Sunday, 27 December 2009

Do (next to) nothing for wildlife this winter!

Text of article published in Allotment and Leisure Gardener Autumn 2009

It is time to plan ahead to make our allotments as wildlife friendly as possible next year.

Allotments can be havens for wildlife. They can provide necessary stopping off places for wildlife travelling through built up areas and the countryside. They can be places from which wildlife can colonise surrounding fields, gardens and green spaces. And bumble bees, robins, toads, wasps and hoverflies are all ‘the gardeners’ friends’.

So, in ‘the quiet months’, why not plan ahead for wildlife by doing next to nothing and helping wildlife?

Here’s a list.

Don’t winter dig!

If you can avoid it, plant green manures and don’t dig your plot. Worms and other soil invertebrates are the basis of wildlife food chains. The number of worms in your soil is likely to increase if you don’t disturb the soil. Your soil will have greater fertility. And frogs, blackbirds and hedgehogs will thank you for it!

Extend your idle ways well into the spring and let some of your phacelia green manure break into a glorious, nectarfeast for early insects.

Be untidy!

We’re tempted to tidy up in preparation for winter. But those straggling seedheads provide food for passing birds and hiding places for insects. Your tangle of blackberry stems may provide cover for hedgehogs or roosting places for robins. The untidy wood pile may be a hibernating place for smooth newts.

Hedges too can be left alone! Don’t cut hedges before February. Hedges provide wonderful cover for a whole host of wildlife as well as providing juicy berries that might be the difference between life and death for birds in a cold snap. Hawthorn only bear fruit on last years stems and should ideally be cut every three years.

Allotment inspection committees might want to take this plea into account when making their visits!

Get hammered!

The most rudimentary woodworking skills and tools will provide wonderful bird boxes, bat and hedgehog boxes and bird tables.

Get them made now and site the boxes by February. Site the bird table immediately. I recreate an American covered wagon effect by covering my bird table with an arc of plastic netlon or mesh. By doing this small birds can enter but big fatties like wood pigeons get no encouragement.

While you’ve got your tools to hand, put some trellising onto the shed. Make sure you fix it so that the trellis is five or six inches from the shed. This gives a space for birds to nest and roost.

Semi-evergreen honeysuckle (lonicera) provides cover for birds and insects, flowers for insects (and heady scent for us) and berries for birds and insects.

Write to Santa!

High street hardware shops sell bird feeders cheaply. Or put them on your Christmas list.

Black sunflower seeds will be guzzled by greenfinches and send your coal tits into rapture; peanuts will be loved by blue and great tits and nyger seed will have charms of goldfinches flocking to your plot. Each visiting tit will also scour your garden for overwintering aphids and their eggs as a way of thanking you.

Sit back with a brew and a custard cream!

The seed catalogues are plopping through the letter box. Relax with a cup of tea.

Now is the time to order simple, cheap and cheerful seeds that will give maximum benefit to insects for next year. Try pot marigolds (calendula), foxgloves, antirrhinums, nasturtiums or borage.

Buy a few less chocolate hobnobs. Your trousers will feel the benefit and you can spend your saving by treating bees, moths and hoverflies to a few herbs like marjoram, chives, thyme and lavender.

Go on, get idle for wildlife this winter!

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