Butterflies Old and New

2020 has certainly been a most unusual (and hopefully never to be repeated) year for all of us, but finding solace in nature has been a great help getting through these strange times. At the height of the lockdown, we felt very lucky to have a garden full of wildlife that we could enjoy. We have spent an awful lot of time watching the wildlife emerge as the weeks went by and have particularly enjoyed seeing how the new pond developed. But after a while you do start to go a little stir crazy and we were longing to get out and see things beyond the confines of our garden. So as things began to ease a couple of weeks ago and nature reserves started to reopen, we made our first tentative ventures out, first to a local one and then to one a bit further afield.

First stop was Monkwood, just a few miles away and a lovely reserve that we’ve been to quite a few times before. First delight was that we heard a cuckoo calling on and off the whole time we were there – our first cuckoo of the year.  It was the end of May and the Wood White butterflies were out in abundance. They had only been reintroduced to Monkwood a few years ago, but are clearly doing really well. They are small delicate little butterflies, not as showy as say the fritillaries, but really delightful to watch and very pretty in their own subtle way.

Several other butterfly species were out, but it was particularly nice to see some Large Skippers, our first of the year.

We also saw several small and non-descript moths flitting about. Despite me chasing them around, the best photo I could manage was this blurry specimen. Turns out that they were Drab Loopers, not perhaps the most attractive of names for the poor things. They are generally a bit of a rarity though and Monkwood is a stronghold for them.

Next up was a splendid large caterpillar of the Drinker moth. The Drinker is supposedly fairly common in the West Midlands, but we’ve never seen the adult moth; so it was nice at least to see junior here trundling across the path.

On a patch of Guelder Rose, we saw loads of what looked like caterpillars, completely destroying the rose leaves. Turns out (thanks to the good people of iSpot) that it was in fact the larvae of the Viburnum Leaf Beetle, so another new one for us.

Finally for Monkwood, it was great to see my perennial favourite, the Swollen-thighed Beetle.

This week as the lockdown measures relaxed a bit more, we decided to venture further afield. This was the week that we were supposed to be going on holiday to Norfolk, where we’d hoped to see our 51st British butterfly species – the Swallowtail. Obviously all holidays were cancelled, but we came up with a plan B to at least see a 51st species. The Black Hairstreak was on our yet-to-see list and the nearest sites were about 2 hours away in Northamptonshire – just about doable in a day trip. So we set off at the crack of dawn (well a bit later than that to be honest) and headed to Glapthorn Cow Pastures.

The name might suggest it was more of a meadow and indeed it did used to be grazed by cows. But now it is managed as a mix of woodland and blackthorn scrub – ideal habitat for the rare Black Hairstreak. We got there about 09:30 just as another keen butterfly spotter arrived. Funnily enough we heard a cuckoo calling here too as we got out of the car – a good omen perhaps? We’d had tips from kind people on Facebook as to where to look, but still finding a small butterfly in a big wood did feel a bit like a needle in a haystack job. We wandered around for a bit until we met up with the other traveller again who had found a local who knew where to look and consequently found the butterfly too!

We saw at least 2 Black Hairstreaks while we were there. The first was a perfect looking specimen, but rather flighty. So apologies that all the photos are either a bit blurry or it’s got its head stuck in a bramble. But it is at least recognisably a Black Hairstreak with the black spots on an orange background around the edge of the wings and the little tail.

The second individual has unfortunately lost his tail and half his black spots (the best bits of a hairstreak) and we nick-named him Raggedy.

Raggedy was however quite obliging and hung around long after the more perfect one had disappeared. He was so keen to be seen in fact that as more people arrived we could point him out to the newcomers. Glapthorn is clearly a popular spot; by the time we left there were 9 people all trying to see the hairstreaks (Raggedy’s moment to shine) – all trying to socially distance themselves at the same time of course.

It was a lovely hot day and plenty of other butterflies around – skippers, speckled woods, red admirals, lots of meadow browns, whites (too fast to determine which) and a small tortoiseshell. There were also quite a few of these stunning black and yellow longhorn beetles (Rutpela maculata) enjoying the flowering brambles.

Having come so far, we had a walk around the rest of the wood to make the most of the day.  There were lots of very pretty orchids in full bloom (possibly Common Spotted Orchids although I’m not sure).

The sounds of the cuckoo had given way to the calls of a woodpecker. We saw a couple of them flying high in the trees and managed a couple of distant shots – looks like we had both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers.

So that’s it, our 51st butterfly seen and photographed and a couple of lovely days out to quench our thirst for wildlife. It would have been great to have been in Norfolk this week for our holiday, but hopefully we can do that next year instead. In the meantime we are very grateful not only to have such wonderful nature close by, but also that we have been very lucky to have stayed safe and well during these unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone. xx

 

Bee ‘n’ Bees

We have always tried to make our garden as bee friendly as possible – we garden organically, there are plenty of weeds providing nectar through most of the year and we put up bee hotels. We’ve had these regular bee hotels dotted around the garden for a few years and they’ve proved very popular with a few species, but most noticably the Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis). Every spring they are buzzing with bee activity and every spring I try and photograph/video them with mixed results. The Red Mason Bees have an ingenious system whereby the females lay female eggs at the back of the tubes first, followed by eggs destined to be males at the front. Because they are at the front the males emerge first and will initially feed a bit then they head back to the nest or bee hotel to wait for the virgin females to emerge.

The airways can get a bit congested as many males, desperate for their chance to mate with the females, jostle for position. Here’s a short video of a bunch of males doing just that – buzzing around, ever hopeful.

 

Red Mason bees are medium sized, solitary (despite the crowds around the bee hotel) bees with as the name suggest bright red hairs on their bodies. As they get older the hairs can fade or get worn away and they lose their bright red colour; the one in the photo below is probably fairly recently emerged.

The males can get so excited at the prospect of the new females, that they will pounce on virtually anything roughly bee sized that appears, including each other. I found the trio in this next video on the path beneath a bee hotel. The female is the one on the bottom with two makes stacked on top of her. One of them is going to be very disappointed!

 

The mason bit of their name comes from their use of mud to form individual nest chambers for the larvae to develop in. Each tube in a bee hotel may contain several muddy chambers and the end of the tube is sealed off with damp mud, which then hardens to form a solid plug. Here she’s just deposited a fresh blob of mud which she works into position with her feet.

The Red Mason bees aren’t the only spring species to use the bee hotels, we also saw some Blue Mason bees (Osmia caerulescens). These were smaller than their red cousins and so tended to use the smaller tubes. I think this is a male which has more of a metallic green body with pale brown hairs.

Beneath one set of bee hotels is our bench set on slabs, which in turn are set (somewhat unevenly it has to be said) on sand. While videoing the mason bees, we realised that there were also bees burrowing into the sand beneath us (I will blame them for any unevenness of the slabs). I’m not sure whether they are also mason bees, or something different, they didn’t stay still long enough to get a decent photo. But they were certainly busy bees.

 

So I’ve always been very happy with our bee hotels and then I saw this, the absolute Ritz of bee hotels.

The inner section can be removed for storage and cleaning and the side panels can be removed to reveal a Perspex panel so that you can view the bees working away. So of course we had to get one! I waited patiently until the end of March then up it went on the fence wall ready for bee season. I got very excited when I spotted the first bee in one of the chambers.

Unfortunately the bees didn’t seem quite so excited by my deluxe offering and most seemed to stick with the old bee hotels. This may be because the old hotels with last year’s bee chambers in would have smelled of bees and so attracted the new generation back. In the end though I did get a few bees using the new box, although annoyingly most seemed to go for the tubes either above or below the viewing chamber. I did manage to get this video of one female stock-piling the pollen for her egg. She starts by rearranging the pollen that’s already in there and then turns around and uses her legs to brush the pollen off her body and add it to the pile.

 

Once there’s enough pollen in there, she will lay an egg in it and then seal that chamber and start work on the next.  By the end of the red mason bee season, I had several tubes full of developing larvae.

The eggs hatch into larvae and feed on the pollen that the mother bee has provided for them.

Once the larvae have eaten all the food they will spin a silk cocoon and pupate, turning into adult bees. They then stay in the cocoons like this through the winter, until the warmer spring days tell them it is time to emerge. Hopefully I will be able to get photos of these cocoons when the time comes. For the time being, the inner section of this deluxe bee hotel has been removed (complete with developing larvae) and is being safely (I hope) stored in the garage away from parasites. A new inner section has been put out which will hopefully attract the next season’s bees – the Leaf-cutter bees. Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video of ones nesting in sand – yes

 

 

Video of red mason in tube yes

photos of tubes – yes

photos of grubs – yes

video of trio – yes

video of males buzzing round old box – yes

 

Lonesome George – Born Free!

Way back at the end of last August I blogged about Lonesome George, the Eyed Hawk-moth caterpillar I had been raising. You can read the original blog post here:  https://toolazytoweed.uk/2019/08/29/lonesome-george/

Now, finally, George’s story is complete!

On 30th June 2019 I caught a female Eyed Hawk-moth in my moth trap. I put her briefly in a pot so I could take some photographs of her. Here she is in all her splendour.

While in captivity she laid 2 eggs. Hopefully she laid many more eggs too, once she was released, as she looked full to bursting.

I decided to try and rear the caterpillars if I could. They both hatched into tiny caterpillars, but sadly only one lasted beyond the first day – Lonesome George was the survivor. George was lovingly tended and fed fresh apple leaves every day and soon grew into a handsome fellow about 5cm long with a voracious appetite.

Towards the end of August 2019 he pupated and he’s been safely kept in a large tub with soil and leaves ever since. I checked on him every couple of days to make sure nothing untoward had happened to him.

At the  beginning of May I started seeing reports on social media of Eyed Hawk-moths being out and about, so I stepped up my surveillance of George. For the last few days I had been checking him almost hourly for any signs of activity. What I’d hoped to see was him (or her) emerging from the chrysalis and to watch the wings expand into full blown moth! Of course George had other ideas and chose to emerge during the night.  I got up yesterday morning and checked on him about 7am to find the chrysalis cracked open – I had a split second panic that something had somehow got into the tub and got him.

I love that in the bit of the chrysalis shell that has broken off, you can see the imprint of his antennae – it’s almost like a death mask! Anyway I checked the rest of the tub and there was George sitting proud and fully formed. Here’s the first hasty photo I took of him in case he flew off.

Fortunately he was fairly dopey, perhaps after the exertions of emerging and of course it was daylight. I say he, I can’t be totally sure but I think George is probably a George not a Georgina. I read that the males tend to be slightly smaller than the females and that they sit with their abdomens curled up a bit – both of which seemed to apply to George.

Having reared him for a year, I was loathe to just release him during the day and have him snaffled by a hungry sparrow. So I kept him in his tub in the shade for the day until it started to get dark and I gave him a stick to perch on to make him feel more comfortable. I did of course take the opportunity to take lots (and I mean lots) of photos of him. Here are just a few.

He had been raised on apple leaves as a caterpillar, so when the time came, the apple tree seemed the most sensible place to release him. I waited until it was almost dark and most of the birds had turned in for the night, then gently transferred him from his stick to some apple leaves.

He fidgeted a bit then settled down.

By this time it was getting pretty dark and I spent the next hour juggling camera, torches and tripod, trying to film George’s departure. About 21:45 he started fidgeting a bit more and even started having a good clean of his antennae, perhaps getting them in tip top condition to detect any nearby females.

He then started revving up his wings, presumably warming up the muscles which would never have been used before. I just had time to click record again on the camera.

Just before he took off, he squirted out a creamy white liquid, which I believe is the remains of the meconium (I’d had to google this) which was used to pump up the wings. Obviously there was some waste left over, so he expelled this before flight. But then he was off, free at last, circling the apple tree before I lost sight of him in the dark,

I had hoped to get a photo of the eye spots which give the Eyed Hawkmoth its name and which it flashes when threatened, but he refused to show them. I suppose I should feel good that George didn’t feel threatened by me! The best I managed to do in the end was take this still from the video.

Adult Eyed Hawkmoths don’t feed, they have no working mouth parts with which to do so. So sadly George will probably only live for a couple of weeks at the most. It may sound daft, but I felt quite emotional releasing him and watching him fly away. I had spent the best part of a year rearing him and checking on him almost daily and I did feel genuinely sad to see him go although very proud that he had made it. I just hope he finds a female (or finds a male if I got it wrong and he is a Georgina) and that our garden will be home to future generations of Georges. Good Luck George.

 

 

 

 

Pond Arrivals

Never has the old adage “Build it and they will come” been more true of anything than of building a pond. Our new pond went in at the beginning of February – seems a world away now, given everything that has gone on in the world since then. The human world may be in chaos and despair, but for everything else life goes on and a new pond is a beacon attracting wildlife from all around. Every week if not every day something new finds its way to our pond. We’ve not been able to finish all the landscaping or get all the plants I would like to have got due to various restrictions, but it seems the wildlife doesn’t mind at all.

Quite a wide variety of insects have already found their way to the pond. A few tiny beetles whizzing around were the first we spotted, followed shortly by a lone water boatman. We suspect there are now more water boatmen, but since we only every see one at a time we can’t be sure. Both of the above have so far proved too fast to photograph.

Of course small flies and mosquitos were soon flitting over the surface of the water laying eggs, which soon hatched in large numbers into wriggling larvae. These will hopefully provide plenty of food for larger animals further up the food chain, so are a very welcome addition to the pond.

Within a couple of weeks our first pond skater arrived, followed by several of its friends! These insects are great to watch scooting across the surface of the pond in search of food. They regularly battle each other, that or they get very frisky, we’re not sure which. Apparently they use the middle legs for propulsion, the back legs to steer and the front ones for grabbing their prey.

Next insect to appear was this diving beetle which flew in and plopped into the pond while we were sitting watching. These diving beetles come to the surface and collect a bubble of air to breathe, so he or she pops up to the surface quite often.

Since then we have spotted numerous medium sized beetles whizzing around the pond, all adding to the food chain.

The biggest excitement though was the arrival of our first damselfly – a Large Red Damselfly to be precise. Hopefully this will be the first of many damselfly and dragonfly species to use the pond and I can do a full post on them soon. In the meantime here is our first one.

Other insects have been using the pond in other ways; a Holly Blue caught drinking from the pond, an Orange Tip butterfly nectaring off the cuckooflower and this snazzily striped hoverfly buzzing all over the place. The hoverflies have clearly been making whoopee as we’ve already started finding their larvae – the delightfully named rat-tailed maggots in the pond. Wriggling and semi-transparent these are very difficult to photograph, the best I could do was this short video.

Spiders have also moved in amongst the stones at the side of the pond, nipping in and out to catch unsuspecting insects.

The birds have of course continued to make good use of the pond (drinking, bathing, catching insects), to the point I feel they are annoyed with me for hogging it by sitting there for so long. My favourites so far are this pair of young magpies, exploring the world for the first time. They go everywhere together and particularly like the pond, squabbling one minute and then looking to each other for reassurance the next – a typical pair of siblings.

Sadly all the frog activity we saw in March came to nothing and we didn’t get any frog spawn this year. It’s not too surprising as the pond had literally only been in for a couple of weeks before their mating season. We’ve yet to see a toad around the pond either, but the newts have come up trumps. The first newt (they are Smooth Newts) arrived early April and since then there seems to have been more each day. I shall do a full newt blog soon as they’ve provided lots of photo and video opportunities, but here’s a taster.

Sometimes the things you don’t get to see in person can be the best though. Our hedgehogs have been making good use of the pond, carefully tiptoeing down the sloping beach that was put in specifically for them to access the pond. Obviously we rarely see them directly, but the night cameras pick them up regularly. This video shows 7 separate visits to the pond by at least 3 different hedgehogs over the course of one night. Shows the value of providing a drinking source for your hedgehogs, especially in hot weather.

 

I am so glad that we got to make the pond before the world went into lock-down. It has provided interest, relaxation, welcome distraction and so much more – we have spent an awful lot of time in the last 3 months gazing into the pond, grateful for having a garden we can sit in while staying home and staying safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nesting Update

Back in February, I blogged about my hopes of finally getting a blue tit nesting in the bird box with the camera. A male blue tit seemed to have taken to roosting every night in the box and I started to get my hopes up. In March things were progressing well and he had a lady friend who would pop in, albeit it briefly, to inspect his choice of nest site. Her visits were generally so fleeting at this stage that most of the time they barely registered on the video feed, so here are a couple of stills taken from the video and a very brief video clip.

 

This carried on for quite a while; the male roosting at night and occasionally his lady friend popping in during the day to inspect. Then on 17th March, bits of moss started appearing in the box. My hopes continued to rise.

For the last few years I have tried to help the birds along by putting out nesting material. I use two hanging baskets tied together to make a sphere and stuff it with moss and grass. The blue tits are always very quick to find the sphere and make good use of it. The female was soon taking the moss, sorting through my offerings to find the bits that were just right. I can see the ball of nesting material from our window and for a while everything was going swimmingly. I could watch her take a beak full of nesting material and fly off with it towards the nest box. Seconds later she would appear inside the nest box and I could view it on the camera.

 

So everything was going well and I was getting excited at the prospect of blue tit eggs, when sometime around the beginning of April they decided the nest box wasn’t really suitable after all. I have an old nest box on the apple tree near the moss ball and for a while they seemed to be trying that out, before abandoning that too. She was still coming for the moss, but was then flying off and out of our garden with it. One of our neighbours has probably got a very lovely blue tit nest in! Here’s a compilation of some of her nest collecting activities.

 

For the last 2 years I have also added some dog hair. My sister’s yorkie-poo Pip very generously donates his hair trimmings to the cause. He has lovely soft hair (that’s not been treated with any chemicals for fleas etc.), ideal for lining a nest.

Blue tits apparently make their nest with moss and straw etc. first then line it with softer stuff like hair and spiders’ webs afterwards. So initially the blue tit ignored Pip’s hair and just went for the moss. The jackdaws had no such qualms; they went straight in for the nice soft hair. Somewhere there is a very cosy jackdaw nest.

Although the blue tits weren’t nesting in our garden, she did eventually deign to take the dog hair too. Here’s a brief clip of her getting a beak full of the good stuff.

 

So it seems my hopes that Peter the blue tit and his mate were going to nest in our nest box have come to nought; I must console myself knowing that they are at least nesting somewhere and that is what is important. Once again they are using our garden as a supply stop – good for food and nesting material but apparently not residentially appealing. The same seems to be said for many of our other birds. We’ve seen robins pairing up and feeding each other in their courtships. Dunnocks have been flirting with each other and lots of birds have been helping themselves to the nesting material, but they all seem to do their actual nesting elsewhere. I think it must be because we don’t have the large trees they like.

So I had just about given up hope of finding a nest in the garden, when I became aware of a lot of rustling in the bay tree at the front of the house. Closer inspection revealed a pigeon’s nest. I would probably rather have had a robin or a blackbird, but beggars can’t be choosers and I am now very happy with our pigeon nest. Here is the proud mother pigeon watching my GoPro watching her.

So far the parents have sat steadfastly on the nest and I have been unable to see any eggs, but I assume there are some there. Hopefully once the chicks hatch I might get a glimpse of baby pigeons. Apparently there’s an internet thing where people query that you never see baby pigeons – well finally I might get to do so.

The birds may be refusing me nesting viewing opportunities, but I can always count on my hedgehogs for interest. They have all emerged from hibernation and are back romping round the garden again. Thankfully they are not as awkward as the birds and are quite happy to use the hedgehog house with the camera in it. I’ll do a full hedgehog update soon, but in the meantime here’s a short clip of Freda, last year’s rescue hog, having a bit of a yawn in the hedgehog house. Enjoy!

 

Pond Update

It’s the first day of Spring and it’s been about 6 weeks since our new pond went in. Although there is still work to be done on it, the wildlife has already started to move in. The pond still needs more plants and those that are there need to grow a bit to provide more cover. It’s a bit early in the season for many of the pond plant suppliers to have much stock. So as an emergency measure I’ve been chucking in bags of organic watercress from the supermarket! I also need to replant the area around the pond as it’s looking a bit bare at the moment. Hopefully this will all come together as spring gets going and we (finally) get a bit of sunshine. But in the meantime, here’s how the pond is looking now.

The birds were the first to really start making use of the pond. They love the shallow “beach” for drinking and bathing. The blackbirds and sparrows in particular have really taken to it, although we’ve also seen pigeons, robins, blue tits, starlings and magpies making use of it. The sparrows seem to like having a bit of a wash then jumping onto the big rock at the edge to dry off. Here’s a video of some of them enjoying their new splash pool.

The frogs soon found the pond and I got very excited that we might get some frog spawn. But despite a lot of croaking there’s no sign of any spawn yet. Maybe there isn’t enough plant cover to tempt them yet and we’ll have to wait until next year.  I’m never very good at night-time photography so the best I’ve managed is this grainy shot of a couple of them.

I have created “Toad Hall” using some old roof tiles buried into the soil that was excavated for the pond. Eventually it will be completely covered in branches and planted up. Hopefully it will appeal to some of our amphibian friends as a suitable home with en suite pond.

We may have drawn a blank with getting frog spawn in the new pond, but the old pond on the allotment has produced the goods. It may be a tiny pond, but it has been stuffed with frog spawn this spring. They are now starting to develop and a few tadpoles are even hatching. Here’s a short video from earlier this week:

Of course it wasn’t just amphibians we hoped to attract to the pond, any animals would be very welcome. So we were very pleased to get a fox checking the pond out within a few weeks of it being dug. So far we’ve only caught it circling round the pond, but hopefully soon it will view it as a suitable watering hole and take a drink.

The highlight for me so far has been this next video though. As spring slowly creeps in, hedgehogs are starting to emerge from hibernation. So I was really thrilled that this one has already incorporated the pond on his nightly meanderings. The gravel beach was put in specifically with hedgehogs in mind – easy access to the water and a means of getting out should they fall in. And this one seems to have got the message.

The final feature added to the pond is an indulgence for us rather than the wildlife. It’s the old bench from my grandfather’s pub, recently renovated by our ever-useful friend Gwyndaf. The perfect place to watch the wildlife in the pond while perhaps sipping a glass of something chilled. Roll on summer!

National Nest Box Week 2020

It’s National Nest Box Week again, a time to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their gardens if they can. You can find out more and get lots of useful tips at: https://www.nestboxweek.com/

We have several nest boxes in the garden, although they don’t seem to get used much sadly. Knowing it was National Nest Box Week coming up, I decided to plug in the camera we have in one (so far unused) blue tit box. I hadn’t checked this particular box for a while as nothing ever seemed to happen in it. So I was thrilled when I connected the camera one evening last week and got this:

A blue tit was using the box as a night time roost. We thought maybe it would just turn out to be a one-off event, but he or she has been back every night since, which is fantastic. Every night it arrives around 5pm just before it gets dark. The camera trigger is too slow to capture it actually coming in through the hole, but it catches it settling in for the night. Initially there’s always a bit of bobbing up and down and checking round the box, presumably as it decides whether it is still a safe place for the night.

The nights themselves aren’t as restful as I imagined they would be. There is an awful lot of fidgeting about and preening, but I suppose it’s a safe time and place to be doing that.

In the morning there is always a bit of stretching and bobbing up and down. It looks as if it’s trying to peer out of the hole to see if it is safe or perhaps just listening for any threats, before it hops up, has a final look around then flies off for the day.

The nights are still pretty cold for a small bird in an uninsulated box. The blue tit copes by fluffing up its feathers to create insulating air pockets. When the bird arrives in the box each night it starts of looking fairly sleek with feathers smooth against its body. As it settles down it fluffs up its downy under feathers – in the next video you can pretty well see it increasing in size as it fluffs up until it is an almost round ball of feathers. Another trick to keep warm is that it then tucks its head under a wing while it sleeps.

So of course now our Blue Tit (we’re calling him Peter after Blue Peter) is visiting regularly, we’re getting our hopes up that perhaps this will finally be the year we capture nesting action on video. We live in hope, but at least if nothing else we have provided a safe roosting space by putting up the nest box.

We’ve got a couple of new nest boxes to put up this year thanks to our lovely gardener Gwyndaf. One has a small hole in a solid front for blue tits or similar and the other is more open fronted – ideal for robins. Just need to find suitable spots to put them out of reach of the neighbours’ cats.

Further afield we are once again sponsoring a nest box through Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Rent-a-Nest scheme. We’ve been sponsoring the same nest for a couple of years now. The first year it had a family of blue tits that successfully fledged. Last year it was empty, but at least the money went to support the reserve it’s on (Knapp & Papermill Reserve) so still worth it. Fingers crossed it gets used this year though.

Although National Nest Box Week is primarily aimed at birds, I see no reason not to include other types of nest box – hedgehogs of course! If you’ve got space in your garden why not consider putting in a hedgehog house. Provide a safe dry house for them to build their nests in.

You can buy ready-made hedgehog houses (lots of online options or larger pet shops) or you can build your own. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has an excellent leaflet with designs for building your own:

Hedgehog Homes

Watching a hedgehog making use of a home you’ve put out for it has to be one of the most rewarding things to do in your garden.

New Pond!

Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel this week – we’ve got a new pond! I’ve been promising to do it for years now and finally we’ve done it! When I say “we” it is in the loosest sense of the word – as in it wasn’t me at all. Our lovely friend and Cycling Gardener, Gwyndaf came and did all the hard work while I flounced about the garden excitedly but pretty much ineffectually. Let’s hope the wildlife appreciates all Gwyndaf’s hard work.

So here is the obligatory “before” photo – a fairly sunny spot near the fence in an area that had once been a veg patch but has long since been a weed patch.

Unusually for one of my ideas, I actually tried to do a bit of research rather than just launching into the pond without a plan. All the books explain the need for plenty of shallow areas, with perhaps a small deeper section. I even drew up an actual plan, although I don’t think I’ll win any awards for my draughtsmanship.

Fortunately Gwyndaf managed to interpret my messy scrawls and set to work digging our dream pond. Here are the various stages of digging.

Once dug, the area was checked for any sharp objects, then the pond lined with sand to hopefully prevent any rogue stones poking through.

Next a layer of white underlayer to further protect against punctures, then the final EPDM rubber lining. It was a big relief when the lining was down to find we had measured up correctly and got a big enough liner.

Next essential element was of course water. All the books say to avoid tap water. We emptied the water butt which provided just enough water to fill the central deep section, but little more. I was terrified some poor animal would fall in and get trapped at this stage, so rigged up some hessian “ladders” so that anything falling in could crawl out.

Fortunately we live on the beautiful Malvern Hills – famous for their spring water, so we figured we might as well make use of our local resources. There is a handy well – The Cowleigh Spout – just up the road from us, so I made a few trips filling every available water container to fill the pond a bit further.

The UK was then battered this weekend by Storm Ciara, bad news for a lot of people, but good news when you’re trying to fill a pond. The downpours not only topped up the pond directly, but repeatedly filled the water butt again.

The pond now has the all important sloping beach one end, to allow anything that falls in to climb back out again. I’ve been particularly worried in case any of our hedgehogs took a dive, but now they should be able to get out easily. There are shallow areas for birds to bathe in and (fingers crossed) for amphibians to get loved up in.

We wanted to plant the pond up with native plants to give as natural a feel as possible and promote as much wildlife as possible. Although there are lots of online suppliers, it turns out February is not a good time to be buying pond plants as most are dormant for the winter. We did manage to source some Hornwort, which floats about oxygenating the water. A few others we’ve got as tiny plug plants – Purple Loosestrife, Flowering Rush, Marsh Marigolds and Woundwort and Brooklime. Still waiting for a few more to arrive, but hopefully we should end up with a good mix of marginals, floating and emergent plants to encourage an equally good mix of wildlife.

So here it is in all its half finished glory:

There’s still a lot of work to do finishing it off – hiding the liner edges, more planting in and around the pond, but hopefully by the summer we should have a proper wildlife pond again. In the meantime we’ve had our first wildlife visitor to the new pond. It may only be a pigeon, but it’s using the pond and it’s made me very happy!

Expect to see a lot more pondy posts!