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summer

Helping wildlife in

From providing drinking water to leaving grass to grow: here are eight easy ways to help wildlife this summer

Many of us are aware that wildlife needs extra help to survive during the cold winter months – but lots of creatures also need a helping hand when the weather's hot and sunny.


So how can we help wildlife in summer? Here are eight easy actions!


#1 Give birds a drink

If you only do one thing, providing water for the wildlife in your garden should be it.

  

In a hot summer, water is as essential for birds as it is for us. During prolonged periods of dry weather, fresh drinking water is harder for birds to find, as natural sources such as streams and ponds may dry up. Bathing is important for birds too, to remove dirt and grit and keep their feathers in tip-top condition.

Birds in a birdbath by Alf Beard

If you don't have a pond (more about ponds in a minute), the birds in your garden will really appreciate a birdbath. Most purpose-built birdbaths are designed with a shallow basin that gradually deepens – this will attract a variety of birds, as different birds like different depths of water to bathe in.


It doesn't have to be a fancy birdbath, though – any shallow dish or container will do the same job. Try putting water out in a plant pot saucer or even an old frying pan! If the container has very smooth sides, smaller birds may not be able to grip onto it and may fall into the deeper water – putting some gravel or small pebbles in the container will help prevent this.

Frog in a pond

#2 Top up garden ponds  

If you have a garden pond, then you're already providing a great source of drinking and bathing water for birds – as well as for small mammals. Ponds also offer a habitat for many invertebrates, such as dragonflies and damselflies.


Be sure to check the water level in your pond regularly, as shallow ponds in sunny positions can dry up, leaving pond creatures stranded. If you have access to rainwater from a water butt it's best to use this to top up the pond, as this maintains the correct ecological conditions. But tap water is better than nothing if that's all you have – just top up little and often to avoid altering the water quality too much.


If your pond is deep, make sure there's a gently sloping access and exit point for small animals – a few strategically placed stones can help. Although hedgehogs can swim a little, they may drown if they become trapped in a steep-sided pond or trough.

Bee bowl

#3 Make a bee bowl

It's not just birds that need a drink. Bees need water too. Many natural sources are too deep or fast-flowing for bees, and they can they drown in water bowls and birdbaths.


So why not make a bee bowl? Find or buy a shallow container – a terracotta saucer from the garden centre works well – and fill it with small pebbles or marbles. Then fill with water, making sure that plenty of pebbles stand out of the water, to give the bees something to land on.


You'll need to top up birdbaths and bee bowls every day with fresh water – and birdbaths may need cleaning with hot soapy water if droppings accumulate.

Peacock butterfly on buddleia by Lewis Collard

#4 Grow nectar-rich plants for butterflies

Butterflies are in trouble: of the 57 species monitored by the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, 35 have declined in the past 40 years. This year is the 50th anniversary of wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, so it's a good time to think about how we can help the butterflies that visit our gardens – and how to help prevent any further declines.

  

Habitat loss is one contributing factor, so butterfly-friendly gardens are vital. And if you want a summer garden full of butterflies there are lots of plants that will attract them.

  

Chose a sunny, sheltered spot for your nectar-rich garden – and avoid frilly, double flowers, which contain little nectar and pollen and are hard for bees and butterflies to get in and out of.

Buddleia is one of the best plants to grow for butterflies. Also known as the 'butterfly bush', it is easy to grow, as it will thrive in almost any soil or situation.

  

Other great plants for attracting butterflies include scabious, lavender, marjoram and verbena bonariensis. Also include some plants that flower later in the year, such as sedums and Michaelmas daisies – this will give hibernating butterflies the energy boost they need to get them through the colder months.

#5 Grow plants for caterpillars

It's not just the adult butterflies that need to eat – caterpillars need nutrition too. So grow some butterfly larval food plants as well as nectar-rich blooms.


One of the best caterpillar-friendly plants is the stinging nettle. Peacocks, red admirals, commas and tortoiseshells – not to mention many species of moth – will all lay their eggs on nettles. So if you have a patch of stinging nettles in your garden, try to avoid cutting them back.


Garlic mustard – also known as Jack-by-the-hedge – is a favourite food of orange-tips, and painted ladies will lay eggs on thistles.

Peacock caterpillars on nettles
White butterfly on lavender

#6 Leave windfall fruits in situ

Leaving windfall apples and plums under the tree can provide a useful source of food for butterflies, bees and small mammals.


Butterflies also love ripe bananas, so if you have an over-ripe banana in your fruit bowl, try putting it out for butterflies to feed on instead of throwing it away. You can just place it on the grass – or make a simple feeder by twisting thick wire into a spiral and suspending it from a tree.

apples

#7 Grow the grass long

Leaving a patch of unmown grass in a corner of the garden is a great way to help all kinds of wildlife. Bumblebees nest in long grass, and it gives small mammals, amphibians and invertebrates like butterflies a cool, shady place to hide and shelter.


#8 …and say no to pesticides

Avoid the use of pesticides, which kill butterflies and other pollinating insects, and also kill ground beetles, spiders and beneficial insects such as ladybirds.

Long grass

Little Green Space July 2018