• 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
  • Return of the thrush?

    "Extremely common everywhere, frequenting our gardens and shrubberies, and when the time comes taking heavy toll from fruits of all kinds." Those were the words of William Borrer to describe the Song Thrush in his 1891 book, "The Birds of Sussex".

    I was privileged to edit the 2014 tome of the same name, for which the Song Thrush entry starts, "It has been a source of great sorrow for many that Song…

    • 11 Oct 2019
  • Is this our most exciting garden insect?

    Dear Reader, I give you the most amazing insect you are likely to see in your garden.

    (Cue drumroll)

    Ta dah!

    It's a bit like that moment on Britain's Got Talent where an act walks onto stage and you so hope they are going to be good but you're prepared for it to flop badly.

    So come on, little moth - what trick do you have for us?

    Wait for it, wait for it...

    Yes, this is the moth that can hang motionless…

    • 4 Oct 2019
  • Soaking up the garden sounds of autumn

    Although I'm mad-keen about wildlife-friendly gardening, I also have an unbridled passion for birdsong, which at last found its chance to shine when a compilation-track of my recordings got to number 18 in the pop charts this year in what we called Let Nature Sing. (Two hundred thousand You Tube views and counting, I'll have you know!)

    Of course, the two things go together very nicely: the garden wouldn't be the…

    • 27 Sep 2019
  • The climate crisis and how gardens - and gardening - are part of the solution

    In case you weren't aware, today is Global Climate Strike Day in which thousands of schoolkids across the UK and many more across the world will show their concern for the climate crisis and urge leaders, decision makers and all of us to change to a fossil-fuel-free future.

    As 'grown-ups' are invited along, I'll be attending the Brighton rally to show my support and solidarity. And while I was on my knees making my…

    • 20 Sep 2019
  • Anything is possible: Surprise visitors in the wildlife-friendly garden

    There are three key points in the year when some unusual faces (of the birdy kind) can turn up in your garden:

    • The first is during bouts of harsh weather, which can force some birds to abandon their usual haunts and overcome their natural nervousness in their desperate search for food;
    • The second is in spring when many birds are migrating north and a few might briefly drop into your garden as they pass through;
    • And the…
    • 13 Sep 2019
  • Nettles not required - but they can be quite fun

    One of the most important books about wildlife-friendly gardening ever written is called No Nettles Required by the Daily Telegraph columnist and Sheffield University senior lecturer, Dr Ken Thompson. I won't praise him too much as he sometimes reads this blog - we don't want it to go to his head - but for those who haven't read it it is not only enlightening but also laugh-out-loud funny. The main message of the book…

    • 6 Sep 2019
  • The Queen of Spiders, and the meadow conundrum

    When I set out to turn an area of my garden into a wildflower meadow, I had certain wildlife in mind that I hoped would benefit. I wanted it to host breeding grasshoppers and a range of meadow butterflies such as Meadow Brown and Common Blue, and I hoped to see bats hunting above.

    Well, the meadow was sown and prepared in autumn 2017, the grasses and meadow perennials have grown wonderfully, and almost all my target species…

    • 30 Aug 2019
  • Sharing the passion: ideas for doing great things for wildlife where you live

    Doing things to help wildlife in your own garden is one thing (and a big cheer to everyone playing their part), but the results can be even more impressive if you do it as part of your local community.

    I've had the privilege over the last few years to meet a number of groups of people doing just that. Those of you who receive the RSPB's Nature's Home magazine may recognise some of these stories, but hopefully you will…

    • 23 Aug 2019
  • A portrait of August in the wildlife-friendly garden

    Sometimes on this blog I just like to let the pictures do most of the talking. Here's a portrait of my garden in the last few days:

    Hopefully many of you are enjoying the feast of Painted Lady butterflies this year.

    Gorse Shieldbugs in summer are coloured to match the drying seedheads of the plant, whereas those in spring are green to match the fresh foliage. See if you can find the two shieldbug nymphs in this…

    • 16 Aug 2019
  • Who's a clever bird?

    The other day I could hear this 'tap tap' from the top of the garden. Then there'd be a pause, and a couple of minutes later 'tap tap tap'.

    On investigating, I found this young Great Spotted Woodpecker, banging away at a bare, vertical branch on a dead apple tree I've left standing. You can tell it is this year's bird because it has red on its crown, which the adults don't have.

    My first…

    • 9 Aug 2019
  • How many plants do you have in YOUR garden?

    This week, this little unassuming fella helped me pass through a milestone.

    It is Pellitory-of-the-Wall, a native plant that normally grows at the foot of walls where there seems to be not a crumb of soil to support it. But it popped up out of nowhere in my Bee Border, and became my 500th type of plant in my garden this year.

    Other newbies for my list this year include Wild Parsnip, which has now flowered in the wildflower…

    • 2 Aug 2019
  • Making a Bee Border on a budget

    One of my projects this year in my mission to transform my garden into a wildlife haven was to create a new Bee Border. Well, it's meant more for any pollinator, but 'Bee Border' flows off the tongue, don't you think? Sometimes you hear of such things as a Nectar Bar, but that rather ignores the value of pollen, so maybe it should also be called a Pollen Pantry.

    Anyway, back to the more prosaic spadework…

    • 26 Jul 2019
  • Liquid gold: the value of water in the garden

    When scientists look for evidence of life on other planets, the first thing they seek is signs of water. Indeed, 'follow the water' is the mantra of extra-terrestrial life-seekers at NASA. 

    They don't need to send up a space robot with a jay-cloth to see what they can mop up, because liquid water and ice and water vapour create tell-tale signs that can be seen from afar, and water has so many incredible chemical…

    • 19 Jul 2019
  • How to have a front garden butterfly haven

    Yesterday evening, I had the great pleasure of going to visit my good friends, Clare and Michael Blencowe, and see how their wildlife-friendly garden is getting on.

    They live in a village in West Sussex, with a back garden that I estimate is 12m wide by 10m deep, I guess what you might call average (the Blencowes, by the way, are in no way what you could describe as average!). However, it is their front garden I wanted…

    • 12 Jul 2019
  • Spot the difference: annual flower beds vs perennial meadows

    If there is one abiding confusion in the world of wildlife-friendly gardening, it is the difference between a meadow and an annual flower bed.The latter so often gets called a meadow, but there are so many differences in how you look after them - and the wildlife that uses them.

    Yesterday I visited a nature reserve that reveals the contrasts on a vast and impressive scale. It is called Ranscombe Farm in Medway, north…

    • 5 Jul 2019
  • How did something so small and rare reach my garden?

    Every so often, a wildlife moment happens in the garden that has me rubbing my eyes with disbelief.

    So it was this Monday when I saw a tiny silvery butterfly flitting low over the tapestry of wildflowers in my ‘meadow’. (I should explain that the ‘meadow’, should you be imagining something grand, was sown in autumn 2017 and spring 2018 on what was originally a muddy chicken pen!). I instantly thought it must be a Brown…

    • 28 Jun 2019