Make the per­fect pit­stop for wildlife Wel­come vis­it­ing birds, in­sects and mam­mals as they travel through your gar­den

Pass­ing wild an­i­mals see your gar­den as a B&B. Adrian Thomas ex­plains how to make them wel­come

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

Right now my gar­den is home to a black­cap or two. These war­blers are a lit­tle smaller than spar­rows, the adult males liv­ing up to their name but fe­males and young­sters hav­ing ginger caps. As you walk around you can hear their lit­tle ‘tac! tac!’ calls, like two peb­bles be­ing knocked gen­tly to­gether. They don’t breed in the gar­den, but come to feast on my el­der­ber­ries for a few days be­fore they leave Bri­tain in au­tumn, most of them wing­ing their way over The Chan­nel and down into south­ern Spain or Morocco. Come De­cem­ber, I’m likely to see black­caps again in my gar­den, but many that over­win­ter in Bri­tain will have bred in places like Ger­many. It all goes to show that, for black­caps at least, your gar­den is not their home as such, but a vi­tal pit­stop on long and var­ied jour­neys. In fact, the idea that gardens are more stop-off than res­i­dence is true for much wildlife. Apart from the small­est crea­tures – those with lit­tle legs and no wings – or seden­tary (stay-at-home) types, most an­i­mals seen in the gar­den are on the move. When rais­ing young, most wildlife has no choice but to set­tle down for a few weeks un­til the young­sters are mo­bile, but oth­er­wise, your gar­den is sim­ply a mo­tel on life’s high­way.

Take but­ter­flies for in­stance. If you have speck­led wood but­ter­flies in your gar­den (the ones that like to dance in the dap­pled shad­ows and shafts of sun­light around trees) then they may be res­i­dent. But most other species you’ll see, vis­it­ing flowerbeds or flap­ping across lawns, are trav­ellers. Some just wan­der from street to street in a kind of no­madic ex­is­tence within a set area; oth­ers are on much longer treks. The painted lady, for ex­am­ple, can’t sur­vive the Bri­tish winter. It ar­rives in spring hav­ing trav­elled up from the At­las moun­tains in north Africa. Those you see in sum­mer may have been bred lo­cally on this­tles by their pi­o­neer­ing par­ents, or may be part of a fresh wave of ar­rivals from the con­ti­nent. In au­tumn, many are on the re­turn jour­ney south, stock­ing up on nec­tar-en­ergy as they go. When you re­alise that some moths, dragon­flies and hov­er­flies make sim­i­lar jour­neys, you get a sense of how our gardens can be like an air­port de­par­ture lounge full of in­trepid in­ter­na­tional tourists. The fact that gardens of­fer short-term ac­com­mo­da­tion for wildlife is not to lessen their value. Just as if we didn’t find a petrol sta­tion when out for a long drive, so wildlife wouldn’t be able to un­der­take their jour­neys if they didn’t have the chance to re­fuel or re­cu­per­ate, and gardens are in­creas­ingly be­ing recog­nised for the ben­e­fits they of­fer. It’s sad that some gardens fail to present the travel es­sen­tials that wildlife needs. A pa­rade of crea­tures may pass through, but just like us motoring through bland scenery, wildlife knows what it’s look­ing for and whether it’s worth stop­ping. But cre­ate a ‘des­ti­na­tion of choice’ and your vis­i­tors might de­cide to stay for a few hours, days or even sev­eral weeks. You’ll know when your gar­den has be­come a five-star stop over when a but­ter­fly stays sup­ping in your flowerbed all day, or a mi­grant bird hops around in your shrub­bery for a week­end. When these things hap­pen, you can be sat­is­fied that you have been a top host, help­ing weary wan­der­ers freshen up and pre­pare for their next ad­ven­ture.

“Es­sen­tially your gar­den is a mo­tel on life’s high­way”

Speck­led wood but­ter­flies might take up res­i­dence

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