We’ve just spent the weekend visiting my lovely mother-in-law. She lives in a wonderful rural location, with views across the fields to the River Trent. And taking a little time out to watch the parade of wildlife that passes through her garden is always a joy.
Long-tailed tits are I think my favourite, though ask me on another day and I could just as easily plump for something different. Perhaps hearing the beautiful melody of a glossy blackbird, seeing the first ladybirds of spring, Red Admiral butterflies in summer, or flocks of starlings passing overhead in autumn. They are all a delight.
My father-in-law started creating a wildlife-friendly garden from the day they moved in many years ago, and part of his legacy is the steady flow of wild visitors outside their window. A regular food supply around the year is key to tempting visitors to stop by. Nectar rich plants attract insects, berry-laden shrubs are a bonus in winter, and this has been supplemented by a daily supply of a variety of bird foods for feeders, ground and bird table.
This consistency of food supply encourages return visits, even when the winter has been mild and there is still plenty of food in the fields. For several years, a part albino sparrow visited every morning, and if his anticipated breakfast was late, he’d hop onto the kitchen windowsill and peck at the window for attention!
This brings home to me just how important our gardens are for wildlife. Not just for a reliable food supply, but for water and giving nature a home to nestle in too. It doesn’t matter how small your patch is, every little helps (as the saying goes), and together our gardens can really make a difference. And our wildlife does need help. Last year’s State of Nature report found that a staggering 60% of UK species are declining. For tips on how to help wildlife in your garden, click here.
Another way to help wildlife is to help keep an eye on how its doing. Which is why next weekend (25/26 January), I am going to put aside one hour and take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. With well over half a million people taking part, it’s world’s largest wildlife survey, so it really helps us understand what is happening to our garden birds over time. And this year, for the first time, we are asking everyone about other wildlife that might visit your garden too.
It’s really easy to join in, you don’t need to be an expert. I plan to do it first thing Saturday, as wildlife is often most active early or late in the day. So I’ll be in my jimjams, with a cuppa, watching what’s going on in my garden. This year I don’t even need pen and paper or to keep an eye on the time – I’m going to use the new digital counter on www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch and enter my results directly online.
From Friday 24 January, I’ll also be checking out the webcams at BBC Nature to see what wildlife is out and about at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, and the RSPB nature reserves at The Lodge and Loch Garten.
Here’s hoping I see long-tailed tits one of these ways!
Big Garden Birdwatch PR Project Manager