Posted: Wednesday 19 November 2014
by Richard Jones

...for most of humanity now, ‘wildlife’ does not mean Serengeti wildebeest migration, or ocelots in the rainforest ... it means garden wildlife.

My first wildlife blog for gardenersworld.com was in July 2007, and in the intervening 7 years I have wittered on about ladybirds and lily beetles, swifts and sparrowhawks, badgers and bumblebees. I may have mentioned the occasional cat, bemoaned the unwelcome deposition of fox dung, and berated some of my neighbours for paving over their front gardens for driveways.

I don’t have a very large garden, by some standards, but I’m always on the look-out for something of interest, mostly insects I admit, to present at my blog-spot show-and-tell. The pictures above shows a caterpillar of the small white butterfly still feeding in October, but camouflaged green and solitary, contrasting with the garish speckled black and yellow caterpillars of the large white, huddled in gangs and destroying my nasturtiums. It’s always fascinating to see or hear of what other people are finding in their gardens, and plenty of times I used their observations and photos to pep-up the list. It’s all been jolly good fun.

But the fun is ending. This will be my final regular blog as the website goes through a revamp, but now’s a time to get serious about garden wildlife. Although it passed unobserved here, a watershed in human development was crossed during the time that these blogs have been running — in about 2008/9, for the first time in history, over half the world’s population lived in towns and cities.

On the surface this may seem like a prosaic and rather irrelevant statistic for a gardening blog. But what it means is that from now on the world’s wildlife that the majority of the Earth’s population is most likely to see is the wildlife that they can see in towns and cities — whether in large public or small private gardens. In other words, for most of humanity now, ‘wildlife’ does not mean Serengeti wildebeest migration, or ocelots in the rainforest, it doesn’t even mean woodland birds or hayfield butterflies, it means garden wildlife, what you can see out through the kitchen window, or down on the communal lawns beneath the block of flats.

As (I hope) a good field naturalist, but a bad gardener, this saddens me slightly. I can’t believe what most people are missing. It also rather worries me, for what people do not see, they neither see its loss, its destruction, its corruption. The more an increasingly urban population thinks of wildlife as either grey squirrels doing acrobatics on the fence or titmice visiting the bird table, or just something vaguely ‘out there’ off in the distant and unnerving wilderness, they will neither understand it nor value it.

Blockbuster wildlife documentaries are all very well, but it is with familiar garden wildlife that naturalists must now engage if they are to meaningfully communicate the complexities of nature to the general public. My work here is just beginning.

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Talkback: Wildlife
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Zara Araz 23/11/2014 at 19:45

Hello I recently joined Gardeners World.com and find the site very helpful,especially your regular blogs.I am lucky that all through my 46 years I have had access to a garden learning and still learning along the way. A garden to me,is not just for the enjoyment of my self,but to get a happy balance for humans and wildlife. I have never used any chemicals in any garden. I feel chemicals eradicate one problem and then cause another. Chemical chain reaction I call it. I would love to know you're own views on this. I would also like to say even after this site revamp, I hope you can continue with your valuable regular blogs.

Woodgreen wonderboy 23/11/2014 at 22:26

I am not sure your question is well founded, sorry. Very few gardeners use chemicals to the complete eradication of all wlidlife. What would be the point of that? No insects, no birds, no whatever. 

Gardens are one of the country's most important wildlife refuges, chemicals and all. I use some chemicals when I think it wise, after all I spend a great deal of time and money on my garden. It belongs to me and is my main hobby.  Wildlife teems.

I live in the New Forest, and my garden has more birds per sq.m. than the NF.



Buttercupdays 23/11/2014 at 22:44

I have gardened here for 30 years and have never used chemicalls either. I enjoy hand weeding - you never know what you may find and I have had several nice plants as presents from the birds.

Pests are not a major problem as I have an army of helpers - hens and ducks - who generally keep on top of things, though I do use organic slug pellets around new plants and in the greenhouse where they can't go. Though a bit like chemicals, sometimes you exchange one problem for another - dust baths and big webbed feet aren't exactly good for all plants either!

The one thing that tempts me to break my own rule is fungus.  Occasional rots and rusts and grey mould in the green house can either be lived with or managed by good garden hygiene. But I love roses and live in the country with no air pollution (good,)but that makes my roses martyrs to black spot (very bad!) however hard I try. Very few are really resistant though the very old ones like Rosamundi cope better than the rest.

However the upside is that the garden is full of insects including lots of bumble bees and butterflies as well as ground beetles and hover flies. Aphids never last more than a couple of weeks; if the ladybirds don't get them the bluetits do. These little birds cleared up an infestation of chafer beetles that ate all the buds on my cherry tree and turned the leaves to lace - I just put up a bird feeder nearby and they polished off the bugs while they were queuing! I love the buzz in the air when you go outside on a summer morning, I love watching the different sorts of bumble bees on the cotoneaster and I love watching the birds and the bats that the insects attract. I'm somewhat less happy with the badgers that dig up the grass to find grubs or with the rabbits that nibble the flowers off my early crocuses.The worst though are the mice that eat crocus and tulip bulbs and decapitated all my sweet pea seedlings to eat the seeds. I don't feel very wildlife friendly towards them!

Woodgreen wonderboy 23/11/2014 at 23:03

I too have badgers, bats, mice, birds, fungus, slugs, snails, bees, wasps, beetles, ladybirds etc... all the life you list. And yet I chose to use chemicals too, on a controlled and specific basis. 

Wildlife and chemicals don't seem to be mutually exclusive?

Zara Araz 24/11/2014 at 00:38

Well thankyou for your views,every one is entitled to their own opinion regarding chemical use in the garden. However all chemicals have a side effect. I have no wish to offend anyone by this statement,so happy gardening chemical free or not.

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