30 Days Wild – Day 24: Wild in the Garden

Gardens are also habitats, domesticated but at the same time with potential to be wild. They are very diverse and cover a large area when totalled together, but they are also dynamic, styles of gardening change over time and with changes of ownership. So however good for wildlife they might become they are individually precarious places for wildlife. An example of this is the change that happened to the garden of my former home, after twenty years something of a wildlife haven with breeding grass snake and slow worm, the new owners filled the pond, laid the whole to grass and fenced it to allow their dogs to roam safely. This is not to say that having a wildlife garden for twenty years was a waste of time. Lots of species will have benefited and most will have spread out to new homes and they will mostly have been species that are good at moving around to have got to my garden in the first place.

The more people that can find space for wildlife in their gardens the more “stepping stone” patches that wildlife can use to move about, potentially connecting populations and reducing local extinctions.

garden meadow

Lady’s bedstraw now flowering in our back garden mini-meadow

Such little patches of grassland will not make a huge difference on their own but when added to other nearby patches in other gardens, on road verges and playing field edges might add up to enough to support populations  of many insects such as this robberfly.

Dioctria baumhaueri

Dioctria baumhaueri with prey

Robberflies are predators, so if the habitat can support a predator it must also be supporting populations of its prey, the presence of predators is a positive sign.

It has been for sometime a mantra of conservationists that  we need a countryside that has habitats that are “Bigger, Better and more Joined-up”. Larger areas will support more species and be more resilient to species loss. It is useful if the patches actually join, so are contiguous, but if not then as close as possible with stepping stones or, better still, corridors between them. Contiguity, or if you prefer continuity of area is important as is continuity in time. Very short-lived bits of habitat will hold fewer species than ancient sites with very little change. Some specialists thrive on change and to do well need bare, new sites, rapidly being ousted by other species once things settle down, but even these species need a continuous supply of new sites, so continuity is still vital to their survival. Looking at habitat in this way, seeking the continuities can allow you to spot where the valuable sites are, even in the absence of wildlife records. It might also suggest what are the key habitats on which to concentrate management for the most positive outcomes.

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30 Days Wild – Day 15

Up hideously early and out to do a breeding bird survey, luckily the weather was fine, although I could have done without it having rained overnight as the trees were dripping and the tall grass very wet. Still it was calm and sunny and, for mid June, a good few birds were singing. As well as the birds I saw my first meadow brown of the year, actually lots of them and also a few common spotted and southern marsh orchid and a single Mother Shipton moth. 

common spotted orchid or hybrid

common spotted orchid, or possibly a hybrid as the leaves were unspotted. (I have just spotted the 7-spot ladybird in this shot!)

I arrived at Blashford by ten o’clock and had a quick check of the moth trap, rather few moths but very fresh individuals of small angle shades and lime hawkmoth. However it was the trays of creatures laid out for the school pond-dipping session that caught my eye, in particular one containing a water stick insect nymph.

water stick insect nymph

water stick insect nymph

The sun came out briefly at lunchtime so I went out for a break from the desk and nectaring on a hemlock water-dropwort plant was a very fresh red admiral.

red admiral 2

red admiral

There are quite good numbers of migrant insects about just now, there have been modest arrivals of red admiral and painted lady butterflies and huge numbers of the tiny diamond-back moth, so many that they have made the national news and it is not often a micro-moth does that! There are also lots of the marmalade hoverfly and silver Y moths, if you have flowers out in the garden you will almost certainly be able to see them nectaring at dusk.

My afternoon was spent in a meeting, but as it was still sunny when I got home I took a look in the garden and found this swollen-thighed beetle (Oedemera nobilis) feeding on an ox-eye daisy in our mini-meadow.

beetle on ox eye daisy

male swollen-thighed beetle on ox-eye daisy

30 Days Wild – Day 10

I often take Friday off if I am working at the weekend, so I spent the day catching up on work in the garden. I started by going through the moth trap, catches are increasing now with warmer weather and today’s highlight was a great oak beauty, another southern woodland specialist. This one is a male as you can see from the feathery antennae which it uses to “smell” the females and so find them in the dark.

great oak beauty

great oak beauty

It was a warm, rather than sunny day, so the insects in the garden were somewhat disappointing, I saw no butterflies the whole day! Lots of bees were out and about though and I managed to get a picture of this very colourful parasitic wasp.

parasitic wasp

parasitic wasp

I was mostly tidying up, not something I do too much of in the garden as the “untidy” bits are often where the wildlife is. One area that gets minimal attention is the tiny meadow area, it is only something like 20 square metres but attracts lost of insects and even after just two years looks quite the part. A key species that we introduced was yellow rattle. It is an annual that germinates in April and grows very rapidly, partly because it is semi-parasitic on other plants including grasses. This means the grass grows less vigorously allowing more space for herb species, the “flowers” to grow, increasing the number of species in the sward. The yellow rattle flowers themselves are very attractive to bees as well as adding colour to the meadow.

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

In agricultural terms a meadow full of yellow rattle was a bad thing though, as the rattle reduces the vigour of the grasses and if you are making hay, grasses are the crop.

30 Days Wild – Day 4

A day spent travelling home and so one a little light on wildlife, in addition I realised that I had lost my notebook, somewhere in West Pembrokeshire, a rather large search area!

Arriving home I was amazed at the amount of growth in the garden over our week away. In particular the small patch of what was the lawn that we have been managing as a meadow over the past two years since we moved into this house. It has certainly come along very pleasingly in such a short time.

meadow

The back garden meadow.

If you look closely you might make out meadow buttercup, red clover, yellow rattle, bloody cranesbill and cowslip as well as lots of grass.