A day in the life of a wildlife gar­den

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It’s a blus­tery day in early March and the vol­un­teers meet me with shoul­ders hunched against the wind, bun­dled up to the point of im­mo­bil­ity. A large alder came down in the gales of Storm Doris and smashed through the handrails on the board­walk; vol­un­teers point and ex­claim as I hop out of the truck and into the wind. After the usual greet­ings, it’s all hands on deck to rake up fallen twigs and de­bris from Doris. Rak­ing is also a use­ful way to warm up!

The mild­ness of the past few weeks has brought out the helle­bores, lung­wort and wild daf­fodils, which are just be­gin­ning to un­furl their but­ter-coloured petals. I saw my first bum­ble­bee of the sea­son yes­ter­day, a large, loudly buzzing queen buff-tail, for­ag­ing on stink­ing helle­bores - an un­for­tu­nately-named but very elegant wild plant of our na­tive wood­land. The sweet vi­o­lets are also shyly peep­ing pur­ple flow­ers through the vivid green heartshaped fo­liage, an­other good source of nec­tar for the ear­li­est bees.

The only bum­ble­bees to sur­vive the win­ter in any colony are the new young queens, who mate with the drones in the au­tumn, feed up and then hi­ber­nate in a shel­tered spot, of­ten un­der­ground. The rest of the colony will die at the end of the sea­son. Thus, the first bum­ble­bees to be seen ev­ery spring are queens, full of eggs, as­suag­ing their hunger and thirst be­fore find­ing a place to start a new colony. By plant­ing early flow­ers such as those men­tioned above, you will be help­ing these im­por­tant

young queens in their jour­ney as pro­gen­i­tors of the next gen­er­a­tion.

Our vol­un­teers - the two Mikes - are sent up the bank to put up a new set of bean­poles, re­cently gath­ered from the cop­pice plot in Wolves Wood, near Hadleigh. I catch odds and ends of good­na­tured ban­ter and the oc­ca­sional shout of laugh­ter em­a­nat­ing from them as they bind the straight, strong hazel rods into a row of ‘A’s.

A sud­den ex­plo­sion of alarm call­ing by all the small birds in trees causes me to search the sky, and sure enough a slate-grey streak flashes across the gar­den – a male spar­rowhawk in full fight­er­jet mode, swerv­ing be­tween the trees in the hope of sur­pris­ing a smaller bird to catch in its tiny, lethal, talons. I never tire of see­ing these fierce lit­tle preda­tors in all their swift aerial agility. I know some peo­ple think they are a pest, at­tack­ing ‘their’ bluetits, but it’s bet­ter to think of them as a sure sign of a fully func­tion­ing and healthy ecosys­tem.

You don’t get preda­tors un­less there is enough food for them lower down in the food chain, so see­ing a spar­rowhawk or in­deed any na­tive preda­tor in an ecosys­tem is a good sign.

Wildlife won­der

Along with the spring weather, there’s a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion – the gar­den opens to the pub­lic for the year in April, so the clock is tick­ing, we must have the gar­den look­ing its best be­fore the start of the Easter hol­i­days. Ev­ery school hol­i­day we of­fer chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties, which are al­ways de­signed to en­gage chil­dren with the nat­u­ral world in a fun and thought-pro­vok­ing way, and are of­fered ev­ery day of the school hol­i­days. The gar­den will be open be­tween 10.30am and 4.30pm daily from 1 April, 2017.

Giv­ing na­ture a home

For the grown-ups, the gar­den is de­signed to show­case meth­ods and ideas for gar­den­ing for wildlife. In spring, gar­den­ers can sow hardy an­nu­als for nec­tar and pollen – some good ex­am­ples beloved of bees of all types (did you know there’s some­thing like 250 va­ri­eties in the UK?) are bor­age, nigella, cos­mos and Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis, a short-lived peren­nial which read­ily self-seeds. It’s not too late to plant trees or shrubs ei­ther, al­though you’ll need to wa­ter them through the sum­mer months. Some of the best op­tions for wildlife are holly (choose a fe­male for the berries), or if you’re lim­ited for space, con­sider a dwarf guilder rose Viburnum opulus ‘Com­pactum’ which should grow to about four feet, and carry bright red berries long into win­ter, after the vivid au­tumn fo­liage has fallen. There are lots of other ideas to steal for your own gar­den, why not come and take a look? Look us up on flat­ford

To find out more about the RSPB, visit For in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice on ways to give na­ture a home in your back gar­dens and com­mu­ni­ties, visit

The first bum­ble­bees to be seen ev­ery spring are queens, full of eggs, as­suag­ing their hunger and thirst be­fore find­ing a place to start a new colony.

A spar­rowhawk.

A buff-tailed bum­ble­bee

Fun for all the fam­ily, build­ing a bird­box at Flat­ford Wildlife Gar­den. Pic: Andy Hay.

Holly at Flat­ford Wildlife Gar­den. All pic­tures on this page by Andy Hay.

A flower border at the Flat­ford Wildlife Gar­den.

Vis­i­tors en­joy­ing a stroll in Flat­ford Wildlife Gar­den.

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