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Homes for Wildlife


by Richard Jones

I thought my garden was already quite a haven for mammals, birds and insects, but there is always more you can do for them. With this in mind I've just registered to take part in the RSPB Homes for Wildlife scheme.


Shieldbug on a leafI thought my garden was already quite a haven for mammals, birds and insects, but there is always more you can do for them. With this in mind I've just registered to take part in the RSPB Homes for Wildlife scheme. After answering a few brief questions online about me and my garden I can now download factsheets containing advice on how to attract and benefit wildlife.

Out in my garden there is already a good deal going on. I've noticed the green shieldbugs in my garden are all purple. Saturday was the best sun in ages and these lovely bugs have started to appear, just as they always do at this time of year, sunning themselves on the south-facing fence, and the leaves of the ivy growing all over it. They won't stay that colour for long, and I expect that within 10 days they will be back to their original rich emerald hue.

The green shieldbug (Palomena prasina) is, of course, green, except that it isn't during winter. Nobody seems exactly sure what is going on, but they start to turn brownish purple in autumn, just before disappearing into hibernation. It has been reported as being a physiological change, perhaps related to changes in the way nutrients are stored in their bodies over winter. But I've often wondered whether it might be an evolutionary adaptation to the disappearance of greenery in autumn and the fact that these bugs sun themselves on brown tree trunks to warm up when they re-emerge in spring.

I can't resist picking up these bumbling creatures, they're lovely. Their clockwork gait is almost comical and the wonderful flicking open of wings and mechanical whirr as they take to the wing is fascinating. They do, though, leave behind a certain scent. It's vaguely like almond marzipan, and I find it quite pleasant. But in the mouth of bird or shrew, it's bitter and acrid, and probably poisonous since it's based on the same chemical composition as prussic acid aka hydrogen cyanide. The smell lingers on my fingers and I can smell it later when dunking a digestive in my tea.

Tea-drinking is about all I've been doing in the garden so far this year, that and sorting out nearly-three-year-old's sandpit toys. But I've just visited the 'My garden' page on the RSPB Homes for Wildlife website and I notice there are 124 actions I can take to benefit wildlife. Let's see how I get on ...



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Gardeners' World Web User 22/06/2007 at 16:45

Do you now where I can buy sedum matting I want it for the roof of our shed?

Gardeners' World Web User 20/03/2008 at 16:22

I love this shield bugs too. And so do the kids. They are easy to catch without damaging them (!) and they crawl up jumpers slowly enough not to worry them.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/03/2008 at 13:22

I read the item about sedum mats for bird tables but wonder where I can purchase some without having to take out a loan to do it! I live in Eire and so far the quotes I've seen are in the £60 region because of the high cost of postage/packing and that's for the smallest size (250 x 500mm)! I haven't been able to source a local supply.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/03/2008 at 00:50

Richard, I laughed when I read your comments about the shield bugs - in South Africa I know them as Stink bugs...and try to avoid them at all costs!!! Maybe here in UK they have a milder smell, or we have differing nasal sensitivity!! I have a horrible memory from early childhood, when climbing the mulberry tree in our Pretoria garden and stuffing my mouth with fruit, I bit into a stinkbug.... believe me, I can recall that taste to this day.... some 50 years later!!

Gardeners' World Web User 22/03/2008 at 11:09

What do these Shieldbugs do? Are they a benefit to my garden? What do they eat? Thanks. Does anyone know what a Vine weevil - the adult that lays the eggs look like? Thanks Ann.

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