
  6. Place your tasty snacks in the centre of the sheet of paper.
  7. If you are using a plastic pipe or wood tunnel staple the greaseproof pieces at either ends of your paper, apply your paint, put your snacks in the centre of the sheet and slide carefully into the pipe/tunnel.
  8. Place your traps at the bottom of a wall, fence or hedge before you go to bed at night, any visitors tempted by the food will walk through the paint and leave their footprints on your paper, we found that it is a good idea to place sheets of paper on the outside of your trap (if the ground is flat) as the mice will walk through the paint again before leaving, use a cardboard box on dry evenings or inside a greenhouse/shed/outbuilding as they are not waterproof.

Mouse prints

We indeed did have mice, they were nesting in some old bird boxes that were being stored in the greenhouse I temporarily blocked the holes up with some old socks whilst I moved the bird boxes complete with mice to a corner of my allotment, unfortunately my kindness has back fired I think that the hungry mice have been helping themselves to my newly sown peas as very few have germinated!

Have fun and love your environment

Gill

 

 

 

 

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Congratulations to our March/April Competition Winners the School Zone Competition was won by Bowes Hutchinson’s C of E Primary School, Barnard Castle, County Durham and the Family Zone Competition was won by Dominic Nelson from Bishops Stortford both winners received an Essentials Propagator and a selection of seed trays, flowers pots and labels, well done to both of you, I hope that you enjoy your prizes and that you use them to grow lots of flowers, fruit and vegetables.

As the weather warms up and the days get longer you may notice a lot more insects in your garden, but how much do you really know about them and do you know their names, in the New School Zone Competition have a go at our Insect Quiz for a chance to win your School

a Solar Insect Theatre (perfect for catching and watching insects)

Solar Insect Theatre

and a Minibeast Identification Guide (to help you to identify them).

The Minibeast Guide

For full details on how to enter, your entry form and those all important Quiz Questions click here.

There are many bugs living in our gardens to enter our New Family Zone Competition why not go on a bug hunt and tell us what bugs you find or take a photograph or draw a picture of one and send it in to us and you could win

a Ladybird and Insect Tower (a perfect home for Ladybirds and Insects)

 Ladybird and Insect Tower

and a Field guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles (to help you to identify your inhabitants).

Field Guide to Ladybirds

For full details on how to enter and your entry form click here.

The closing date for both Competitions is 31st July 2014.

Good Luck

Gill

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Blackbird Nest Box

Have you ever wondered how Blackbirds always manage to find worms in your lawn, they make it look very easy but how do they do it and is it really that easy.

Blackbirds are very intelligent and well adapted birds they use 3 of their senses to locate the worms.

Sight

As Blackbirds scuttle across the lawn they are looking for worms and movement, they will then pause and tilt their heads to see the worms on the ground using one eye as their eyes are positioned at either side of their head (laterally), this also gives them excellent all round vision.

Sound

Birds do not have any visible ears as we do but have ‘audile orifices’ that are covered with a thin layer of feathers. Blackbirds are unique because both of their ‘ears’ are connected to one organ between their ‘ears’ this allows them to work out which direction the sound is coming from, by tilting their head they can pin point more accurately the sound and the worm.

Feel

After looking and listening Blackbirds often locate worms by probing the ground with their beak, which is very sensitive and can sense the tiny movement vibrations made by the worm.

Unfortunately our bodies are not as sophisticated as the Blackbirds but you can still have lots of fun finding worms in your lawn. Why not have a Worm Charming Competition? this could be with your family or friends at Brownies, Cubs or your local Youth Group or on a larger scale why not make it a School fundraising event.

Lumbricus Hortensis (Dendrobaena)

Worm Charming Competition

  1. Mark out a square plot for each competitor leaving plenty of space around each one.
  2. Each competitor has 20 minutes (suggested time) to charm as many worms out of ground within their allocated plot.
  3. No forking or digging allowed.
  4. Place your worms in a suitable container containing damp soil, organic material out of the sun.
  5. The person with the most worms wins.

There are many techniques to try to encourage your worms to the surface including playing music, jumping, dancing, hitting the ground with sticks or with your hands and watering the ground, whatever method you choose be very careful when handling your precious worms try not to pull them too hard and always place them somewhere safe afterwards so that they can return underground.

The Compact WOW Wooden Observation Wormery

If you want to learn more about worms why not consider setting up a wormery in your garden, for lots of fascinating worm facts and how to set up a wormery click here.

Have fun – Love your environment

Gill

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Last week I managed to get on my allotment, it was Mother’s Day to be precise, the weather was glorious and the birds were singing – it was perfect! My first job was to tidy up and weed the beds now that they have dried out sufficiently I was delighted to find lots and lots of Ladybirds which have successfully survived our mild winter this is great news but unfortunately our native Ladybirds are under threat from another Ladybird, it is called the Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) and is the most invasive Ladybird on earth, arriving in Britain in the Summer of 2004, it is originally from Asia and was introduced to North America in 1988 and then Europe as a biological pest control where it has now widespread.

Group of harlequin (succinea) ladybirds

Photograph from the UK Ladybird Survey website showing Harlequin Ladybirds

In Britain we have 46 species of Ladybirds although 19 of these are not recognisable as Ladybirds as they are not bright coloured or Spotty. The Harlequin Ladybird has over 100 different colour pattern variations making it very hard to identify, one of the easiest ways to recognize it is by its size it can measure 5-8mm in length which is larger than most of our native Ladybirds the best way to accurately identify it is to have a good Ladybird guide. The problem with the Harlequin Ladybirds is that instead of producing a single generation of young per year like our native species they can produce two or more, a single female can lay over a thousand eggs. Harlequin Ladybirds have a more varied diet and larger appetite and will eat the eggs and larvae of butterflies and moths, small insects and alarmingly other Ladybirds as well as their staple diet of aphids.

How can we help?

The spread of the Harlequin Ladybird in Britain is being closely monitored through the Harlequin Ladybird Survey www.harlequin-survey.org who would like Schools, Groups and members of the public to send in their sightings of Harlequin Ladybirds, this can be done through their website or by post, there is even an app available to download with a guide to help you to identify Ladybirds and then to report your sightings. If you find any type of Ladybird you can send in your sighting as above to the UK Ladybird Survey www.ladybird-survey.org who will use your information to help the conservation of all our British Ladybirds.

This Easter (and as often as you can) why not go on a Ladybird hunt in your garden, local park, on a walk or on holiday and send in your sightings to www.harlequin-survey.org or www.ladybird-survey.org, you could take a photograph of them or even draw a picture when you get home, everyone loves Ladybirds especially children.

Happy Hunting

Gill

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This weekend it is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (25-26 January), so why not take part in the world’s largest wildlife survey, it will only take up an hour of your time, all you need to do during the hour is to record the different species of birds that you see and the highest number of each species that you see at any one time. Schools and Youth Groups such as Brownies and Cubs can get involved too by taking part in the Big Schools’ Birdwatch again by watching and recording birds for an hour but this can take place 20 January – 14 February. Send in or register your results online, these results are invaluable and will be used to monitor our bird populations and help with their conservation.

If you are going to take part it is a good idea to put out plenty of bird food and feeders beforehand to attract as many birds to your garden as possible click here for ‘Our guide to feeding garden birds’, if you have time why not make some of your own Bird Cakes.

My Fat Ball and Feeder

Home-made Bird Cakes

An adults help is needed to make these bird cakes as you will need to melt your lard or dripping in a pan.

Ingredients

  • Blocks of supermarket Lard or Dripping
  • Bird Seed
  • Raisins
  • Chopped Nuts/Peanuts

Utensils

  • Thin coated garden wire
  • Brush handle
  • Saucepan
  • Clean empty Yoghurt, Jelly or Custard Pots

Making my Fat Balls

What you need to do

  1. Cut your garden wire into 30cm lengths (with adult help)
  2. Wrap half of the length of wire around the handle to form a spiral and bend over the top to form a loop.
  3. Arrange your empty pots in a tray/seed tray, place a wire spiral in each one then fill to about 2/3rd with the seed mixture.
  4. Melt your lard of dripping in a pan, and leave to cool slightly.
  5. Slowly and carefully pour the melted fat into the pots.
  6. Place your pots in a fridge or somewhere cool to set.
  7. To remove your cakes from their pots, dip them in a bowl of warm water and pull out carefully with the wire handle.

Place your hanging bird cakes around your garden in trees, bushes or from your bird table well out of the way of cats and other predators.

If you have a metal fat ball feeder you can make refills by following the above instructions but omitting the wire spiral from the pots, again warm the pots to remove the cakes and drop them into your feeder.

Happy Birdwatching – Have Fun

Gill

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After 140 years of being in decline there is now evidence that our much loved and endangered Red Squirrels are on the increase, this is fantastic news.

In September it was revealed that a 3 month survey carried out by volunteers of Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) in 300 woodlands in the north including Cumbria and Northumberland found that Red Squirrel numbers had increased by 7% compared to Spring 2012, in contrast to this the numbers of grey squirrels in these areas had declined.

Only this week it was announced that scientists have discovered that some of our Red Squirrels have developed an immunity to the Squirrel Pox Virus, this disease is transmitted by the Grey Squirrel to our native Reds although it does no harm to the Grey Squirrel it can kill our Red Squirrel within weeks.

These findings were published in EcoHealth by Tony Salisbury, from the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London and suggest that a vaccine can be used to help our Red Squirrels fight the Squirrel Pox Virus.

photos of red and grey squirrels

Population estimated at 211,000 (30k England, 121k Scotland, 10k Wales, 50k N Ireland and Republic of Ireland). Population estimated at 2.77m (2m England, 0.2m Scotland, 0.32m Wales, 250k N Ireland and Republic of Ireland).
Native to GB, probably introduced to Ireland. Native to North America, introduced to Britain in 1870s.
Habitat: deciduous and coniferous forests, but coniferous forests may be advantageous. Wide range of habitats, including broadleaved and conifer forests.
Life expectancy – up to seven years in the wild. Can live up to nine years in the wild.
Squirrel poxvirus is nearly always fatal to red squirrels. Can carry squirrel poxvirus with no effects.
      Source: British Mammal Society/Colin Lawton                           

A long, hard winter can also affect our Squirrels if you want to give them a hand why not put up a Squirrel Feeder in your garden/school garden so that they will always have a permanent and easy source of food.

Wooden Squirrel Feeder

Click here to find out more about helping our other garden wildlife through the winter months including Hedgehogs, Frogs, Toads, Newts, Bats and Dormice.

Love your wildlife

Gill

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Red Admiral Butterfly

What a lovely summer we have had, everything has really benefited from those long, warm, sunny days – fruit, vegetables, flowers, birds, animals, insects and of course ourselves.

During the school holidays Thomas has spent a lot of his time catching and identifying butterflies, moths and insects with the sweep net that I bought from our local hardware store, it is very similar to a fishing net but the net is about 3 times deeper and is pointed at the end. We have taken it with us on walks, visiting friends and family, on holiday, to the coast, in the fields, woods, meadows and up hills and it’s been brilliant and really interesting learning which species live where and which are the most/least common. The insect world is vast there are thousands and thousands of species out there just waiting to be explored so why not get out on a warm, dry day and see if you can catch some, if you haven’t got a sweep net have a go with a fishing net I am sure you will catch something.

Butterfly/Bee Nectar Feeding Station

Butterfly/Bee Nectar Feeding Station

As the weather has begun to get cooler and nectar rich flowers are becoming less available now is a good time to provide some extra food and a safe and dry place for our wonderful insects to roost and hibernate, we have put up a Butterfly/Bee Nectar Feeding Station next to our Buddleia Bush, whose flowers have nearly all gone to seed, and I think I might put up a Butterfly & Moth Feeder nearby too, as well as being a feeding station the insects can also roost and hibernate inside on the cassette which can be lifted out so that you can observe your guests as they rest .

Butterfly and Moth Feeder

Butterfly and Moth Feeder

If you want to catch and identify insects and bugs why not have a look at the Catcha Bug Catcher this clever little device allows you to catch them and easily observe them through the clear sides then release them without harm, it’s very handy for re-locating those large house spiders in the Autumn!

Catcha Bug - Spider & Insect Catcher

Catcha Bug Catcher

If you are interested in attracting butterflies and moths into your garden click here for lots more information.

Why not have a go at catching moths in your garden or school garden click here for full details.

Have fun, love your environment

Gill

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