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TOBY'S TOP TIPS

JANUARY

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MARCH

Hopefully, you’ve all left your garden tidy-ups to allow the insects and other invertebrates the chance to hatch out.  Now can I suggest that you plan the areas in your garden that you are going to let go wild this year. Insects such as butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of leaves of native plants, grasses included, so it’s important that as many of us as possible provide those niches for them.  The widely reported and devastating statistic that insect populations have dropped by up to 67% on average over the last 50 years should be incentive enough to encourage less fastidious gardening practices. 

MAY

At this time of year, the hedgehogs are out and about. It has been very sad to learn the huge drop in numbers over the last 50 years, from around 30 million to just under 1 million! There are a few small things we can all do to try and make their lives as easy as possible and hope their numbers recover somewhat.

Bread and milk is an absolute no no, but do leave water out for them. A dog’s bowl or similar is suitable, and other animals may make use of it as well, so it is a win win. If you have a pond, make sure there is an escape route for hedgehogs to get out.

 

And lastly, if you have an impregnable garden, the hedgehogs and other animals will have difficulty getting around.  As they range over a huge area every night, it is important to consider this. I have hung my gates up a little higher and made the odd gap along the base of the boundary to facilitate their nocturnal perambulations. If you can, it is worth having a think about doing the same.

JULY

Image by Jenna Lee

Bees too are enjoying the flowers on our various reserves. Time will come soon when they will be completing this year’s life cycle and those that hibernate will be looking for somewhere to go for the winter. A loose area of soil in the garden would help, as would tree limbs with bark they can wriggle behind. Use this next month to identify where in your garden you have some solitary and burrowing bees. Leave that area alone if at all possible. You’ll be safeguarding the next generation. 

All bees overwinter in some form - eggs, adults in torpor, hibernating queens - and emerge in the spring or, increasingly, on warm days. Get ready to plant winter flowering plants. You may think I’m getting ahead of myself but the summer soon shoots by! Enjoy it and don’t forget to use the iRecord app on your smart phones when you can. The more records of wildlife sent in, the more accurate the picture we will have.

SEPTEMBER

At this time of year, we all start to trim hedges and tidy our borders. However, I’d like to suggest that you leave your hedges for a bit if possible, especially if they have any berries or fruit on them. Migratory birds such as redwing and fieldfare will be with us over the winter period and they love to stock up from hedges as well as rowan trees, hawthorn trees and any other berry-bearing plant. Our resident birds also need this food source so if you can, leave the hedge until the berries are gone. With luck, you’ll have a lovely display of birds in your garden if you do.

NOVEMBER

If you have any bird, bee or other insect boxes and you have forgotten to clear them out and clean them up, it’s not too late. Do it now and all will be well. Birds start prospecting for nesting sites very early in the year so get it done before the year turns. Plenty of advice on how to go about it can be found on the RSPB website. If you have bee hotels, they will also benefit from a tidy up. Again, there's bags of information on how to do it properly on the internet. Different bee hotels will require different regimes, so look it up if you're not sure.

Go carefully though, overwintering butterflies can be found in all sorts of places so be careful not to disturb them. Of course, now the weather has got cooler, lots of wildlife will be hunkering down for the winter. Look out for them in your log piles and rough areas and try not to accidently hurt them. And always check most thoroughly before lighting a bonfire!

FEBRUARY

DON’T tidy up your gardens just yet!  Lots of wildlife overwinters in the detritus in our gardens,  especially insects and invertebrates of all types.  Leave the spring tidy up until the end of March if you can, it gives them a chance to hatch out or emerge and so go on to be able to reproduce. 

APRIL

No Mow May is coming. I know many people are on board with this and I can see from the verges  that the councils also seem to get involved, which is great news! I have another suggestion to try to help our beleaguered wildlife. No Dig Gardening. It’s not a new idea but one that has remained on the sidelines for many a year. If you’re growing your own veg, (and if you're not, why not?!) try no digging. By keeping soil disturbance to a minimum, the structure and make-up of the soil remains largely intact. This is fantastic for retaining its natural properties as well as supporting lots of natural activity in the soil. There are many books that showcase this technique, and websites that have film clips as well as information expanding on the basic methods. Fertility can be built up in the soil using green manures, and a variety of different beneficial plants can help with drainage and moisture control. Digging turns over the soil which releases carbon into the atmosphere, so many large-scale farmers and landowners are trialling the No Dig method of farming to help reduce emissions. We can all do our bit in a small way. 

JUNE

Image by Erik Karits

My tip for this month focusses on our gardens, yet again. My neighbour has a shrub that, as soon as the flowers on it even think about opening, is covered in bumble bees. Several species use it and although this shrub is a non-native, the insects love it! Someone is sure to tell me off but I think we should maybe put purist thoughts aside when it’s clear that our beleaguered insects are all for it.

 

Nectar-rich plants are really important for lots of invertebrates so I’ve begun a list. Now is a good time to have a look at all your plants and see if they are multipurpose, good for aesthetics as well as insects. I intend to fill in the gaps next year with suitable plants and am going to try to provide food for the bees and insects all year round. I hope, if you haven’t already done this, you might think about doing the same.

AUGUST

Image by Amanda Hortiz

I suggest that you should all get out and start harvesting. The blackberry season is in full swing and the crab apples are nearly ready. Quite a few are starting to drop to the floor so now is a good time to begin. Damsons also can be found along with a variety of other seasonal treats. A book such as ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey is an essential bit of kit and I urge you to buy a copy. Foraging in the UK is generally safe, but always use a good guide like Mabey's and if in doubt, leave it!

OCTOBER

As the days darken and the leaves fall, many people think it’s a good time for a bonfire. However, don't forget there are there ways you can get rid of garden waste. Leaves make great compost. As I’ve mentioned before, leaves, twigs cut up finely, and other small woody items can all go on the compost heap. Larger branches can be turned into habitat piles. Or if you are the creative type, perhaps you could use them to make wild looking sculptures! Let your imagination run free and see what happens. Neat and tidy lawns and gardens are all very well, but who doesn’t secretly want a touch of the wild wood creeping into their lives ...

DECEMBER

And lastly for this year - I’ve mentioned before about being careful of piles of sticks and bonfires int he winter due to animals using them as winter refuges, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the grass snake. This is our largest snake, sometimes growing up to a metre in length.  It is non-venomous, so harmless to us humans.  It mainly predates frogs and toads with the occasional small bird thrown in. During the winter, it hibernates and is often found in compost heaps where, incidentally, it probably laid its eggs in the summer which have just hatched out over the last month or so. If you have a pond and some rough ground in your garden or nearby, you may be the host to this lovely creature. So, although you may be tempted to go and turn over your compost heap after Christmas in an attempt to burn off some calories, have another think!  If you can leave it until April, you’ll be doing all sorts of animals a favour.

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