Our Wildlife Garden in late September

David Beeson

The meadows are now all cut, but some areas of longer grass remain amongst the hedges.
Harewood Forest is to the south.

We set out to make our 1.25-acre garden wildlife friendly. It was one of the first in the UK to ‘hit the media’ – and that was 30 years ago, and it is 20 years since being on the BBC, The Garden magazine and other major outlets. We feel we were part of the original push towards a more wildlife-relaxed style that has taken off big time here. And, yes, we still consider it a correct decision.

Logs provide winter nesting sites for voles and other wildlife. Great for wild bees, too.

The plot has relaxed shrub and herbaceous borders, many substantial trees, and meadows that are managed in different ways. Wild hedges border the garden and have been planted with natives and allowed to grow to flowering and fruiting, and seldom trimmed. A pond, almost dry now, has no fish and so is rich invertebrate biodiversity … although the young dragonflies and newts vacuum up our tadpoles.

The flowers still offer food to bees and other wildlife.

With comparatively small meadows it is a challenge to suit the management to all life. So, we have concentrated on floral diversity, hoping that will lead to invertebrate richness. However, the meadows’ bareness in autumn may kill off some late-developing butterfly larvae and the seed heads are not available to the birds.

Dwarf asters

Our main lawn is not cut in April or May and is left as long as possible into June to allow the orchids to bloom. Wandering paths give it a sculptural feel and ensure visitors understand that growth is not just through neglect! It is a positive move, and the stunning floral display shows that. But, by June the sequence of: snowdrops, crocuses, wild daffodils, cowslips and primroses, and the final fling of bulbous buttercups with meadow saxifrage and orchids is over, and the area needs trimming for the grandchildren to access. We call this our Spring Meadow sequence.

Beyond is the Summer Meadow that is uncut until late summer, but in phases, and not at one go. The grasses grow taller here and ragwort, scabious and knapweeds are frequent. Without the June cut the semi-parasitic yellow rattle, often called the ‘meadow maker’, thrives and controls excessive grass growth until July, when the rattle seeds and dies. Crickets and grasshoppers enjoy this area, and marjoram’s nectar keeps the moths, butterflies and other invertebrates content.

However, our insect diversity is declining. We are a small plot surrounded by an over-grazed horse paddock, farmland and Harewood Forest. Bad weather years hit butterfly diversity and there are fewer opportunities for recolonisations.

We have a good range of mammals around. Deer sometimes penetrate the perimeter, foxes, stoats and weasels are occasional visitors, moles enjoy both the meadows and flower borders, long and short-tailed voles cling-on in the hedges, while our yellow-necked and woodmice visit the nut feeders. We currently appear to have three generations of dormice in the hedge, with the youngsters showing frustration in how to access the nuts initially. As I have said previously, I now think of the dormice as acting like small squirrels rather than mice. They are amazingly quick, agile and jump readily. Cut creatures!

Short-tailed voles live under tin.
How many voles can you spot?
More nest nearby
Camera and nut feeder for mice
The feeder is in this shrubby area

We do have bats, but getting them to species level unconvinces me. But there are a minimum of three species from their feeding sounds and techniques.

Predatory birds are around much of the time. We have buzzards, red kites, kestrels and sparrow hawks. I have spotted a goshawk twice.

The swallows are still with us, hawking for flies, yet they will soon head south.

Now the meadows are fully cut, and the last flowers are offering pollen and nectar to flying insects. The compost bins are full and digesting the material that will be spread as a mulch in spring, while the pond had been dredged and excessive herbage removed. The garden is settling down, yet winter-green orchids such as pyramidals will soon be showing their leaves … a sign of things to come.

Want mice? Food diversity is needed. Here we have crab apples and ivy, yet nearby is elderberry, hazel, river, damsons, apples and hawthorn.
The year does not end well for adult dragonflies.

The HOMEPAGE is http://www.nwhwildlife.org – 150 ad-free wildlife articles are offered to the World.

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