Last summer I wrote a long blog post about my small, urban garden and a ‘Bioblitz’ I performed in it, to try and find out exactly what was living on my doorstep.
It really brought home to me how important even small actions are for wildlife, and inspired me to try and do even more to benefit the wildlife in my garden. As I wrote in that blog, my “garden” is in one of the most built-up areas of Bristol, and is not much more than a small square of concrete patio, surrounded on all sides by other rather barren patios and tightly packed houses. There are barely any trees or bushes to speak of, and the only grass is what forces its way up through cracks in the pavement.
However, I found a surprising amount living there – yes, it was mainly small and not what most people would think of as very charismatic , but it was beautiful and important nonetheless. Perhaps even more importantly to me, it was a connection, however small, to the natural world that can be so easy to lose when you’re living in a built up area.
Inspired by all this, and by the number of people who told me they’d also like to survey the wildlife in their own gardens, I decided to try and do even more this year to attract wildlife. I’ve had less time to devote to it recently, and have decided not to focus on growing my own fruit and veg this time round, but the actions I’ve taken so far have already shown their benefits. I therefore thought it was about time I wrote a quick update on my little patch.
Adding to the species count
In my original garden “Bioblitz” last year, I counted a total of at least 133 species, most of which were plants and insects. Molluscs and arachnids did well too, with 4 snail species, 2 slugs, and 14 types of arachnids (spiders, harvestmen and a very cool little pseudoscorpion).
Since then, I’ve manage to add quite a few more species to the list. I seem to find new caterpillars and moths every time I look, and there have also been a new snail species, at least one more spider, several types of bee, a bee fly, a lacewing, a brightly coloured cranefly and a pair of large red damselflies.
To my amazement, there have even been BIRDS – not a single one (as far as I’ve ever seen) has ever landed in my garden – something I find surprising and very sad – but two woodpigeons did land next door, and I have heard house sparrows chirping so there must be one or two around.
Bringing in the wildlife
One of the main things I have tried to do this year to bring in more species is simply to plant a wider range of flowers. Thanks to quite poor weather, ravenous snails and the neighbour’s cats my planting efforts have not all succeeded, but it’s been good to see several different species of bee enjoying what has managed to flourish and flower. Most satisfying of all was to find a honey bee and a bee fly happily enjoying several of my flowers before I’d even had a chance to plant them out – they had only been sat outside for half an hour!
I’ve also had some fun making (and buying) “bug houses“. No luck with attracting any solitary bees so far, but one of the holes quickly became home to a rather large spider… Check out the snail inspecting my homemade version too! I found all the bee and bug houses available online very expensive, but managed to get a handmade one from a local market stall, and used old, chopped up buddlea cane stuffed inside a cardboard box to make my own.
In a moment of optimism I even decided to buy a small bird feeder. The only place to hang it was on the washing line. Not unsurprisingly, nothing has visited it so far (the lack of birds around here is really quite upsetting), but it is there should they ever want to drop in!
The “Bucket Pond”
One of the best ways to attract wildlife is to provide water, even if it’s just in the form of a small bird bath. I’m sadly not able to dig a pond here, but I was still really keen to put out some form of water feature and was determined to prove that if you provide the right habitats and resources, wildlife will come.
I eventually settled on building a “bucket pond” – literally two large plastic tubs filled with water. They looked a bit sad to begin with (as shown in the photo below), but after a bit of searching for some native pond plants and some planting up, they immediately came to life.
I had hoped to perhaps get one or two insects moving in, but I’ve been astonished at how successful my “bucket pond” has already been. The first tenants were an army of mosquito larvae; maybe not what everyone wants, and I wasn’t going to tell my neighbours I was breeding up a whole load of blood sucking insects, but to me they were important as the basis of a food chain – they could hopefully provide food for other things.
I also soon had some strange worm-like larvae – I have yet to identify them, but they look almost like underwater caterpillars in the way they crawl along the bottom and sides of the tub. What really made the whole effort worth it for me though – and what I felt really proved that providing resources for wildlife does work – was when I found a pair of mating large red damselflies laying eggs in the water. I have yet to see the nymphs swimming about, but at least they’ll have plenty of larvae to feast on when they do! There’s no better feeling when wildlife gardening than when an animal chooses to use something you have provided for it – I felt very honoured!
Thanks to stowaways on the pond plants I bought, the “pond” is now also teeming with hundreds of daphnia, as well as pond snails and some fascinating little crustaceans which I believe are ostracods (the big whitish dots in the photo below). They provide a surprising amount of entertainment and I can’t wait to see what moves in next!
Despite these successes, my garden still feels a very barren place to me at times. There as so fewer insects than there should be – I have plenty of flowers now and they should be buzzing with life; the odd bumblebee is great but where are the rest of them? There should be the chirping of birds, but there is just not enough shelter and food for them around here. I’ve not seen a single butterfly so far this year.
At least what I have managed to achieve so far in such a small space does prove that it doesn’t take much to support wildlife – perhaps the next step it to convince all my neighbours that plants are GOOD and concrete patios are not!
Garden Bioblitz – spreading the idea
Following on from the “Bioblitz” I tried out in my garden, I’ve had a great response from other people who would also love to find out what they have living in their own backyards. It would be great to be able to engage people with the wildlife they have living on their doorsteps and to inspire them to do more to encourage it, and to this end a number of friends and I will be testing out the idea of a big “Garden Bioblitz” event in July, with participants all surveying their own gardens for up to 24 hours over one weekend.
If all goes well we hope to expand this next year and get people around the country involved. If you have any thoughts or comments, or would like to know some more about what’s happening, please do get in touch!