RSPB Homes for Wildlife

by Richard Jones

My father, from whom I get my interest in wildlife, often bemoans the fact that there is nothing left in the countryside these days...

RobinMy father, from whom I get my interest in wildlife, often bemoans the fact that there is nothing left in the countryside these days. He fondly remembers fields awash with butterflies and heavens full of skylarks. But he's never one bit surprised by the constant flow of peculiar things I turn up in the middle of London. Whether it's the ripping out of hedgerows, the spraying of crops or the constant insidious sprawl of roads and development, there seems only one way for the wildlife out there to go: down. In towns and cities, on the other hand, the land is so minutely fractured into tiny plots that there can be no general malaise by which vast swathes of land are degraded or destroyed.

This is always brought home to me when I fly in or out of Heathrow and see the tiny chequerboard mosaic of London gardens spread out below me. There are just so many wild corners down there, it's no surprise the area is full of wildlife.

The recently published results of the RSPB's Homes for Wildlife scheme are a good measure of how interested in wildlife the owners of these myriad plots actually are. I, and 54,450 others, registered with the scheme, and 26,197 actively participated in it by surveying wildlife or reporting changing garden activities.

It turns out I am not a 'typical' participant. Although South London is one of the greenest parts of the capital, when it comes to gardens and open spaces, this is still an urban area, and I was part of only 12% who were town or city dwellers; the majority were suburban or rural. Not surprisingly for an RSPB initiative, most people (over 99%) wanted to improve their gardens for birds, but I was really very pleased to see that over 95% wanted to improve them for insects too.

One of this month's tips (leave a fallen tree where it is or move only a minimal distance) is probably only relevant to those 88% with larger gardens outside large urban centres, but the other (delay cutting until late winter) is already finding favour in my garden. Although we did a bit of trimming earlier, there is still dense thatch in the clematis, ivy, and acacia—enough to shelter birds, insects and other wildlife.

But things are already planned for 2009, starting on 24-25 January with the Big Garden Birdwatch.

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Gardeners' World Web User 13/12/2008 at 11:50

Hi, I have a serious problem with squirrels eating my bulbs I have tried covering with netting ect but as my garden is mostly containers it wasn't very successful. I read in a newspaper that they don't like chilli powder. so have sprinkled this every where, but with the rain last night it is all gone. Do I put more down, and will it affect the soil and plants in the long run? So far it has kept the squirrels away. Many thanks Bridget kennard

Gardeners' World Web User 14/12/2008 at 20:37

Reply to Bridget. We have too many squirrels. They try and dig into everything, but I think we have planted our tulip bulbs deep enough to be out of their scratching reach. When I offered some of our latest bulbs to a parent for the local school she was going to plant them in pots and cover them with chicken wire. She then suggested that she'd heard grated soap kept them away. Goodness knows what that will do to the soil when it rains... but may be worth a try. I can only think, like the chili, it disguises the scent of the bulbs so they cannot find them. Good luck.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:37

Traditionally the eaves of my roof was a nesting site for starlings, then tragedy, a squirrel got in and left the young sprawled on the path below. Anyhow it was time to have the gutters plus wooden fascias and soffits replaced. On completion I purchased a Starling box, yet receive no tenants, partly because there are still a few houses in the road where they can get in. This year however I had a family so have put up two more boxes and plan to experiment by putting some nesting material in one of them to see if it is preferred?