Going Wild

‘…. The hedgehog
Shares its secret with no one.
We say, Hedgehog, come out
Of yourself and we will love you…’

Hedgehog by Paul Muldoon

I suppose yet another sign that I am getting is old that I am continually harping on how when I was a child our house was like animal hospital. There never seemed to be a day when there wasn’t a cardboard box in the laundry room housing a small hedgehog, or a shoebox beside the Aga where a fledgling, injured by one of the cats was being nursed back to recovery. On one occasion at least there were kittens actually in the Aga – they had been rescued after falling into the loo when their fabled curiousity had alomost killed them. These days all I ever see are the much maligned magpies.   I have in the past, frequently in fact, moaned about wildlife in the garden (fox poo, snails, vine weevils etc.) I am actually a huge fan of our furry, feathered, spikey and winged friends.  How long is it since you last saw a red squirrel or a sweet hedgehog (apart from roadkill)? The familiar creatures of my childhood are almost or completely extinct in gardens today.  Aside from the ecological tragedy of this situation, it is a great loss the gardener. Friendly fauna are a huge ally in the garden and will, with luck, prey on the annoying pests like the slimy gastropods and molluscs. Unfortunately the ecological balance has been so skewed that the creatures at the top of the garden food chain never seem to achieve the critical mass necessary to exterminate my bitter foes.  I blame the neighbours for this:  in my neck of the woods they have adopted a scorched earth policy towards gardens – it is all concrete and hideous cobble lock round here – as little grass and bare soil as possible seems to be the look du jour. This means that I – and my neighbours Marie and Gillian up the road are fighting a tough, lone battle on behalf of the wildlife on our patch.  Bees and other insects are pollinators, they flit from plant to plant and we have them to thank for the interesting hybrid seedlings we find in the garden from year to year.  I have been on a mission to increase the bird population in my garden, there is nothing more lovely than sitting back on a summer’s evening and listening to bird song, and by that I mean the sweet chirrups of blackbirds, tits, thrushes and the like, not the incessant cackles and squawks of the magpies and other crows which thrive on urban living. It makes me so sad to think that my daughter’s generation have no experience at all of feeding hedgehog families, nursing fledglings who have fallen from their nests back to health and rescuing fieldmice.  If you are keen on reclaiming some nature and increasing bird and native fauna levels here are some things you can do to make your garden a sympathetic environment for wildlife:

  • Create access for wildlife, avoid making your house a fortress  – wooden fences slotted into concrete columns don’t leave any room for wildlife to walk in and out (and those big gates mean nobody can see what the burglars are up to once they vault the wall).
  • Grow hedges
  • Make a hole in the bottom of fences of gates so hedgehogs and other small mammals can gain access.
  • Never give hedgehogs bread or milk – they are lactose intolerant!
  • Only use wildlife friendly slug controls, many pellets are toxic to hedgehogs
  • Slug pellets are a common cause of hedgehog fatality as the hedgehogs feed on the slugs with the pellets inside them. There are lots of methods of organic pest control out there that don’t
  • try biological control to kill off slugs, vine weevils and other pests using slug-killing nematodes
  • Don’t be overly fussy about being neat and tidy
  • Have a log pile – insects adore crumbling bark and rotting wood and hedgehogs love insects. So when you are pruning or cutting down trees create a nice little pile in an out of the way corner as a hedgehog hotel.
  • Keep a weedy – sorry wildflower – corner where the grass grows long
  • Allow ivy to colonise an area of wall, fence or old tree – birds adore the shelter provided by it.
  • Leave windfall fruit on the ground
  • Leave out apples cut in half for the birds to munch on
  • Allow herbaceous perennials with good seed heads to remain until eaten
  • Have a pond – no matter how small it is, it will draw in wildlife and provide food and water for birds but make sure it has sloping sides so hedgehogs don’t drown!
  • plant blooms to attract butterflies and insects such as Buddleia davidii, Lavender, Lilac,
  • Achillea, Michaelmas daisies, valerian and Eupatorium or Joe Pye weed.
  • Buy a bird bath
  • Plant trees and shrubs which are attractive to birds like such Cotoneasters and Pyracantha (a particular favourite of blackbirds), honeysuckle, holly, Sorbus and any trees which have berries and fruit in autumn.

And PLEASE:

It is high time we stopped demonising the Magpie. To quote the expert birdloving natural history writer and ornitologist duo Jonathan Elphick and Lars Sevensson, Magpies ‘have earned the wrath of may lovers of garden birds by teir habit of tearing into a smaller birds nest to devour the eggs or hepless nestlings within, but thorough research has proved that this habit, owever upsetting to us when “our” birds are plundered, has no large-scale or long-term effect on songbird populations. For most of the year, they eat mainly insects and other invertebrates, fruit and seeds.’  Magpies are omnipresent because they are wily, intelligent birds. We have created a dreary, endless concrete suburbia which is no habitat for small songbirds but which magpies, through intelligence have managed to negotiate – eating scraps from bins and petfood left in gardens. They mate for life too and live in monogamous harmony in thir vast, often two-storey nests.

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