Sunday, 14 June 2015

Want to help nature? - Instalment Two

On the 17th of June there is a march through London to speak up for our planet, focusing on climate change in particular. They are using the #fortheloveof to spread the news and get as many people involved as possible. Even though I won't be down in London I will be cheering on from the sidelines by tweeting and contacting my local MP's to get them involved too. 

One of the things climate change is affecting drastically is the migration route of butterflies such as these Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), which obviously has a knock-on affect on their populations, shown on the chart below. 

These problems can rarely be solved by individual people…the solutions have to be a government decision as this is usually the only way to get enough people involved. However, if you want to help your local pollinating insects then follow my top tips below!

Plant the right type of flowers

Buddleja davidii - these are incredibly well-known due to their popularity among butterflies. They grow very quickly. Once they are mature they need cutting back each year so that new fresh shoots can develop each Spring, bringing lots of flowers along with them! I have a fully established Buddleja in my garden, but I have recently planted another (seen below) closer to the house, allowing us to see the butterflies from our kitchen window.

Sunflowers (Helianthus) are fun to grow and will also help your local pollinators. Make sure to buy the right variety of sunflower, as some are better than others in terms of pollen production. Lavender (Lavandula) - always welcome due to their aroma…they not only help bees and butterflies but also birds like the goldfinch below!

Oregano - Origanum vulgare

Foxgloves (Digitalis) are often seen a weeds and are usually chopped down before they reach flowering. This is such a shame as they have the most beautiful flowers, and they help bees tremendously.

Not only do you need to provide the right flowers, it's also very important to make a 'insect hotel' in which they can protect themselves from the elements. Solitary bee hotels are exceptionally easy to make…you can either fill a empty jar/tin with hollow bamboo poles, or you can drill holes into blocks of wood. For mine I used a section of tree trunk and drilled varying diameter holes into the flat end using a handheld drill. On top of the trunk I layered bamboo poles on top to make the hotel stand better chances of getting a vacancy!

It's always a good idea to provide food for the bees and butterflies too. I usually leave out sliced oranges on top of our brick wall which is next to our Buddleja. Also, I hang sliced fruit on kebab sticks in and around my wildlife garden. Alternatively you could buy a butterfly feeder which uses dilute sugar solution to attract visitors. As you can see there are plenty of ways to make your garden pollinator-friendly. So…get out in your garden this week and help protect out pollinators with a few simple tricks!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Want to help nature? - Instalment One

Hedgehogs are one of the UK's most love mammals…unlike the controversy associated with badgers, or the dirtiness associated with rats, hedgehogs seem to be perfect. I use the word 'associated' as I personally don't believe this rubbish.  Even though the hedgehogs are much loved, there aren't many people in the UK actively helping the species. In this blog post I'm going to show you what I have done to make my patch more hedgehog friendly, and hopefully inspire you to do the same. It's an overused saying but 'every penny counts' in terms of turing your garden into a hedgehog haven…the simplest of things can go a long way!

In the 1950s it was estimated there were 36.5 million hedgehogs in Britain; A more recent estimate in 1995 shows that there are now just over 1.5 million. I find it so frightening that if we don't change our ways QUICK the hedgehog will be gone in a matter of years. Their populations pocketed around the UK will continue to fall dramatically until they don't have a healthy threshold population…past the point of no return so to speak. We can change this! But we have to do it soon. If you follow the tips below you could help save this wonderful species and bring them back to both our urban and rural areas.

Some very simple things you can do to prevent directly injuring any local hedgehogs:
  •  Always check before cutting down long grass…and if possible don't cut down the grass in the first place! 
  • Before you light a bonfire ensure no hedgehogs are sleeping inside. This is so important as hundreds of hedgehogs are found in the remaining ashes after bonfire night…and by then it's too late.
  • Designate a 'wild patch' in your garden. Lets the grass grow, make a log or leaf pile and try not to disturb it too much.
  • Drive in 'wildlife mode' in Spring as this is when young hedgehogs are out exploring and are unaware of dangers.
So, those were some pretty simple changes weren't they! None of them take longer than around 5 minutes to do but they will help your local hedgehogs dramatically. If you want to really go to town with it you can do some of the following activities…

Build a hedgehog hotel!

You can either buy one online or make one yourself. I personally think the bought ones are very expensive for what they actually are (essentially a upturned container!) so I would advice to make one. I'm not going to give any specific dimensions as there isn't particularly a wrong or right way. Below is my homemade hedgehog hotel with a relatively larger entrance hole and even a green roof! 

Inside the box there is a small wooden division to try to prevent any larger animals getting in or any badger paws trying to reach in to get the hedgehogs. After placing the box in a quiet spot in my garden I filled the box with some dry leaves and straw to provide insulation for the hedgehogs. I have had various visitors to this box, a minimum of two hedgehog individuals which I have captured on my trail camera. Mice have also visited the box, but mainly for the food which I leave out (wet cat food & water, not bread & milk!) If you want to see my first visitor here is the youtube videoenjoy.

Once you've installed your hedgehog box you obviously need a way for the hedgehogs to get into your garden...because unless there is an entrance/exit even a hedgehog palace won't get any visitors! To do this you need a hedgehog hole like the one below.

I'm planning on doing a hedgehog painting on the slate shown above to make sure my dog knows that the hole is only for hedgehogs and not a escape route!! You could either cut a hole in your fence, clear a path through a hedge or dig a tunnel under a concrete barrier. Another style of hedgehog box is this one…

For this one I used bricks and larger ceramic slabs to construct the structure. I ensured to support the roof with many different items preventing any injuries to the hedgehogs inside. This method is a much quicker, cheaper and easier way of providing a home for garden wildlife compared to the wooden box. However the best way is just to chuck a pile of leaves and logs in the corner of your garden! It's good to leave a little bit of food (wet cat sachets) and water in the box that you can easily refill but this is not necessary.

Make Hedgehog ramps!

With our garden ponds becoming more ornamental and less wildlife-friendly a hedgehog will inevitably fall in one day. Even though hedgehogs are surprisingly good swimmers they will eventually tire and drown if there's no exit. Hedgehog ramps are also needed for exits off patios at a lower level to the rest of the garden…it's all pretty much common sense! I tend to use a long plank of wood with smaller branches of varying diameters nailed on for grip. They are relatively easy to make and you can even use trees from your own garden to provide the timber!

Here's another version which I have made to allow an exit off our patio. It's almost like a wheelchair ramp. Hogs are not only good swimmers but they are relatively good climbers and could probably get up off the patio easily, but I like to make it more comfortable for them!

Finally, if you ever see a hedgehog out in the daytime the likelihood is that it is underweight and needs help. Ring up either your local animal centre or the Hedgehog Society who can be contacted on 01584 890 801. They will give you advice of what to do next. I hope you have found this blog useful, and will take on some of my tips. Spread the word of the hedgehog decline and get your friends to make their gardens hog-friendly too!

More information about hedgehogs, their threats and how to help them can be found at

Friday, 5 June 2015

30 Days Wild - The first 5 days!

So we are already two weeks into #Springwatch 2015, and 5 days into the #30DaysWild Challenge. Time does fly when you're having fun (well, forgetting about my GCSE's that is!) 

Like many of you will know The Wildlife Trusts started a challenge at the beginning of the month: to do something wild every day in June. Even though I do this anyway, I wanted to show my support and join in with the campaign. Rather than just do pointless acts of wildness, I wanted to make sure that the majority of the activities I did had a positive affect on our wildlife, at the same time has having fun! On the 1st day I used foraged mint from our garden to make a cup of herbal tea. Once I had collected the leaves I checked them for any insects before I washed them. The tea was surprisingly nice, even without a heap of sugar! 

For the 2nd day I wanted to do something to help my garden hedgehogs which make regular visits. I already had a hedgehog bridge to get out of the pond, but what about the patio?? If a hedgehog managed to find itself on this lowered area with a high border surrounding it would it be able to get out?? To make sure this never happened I constructed a ramp to allow for easy exiting. I collected branches from the garden and cut them to size. I then nailed them to a small wooden beam, using some hot glue to secure them in place. I attached the ramp to the wooden border and bob's your uncle! In less than 10 minutes I had a fully functional hedgehog escalator!

On the 3rd day I was wondering what to do. After my morning GCSE exam I took a stroll around the campus in the sunshine and got this unusual picture while resting under a tree. It's the unplanned things that can sometimes be the best!

After watching #Springwatch the previous night I though that I should clean out my bird feeders, as dirty ones can spread diseases between the visiting birds (especially greenfinches - they can get a disease called Trichomonosis.) I decided to wash all my feeders in soapy water to hopefully prevent this from happening to any of my local birds. It was quite tricky to clean the inside of the feeder as I couldn't take it apart, but I did my best.  

The 4th day was one the best yet. Whilst in the garden I spotted a semi-circle of small mushrooms in the grass. As I didn't want our dog to eat them (I didn't know if they were edible or not) I collected them and brought them inside. As it's very tricky to get eye-level shots of mushrooms I took the opportunity to set up a macro studio on my kitchen table!

 I got a black cape from our fancy dress box and draped it over a pile of books to create the black backdrop. I then brought in some moss, leaves, soil and flowers from the garden to arrange in the studio. It took quite a while to position them all as I wanted, as when one mushroom fell down it was like dominoes! Eventually I got the magical scene I wanted. Using a LED desk light I got the right lighting…and I was ready to go! First I tried out the macro lens I'm borrowing, but I didn't get the intended affect as it only has a short focal range. I ended up using my 55-250 lens to get the shots I wanted! Not a typically up-close range but it worked.

I spent around 30 minutes snapping away, positioning flowers in different places and moving the light around. Here are just a few of the images to give you a taster of what I captured!

And today, on the 5th day of the #30DaysWild challenge, I cleared out my hedgehog hole to allow for easy access to my wildlife garden. It may look a little precarious with all the relatively heavy slate, but I can assure you, I secured everything really well. I've had the main structure of the hedgehog hole for about a year now and it has worked a treat, with hedgehogs regularly visiting the garden.

In fact my Dad saw one just two days ago, down at the bottom of the garden, at around 10 O'clock while putting the chickens away. They are such great little characters, hence why it's such a shame that they are declining the way they are. If you want to help, do these things: make a hedgehog hole in your fence, wall or hedge to connect our gardens; provide a ramp to get out of your garden pond; if you see one in the daytime put out food and water as daytime-seen hedgehogs are often unweight…and if you really want to push the boat out you can even make a hedgehog box like the one I made below. It doesn't have to be as elaborate…substance over style!

So get outside and get active for nature. Join the #30DaysWild challenge and see what amazing thing you can do for your local wildlife!