• Spring garden butterfly guide

    With warm weather forecast for much of the country this weekend, there should be a surge of butterfly sightings in gardens, bringing welcome elegance and grace. But which species is which?

    Of course, one of the main ways to identify butterflies is by how they look, but there are three more essential clues that help narrow down possibilities:

    • Range: Some butterflies are only found in a limited geographical area. For example…
    • 3 Apr 2020
  • How to successfully sow seeds

    If there’s one thing well worth doing in these dark times it is sowing some seeds. We’re seeing so many people doing it metaphorically in terms of kindness and love (the more of that the better!), but this is the perfect time to do it with most plant seeds, too.

    It is so satisfying to watch something that starts as little more than a dry husk then grow – thanks to you – into glorious, healthy plants, bringing…

    • 27 Mar 2020
  • Waiting for the sun to come out

    It was a grey day yesterday down here in West Sussex, with a mizzly drizzle that wasn't forecast but just didn't abate. It seemed to sum up the cloud that we are all under at the moment.

    I needed some of nature's tonic, so took myself into the garden, camera in hand.

    There were no insects to be seen or heard, and the birds were largely lying low. So it was down to the flowers to catch my eye. Every day now…

    • 20 Mar 2020
  • There's a mouse not in the house

    Sometimes I have my Friday garden-and-wildlife blogstory all planned out when something else pops out of nowhere to steal the limelight.

    So it was this week, when I went out to fill up the birdfeeders and caught a glimpse of something in the Ivy near my nyger seed feeder, something other than a Goldfinch for which it is intended.

    I peered through the foliage to find some beady little eyes peering back at me:

    Now, when…

    • 13 Mar 2020
  • Listen out for a garden drum solo - or even duet

    It didn't stop raining from first light till dark here in Sussex today. It meant that I didn't step outside once, so my daily nature boost had to come from the view through the window. I'm not complaining, given that my regular diners include beauties such as this Great Spotted Woodpecker, here enjoying the sunflower hearts just outside my study .

    Such close encounters are, of course, difficult to come by…

    • 6 Mar 2020
  • Overnight accommodation in an inner city green motel

    I was away this week for my RSPB dayjob, which required me staying overnight right in the heart of an English city centre. I arrived at my sixth-floor, identikit motel room just as dusk was falling and looked out at the neon-lit slick of concrete, glass and tarmac laid out before me, with its soundtrack of car engines and police sirens.

    However, across the way on a bare concrete rooftop I noticed some fluttering movements…

    • 28 Feb 2020
  • Getting the wildlife-friendly garden ready for spring

    In my garden down here in Sussex, there’s an unmistakeable whiff of spring in the air. The daffs are pushing up, there are deep purple dots of Sweet Violets everywhere, and whenever there is a pause in the rain and the wind, my garden birds are singing at the top of their little lungs.

    Then, yesterday, I had my first frogspawn in one of my ponds.

    I’m sure for all of you, no matter how far north you are, there are…

    • 21 Feb 2020
  • Moving in to the love nest

    During the lull between storms this week, some of my garden birds were getting into the Valentine's Day spirit. Birdsong filled the air, but for one of my pairs of Blue Tits, house hunting was definitely top of the agenda.

    It starts with a bit of hole inspection.

    Interestingly, this is typically initiated by the male, and indeed this picture is a male Blue Tit. Telling one sex from the other is a subtle business…

    • 14 Feb 2020
  • Going straight to the top of the tree

    I'm about to inflict on you some of the worst wildlife photography you will ever see, but I hope it makes an important point about bird-friendly gardens.

    Here's the first of the shots, taken in my garden today (I said the photos were bad!):

    It shows two Greenfinches and a Goldfinch (there, at least you now have the game of finding all three!) t the top of my Walnut tree.

    The reason for showing you this is to…

    • 7 Feb 2020
  • Come with me into Granny’s Garden!

    I was delighted this week to be contacted by Ruth Snowden, who wrote to tell me about her garden, 400 feet up above the Irish Sea in windswept, rainswept Cumbria. “Unsurprisingly heathers do very well, and the bees love them”.

    “There are three ponds, with Frogs and newts, lots of bird feeders, a wild jungle, a wildflower patch with orchids and Cowslips...and lots of exciting little paths to explore. We back…

    • 31 Jan 2020
  • Combating climate change in the garden

    It has been the coldest week of the winter so far for me down here near the Sussex coast. We had a frost. Woohoo! It was SO cold that my main pond froze over, for the first time this winter. And then immediately thawed again. I know, I know -  it is hardly what you'd call 'winter', is it? And I see the forecast is for temperatures back in double digits for the next week or two at least.

    That's not saying we…

    • 24 Jan 2020
  • Little moments of garden wonder

    One of the great assets of 21st century life is how easy it is to record things photographically. Ok, so maybe I sometimes wonder if we are taking too many photos, seeing the world through the lens rather than actually being in the moment, but in terms of being able to quickly record wildlife and then take time later to work out exactly what you are looking at, it is invaluable.

    At this time of year, with the nights still…

    • 17 Jan 2020
  • A Rapture of Robins

    I had the chance to spend a bit of time in the garden today, starting to dig a new border in the winter sunshine. I was not alone for long!

    I can't tell you how much I love my Robins, so I'm just going to have to share my affection for them in some of today's photos instead.

    The thing is, most of the birds that visit my garden come and go, spending a bit of time here before flitting off to other gardens…

    • 10 Jan 2020
  • A moment of reflection in the wildlife-friendly garden

    One of the things I find invaluable in maintaining my drive and determination to improve my garden for wildlife is to keep a photo record of progress. And now, at the turn of the year, is a great moment to pause and reflect on the year just gone - and hopefully rejoice at some of the delights that occurred.

    I started 2019 remarking how many flowers were still in bloom in the garden, with Common Poppy, Corn Marigold and…

    • 3 Jan 2020
  • Exercising the little grey wildlife-gardening cells

    It's raining again as I type, and the forecast says that it won't stop until after dark, which is a shame because after the festive indulgences of the last couple of days, it would have been good to get into the garden.

    However, the beauty of this season is that it brings opportunities to engross yourself in a good wildlife book and learn a little more about what you might see in your garden in the year ahead…

    • 27 Dec 2019
  • Look what happens when you liberate your lawn

    It’s always nice to be able to bring you a story from a garden other than my own, and today I have an inspiring tale of a home experiment to see what happens when you vary how often you cut your lawn.

    The gardener is Jane Taylor, an RSPB volunteer now living in the wilds of Dartmoor, but her trial took place over nine years in her previous garden in coastal Hampshire. The starting point was just her bog-standard…

    • 20 Dec 2019
  • The stage is set for a bird-filled Christmas (and Big Garden Birdwatch)

    I always say that getting ready for Big Garden Birdwatch starts at least 3 months (and sometimes 30 years) before the count itself. So, with six weeks to go (the count is always the last weekend in January), I thought I ought to get in the garden and check that everything is in order.

    Now I'm sure I don't need to say that a big part of the preparations are about ensuring your feeders are filled, but a glance around the…

    • 13 Dec 2019
  • 'Golden-bum' drops in for some pond-side tail-pumping

    A loud 'zit-zit!' call grabbed my attention in the garden yesterday, sharper and more penetrating than most of the birdsounds I hear. It came from a bird that typically needs its voice to be heard above the noise of rushing and gushing waterfalls and weirs, hence the cut-through nature of the sound - it was a Grey Wagtail.

    In typical bounding flight, it looped down to the pond edge, for the draw of the waterside…

    • 6 Dec 2019
  • All it takes is a little sunshine...

    Oh, the sheer and simple pleasure of late autumn sunshine! I managed to get into the garden today during daylight hours and the skies were pure blue, the wind light, and the garden radiated joy after days and days of grey and damp.

    The Robins were in full voice. They are one of those birds that really open wide to let the notes tumble out.

    A Grey Squirrel was clearly in need of a sunbathe, and its position of preference…

    • 29 Nov 2019
  • Prepping the garden for winter wildlife

    With the days short and conditions often dank, the impetus to get into the garden can flag at this time of year, but there are a few little jobs that can be done in just 10 minutes or so each week which can help the garden and its wildlife.

    Top of the list at this time of year is clearing the leaves as they fall. Of course, there is good reason (or you might call it a good excuse!) to leave them in places where they won…

    • 22 Nov 2019
  • It's so wet that...

    You can only feel great sympathy for the people around the country suffering from the flooding at the moment. Water is such a precious thing, but it can also be an unpredictable and powerful force.

    In my garden down in coastal Sussex, the last month has just seemed relentlessly wet, although I'm sure our rain totals here are nothing compared to what people have been facing further north.

    I do keep a rain gauge, which…

    • 15 Nov 2019
  • Autumn's garden babies

    Would you agree that the commoner something is, the more likely we are to overlook it? I've often thought about that for the Starling - it is only as their numbers have declined that I have really begun to appreciate what an amazing bird it is, from its star-spangled plumage to its incredible mimicry to its mega-group murmuration displays.

    Perhaps the bird that has now occupied the space of the Starling in the 'so…

    • 8 Nov 2019
  • Turning a garden lawn into a meadow: Challenges and successes

    There are not many things I hate, but the clocks going back is one of them. That's the end of even seeing the garden when I get in from work, let alone doing anything in it.

    So, although I have absolutely nothing to show you from my garden this week, what I do have are some photos to show the progress of one of my meadow experiments.

    I've been extolling the virtues of turning a bit of your garden lawn into a meadow…

    • 1 Nov 2019
  • A different kind of duck: all about duckweed

    Ducks tend to be very rare in gardens. I realise that I’ll now get a flood of letters from people telling me that they DO get ducks, but those gardens are the exception, not the rule. It generally takes a big garden containing a very big pond (or a lake just over the fence) for ducks to be a regular feature; as an example, my 15-metre long pond has yet to attract a single duck in four years.

    What many of us do get…

    • 25 Oct 2019
  • Advance of the Ivy Bee

    Well, it has been pouring here in my Sussex garden much of the week. The pond has been very grateful, but the bird feeders have been really quiet in the downpours. If this was an Indian Summer there'd still be Red Admiral and Speckled Wood butterflies and Common Darter dragonflies on the wing, but instead there has been a dearth of insects...

    ...except, that is on the Ivy. What a miracle plant it is, to burst into…

    • 18 Oct 2019