The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

BOOK REVIEW

By Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles

Produced by Reef Publishing for Cotswold Wildlife Park

£18 inc p&p.

Looking through the mansion window, I see a pretty stone terrace, balustrading covered in rambling roses, mighty English oak trees in the distance. And a rhinoceros. Or two. I’m at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s not your traditional garden view!

I can hear blackbirds, robins -and yes, there’s a lion’s roar, and black siamang gibbons “whooping.” I’m having a special behind the scenes tour with head gardener Tim Miles and gardener and writer Harriet Rycroft.

Tim and Harriet have spent the past 18 months working on a new book The Cotswold Wildlife Park- A Celebration of the Gardens. And there’s plenty to celebrate. The gardens are a paradise of exotic plants, special trees and shrubs, and wild flowers.

Photo: Front cover.

There are more than 250 species of animals and birds living at the wildlife park where important conservation and breeding work is being undertaken. The star attraction is undoubtably the white rhinos – saved from poachers in Africa, and now producing offspring.

Photo: my i-phone pic of page 60 in the book. Original photo credit: Harriet Rycroft.

Rhinos appear to have free rein in the parkland setting, but in fact, their paddock is ringed by a ha ha. It means there are no fences. They can clearly be seen from all surrounding paths. When I say “clearly seen,” I might add that the paths meander around flower beds containing thousands of ornamental onions, Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation, and grasses such as Stipa gigantea (giant oat grass) and cultivars of Miscanthus and Cortaderia (pampas grass). It’s rather a wonderful combination. Rhinos and alliums. You’ll not see that anywhere else in the world.

Planting provides browse material for many species, but also, importantly, shelter for the animals. This might be shade from summer sunshine, or protection from wind and rain. Planting must, of course, let visitors see into enclosures, but it is so exhuberant that the the lines are blurred between visitors, animals and the wider landscape.

I did manage to get a good look at African Spoonbills and Madagascan Teal. But if they wanted to hide from me, they could.

It is interesting to see trained fruit trees along the walled garden enclosures. There’s a perfectly-pruned fig, and around the corner there are espalier cherry and pear trees, fruiting kiwi and grape vines. Bamboo, a favourite fodder for many animals, grows inside and outside of the enclosures, again blurring the boundaries between them.

In the Tropical House I spy a Linne’s Two-towed Sloth. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. He’s nestled in amongst the foliage, rubber plants (Ficus elastica) cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa) and bromeliads and orchids. Branches of oak provide “perches” and there’s an illusion that house plants have “escaped” to take root in this mini-jungle. In a fascinating insight into the relationship between keepers and gardeners Tim explains that any plant plagued with pests such as greenfly, is given to the keepers to be placed in the Tropical House. Exotic birds clean up the plants by eating the pests. A win-win situation all round. Natural pest control at its best.

Continuing the tropical theme, in the protection of the Walled Garden, there’s palm trees, bananas and cannas interplanted with dahlias, Begonia luxurians and Begonia fuchsioides. Plants overspill onto the paving so you don’t notice the concrete kerbs. Creeping plants such as Tradescantia, Plectranthus and Verbena cascade and intermingle.

Phormiums, banana plants and bedding such as geraniums and coleus (solenostenum) provide a contrast in form, colour and texture.

Container planting features fuchsias, begonias, scented pelargoniums, trailing Scaevola Sapphire, twining Thunbergia African Sunset, nemesia- and even a Protea cynaroides (king protea). It’s rightly described as a “theatre with plants.”

There’s a conservatory- leading to the Bat House and Reptile House- where I spotted a pretty pink Cantua buxifolia.

Some sort of pink grevillea also thrives in the protection of the glass.

I’m still searching for the name of this pretty blue flowering plant. Let me know if you have a name for it. It’s rather lovely to visit a garden and find something you haven’t seen before.

No surface seems to be left without cover. This is the end wall of the rhino house, smothered in golden-flowering Fremontodendron California Glory.

We just throw our weeds in a compost bin, but certain weeds growing at the park provide food for the animals. Giant tortoises love stinging nettles, and goose grass or cleavers are relished by some of the herbivorous reptiles. Banana leaves are popular with stick insects and locusts, but are also given to squirrel monkeys. Honey treats are stuck to the leaves. The monkeys have fun picking off the treats, and then spend time cleaning themselves of the delicious sticky honey.

Gardeners don’t just get requests for plant material for food and nesting; prunings such as lavender and rosemary provide useful enrichment / active entertainment for the lions. Keepers fill bags with the clippings to make giant catnip toys.

With so many rare and glorious plants, the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park are a delight to visit all year round. Visiting transports you to another world. A world that’s been created with imagination and passion. There’s nowhere else quite like it.

All pics, apart from the front cover and the baby rhino, are i-phone photos from my head gardener tour.

Links:

Harriet and Tim’s book is available from Cotswold Wildlife Park https://shop.myonlinebooking.co.uk/cotswoldwildlifepark/shop/product-list.aspx?catid=8

Six on Saturday- a view of my garden 18th May 2019

It’s a sad farewell to the tulips today. Cold weather has given them staying power this year, but I can see they are fading fast. I love the dark purple tulips. They remind me of a bishops’ sash, an amethyst ring, a royal cloak. A stained glass window. Silk.

This is Purple Queen of the Night. I’ve noticed tulips vary in colour, depending on supplier. So this one came from Taylors Bulbs, the one below is also Queen of the Night, from Parkers wholesale.

I’ll be planting more of the the Walkers variety; these stood up to the weather well, and didn’t “melt” when it rained.

I shall miss the jewel-like colours of tulips. It’s been the best display I’ve ever had, and didn’t cost much. Most of the bulbs were bought in the sale at Christmas and planted the first week of January. Waiting to plant until it’s really cold helps prevent viruses which spoil the flowers and leaves.

When the tulips fade, my garden turns green. This is the view from our bedroom window today. The beech trees are at their freshest now, lime green leaves highlighted by sunshine. Gradually they shade out the woodland floor and I say goodbye to the spring understory; bluebells, wild garlic and the last of the white narcissi. Wild clematis and honeysuckle provide some compensation. I didn’t plant these climbers, but they are welcome here. Honeysuckle crowns a silver holly pyramid. No harm seems to come to the holly. It’s a cheerful combination. A happy co-incidence.

The evening scent drifts around the garden and in though bedroom windows. A wonderful scent to end the day. A feast of nectar for night-flying moths. For daytime-flying insects, crab apple blossom provides a banquet. It’s usually smothered in bees. This one I think is Wedding Bouquet.

If you have a small garden, Malus Laura is the one to choose. This gorgeous small tree grows in an upright, vase- shape, doesn’t cast much shade and has wonderful dusky pink blossom, purple new leaves, and plum coloured crab apples. So much interest in just one tree.

Links: Six on Saturday : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/05/18/six-on-saturday-18-05-2019/

Queen of the Night : https://taylors-bulbs.com/spring-flowering-bulbs/

Malus Laura : https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/124642/Malus-Laura/Details

Malus Wedding Bouquet : https://www.frankpmatthews.com/catalogue/malus/10139

Borde Hill Garden

Rhododendrons, azaleas, woodland, sculpture, rare and unusual trees and plants.

We stand still and listen. “There’s a great tit…a chaffinch…a goldfinch…a robin.” I’m writing the names in my notebook, but the list is recounted faster than I can record them.

We are on a tour of Borde Hill Garden. And, what luck, one of our party is an expert on birdsong. The chorus of sound drifts through the trees. Such a beautiful melody, and a wonderful place to be. An English woodland garden on a spring day. Just glorious.

I spot a tree creeper. To my shame, it’s the first time I’ve seen one. A tiny bird, the size of a wren. My first thoughts are that it’s a mouse. Its speckly brown feathers perfectly match the tree bark it’s clinging to. It scurries up a few metres, and then uses its long downward-curving bill to fish out an insect from a crevice. Suddenly it moves to the other side of the trunk. It knows it’s been spotted. Then, making a “see-see-see” call, it flies away. A magical moment- and we’ve only just arrived in this woodland paradise.

We start our tour in the Garden of Allah, a dell created in 1925 where the the owners nurtured many of the species brought back from the great plant hunters of the time. Head gardener Andy Stevens points to a towering Liriodendron chinense (Chinese tulip tree) which was raised from seed collected by Ernest Wilson in central China. Borde Hill bought the tree as a 16ft mature specimen from the famous Veitch’s nursery in 1913. There’s a huge Magnolia fraseri which arrived in the garden as a seedling from the south-eastern USA in 1933. And further into the garden there’s a Davidia involucrata (pocket handkerchief tree).

I can’t decide whether to look up, or down. Up, into the branches of so many rare and unusual trees. Or down, at the ribbons of pure white wild garlic flowing into drifts of bluebells. It’s easy to see why Borde Hill has been described as “unforgettable.”

Leaving the dell, walking past rhododendrons and camellias planted in the 1920s, and magnolias planted as seedlings in the 1930s, we reach Warren Wood and Stephanie’s Glade. It’s here that many of Borde Hill’s fabulous collection of champion trees can be found.

There are many trees I have never seen before. We stop and admire a rare Meliosma Beaniana which is smothered in delicate creamy coloured flowers. Like many of the trees and shrubs at Borde Hill, there’s a fascinating history and story behind them. This tree came via Ernest Wilson who was plant hunting in China in 1908. It was planted at Alderman (now a boarding school) and transplanted at Borde Hill in early 1930s. Records show it flowered for the first time in its new home in 1933.

I found a particularly lovely tree, possibly a type of photinia. It is smothered in white flowers. A magnet for bees and hoverflies.

Borde Hill is famous for rhododendrons and azaleas which are reaching their peak now. I’ve never seen such a striking and colourful display.

Some of the azaleas are scented which adds to their attraction.

Walking out of the woodlands, suddenly you come upon a more formal scene, an Italian garden with topiary flanking a rectangular pond. There’s a statue and waterfall at one end, and large terracotta plant pots each side of the water.

There’s always a surprise around every corner. At the top of the steps, near the sculpture, I found this Peony Mai Fleurie.

Further along the walk, I found more peonies, looking at their best right now.

Tree peonies and perennial forms seem to do very well at Borde Hill and I make a note to plant more in my own garden.

This week sees the start of Borde Hill’s 20th anniversary Sculpture Exhibition (10 May to 30 Sept). Visitors can walk through the 17 acre gardens and enjoy more than 80 pieces by well-known and up-and-coming artists.

I love this one, which I think is Little Owl by Paul Harvey. The labels were being put out on the day of our visit.

And this one, which I’m guessing is Icarus by Nicola Godden. Such a perfect setting in front of the house. Checking the website, I see this winged figure was commissioned for the London 2012 Olympic Village. There’s also a wind sculpture by Will Carr to look out for.

There’s something for everyone at Borde Hill, and all-year-round interest too. But for me, the magic of the place will always be the peaceful walks through those magnificent trees. And the sound of birdsong. The very essence of spring.

Borde Hill: Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, opens from 25 March -3 Nov.

The garden, listed Grade II by English Heritage, is set within 200 acres of parkland.

Special events this year:

Roses. Talk and tour with Michael Marriott from David Austin Roses: 20 June 10.30-2pm

The Rabbit’s Eye View- long term plant performance, landscape masterclass by Noel Kingsbury, 11 Sept 10-4.30.

Practical Pruning – Juliet Sargeant 16 May 10.30-3pm

Designing a Romantic Rose Border – Juliet Sargeant, 11 July 10.30-3pm

Tasty Autumn Talk- Juliet Sargeant, 18 Oct 10.30-12noon.

Many thanks to Eleni and Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke for hosting our visit, and to Constance Craig Smith and the Garden Media Guild for organising the tour.

Links :

For more information about Borde Hill : https://www.bordehill.co.uk/

More on birdsong : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/04/identify-bird-song/

RSPB Let Nature Sing: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing/

Six on Saturday – 9th March 2019

Flashes of light in the wild garden. Anemone blanda White Splendour. It’s full of bees today. White Stands out well against a leafmould carpet. I love the golden stamens.

Wild primroses escape from the hedgerow and colonise the lawn. We will mow around them.

Wild violets all along the hedgerow. Fabulous scent. More bees.

Talking of scent, these hyacinths, Carnegie White and Delft Blue, are still going strong on the greenhouse trolley. I’m enjoying shuffling the plant pots around for my “potted garden” display. Must admit, I got the idea from Monty Don. His “little pots of delight” always caught my attention. Last autumn, I threw lots of bulbs unceremoniously into shallow pans and Sankey pots, and stuffed them under the greenhouse benches. Corkscrew hazel twigs are holding the hyacinths up. ( Thank you Mary for dropping two sacks of twigs on the grass verge for me. đŸ™‚)

From little terracotta pans – to this giant Italian pot, bulbs look great in any container. This is packed full with 50 white tulips. After I’d planted them, I thought I’d layer up with other bulbs to extend the flowering season. There’s white crocus Joan of Arc, anemone blanda, blue hyacinths, and blue violas, topped off with narcissi February Gold.

It’s really worth buying top-size bulbs. These crocus have three flower stems per bulb. It prolongs the crocus season. So cheerful now the weather has turned cold and windy. We need all the cheer we can get. It’s currently sleeting here, and snow is said to be on the way. Enjoy your gardening weekend, and try to keep warm. I will be in the greenhouse- with the heating switched on!

Links:

Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/six-on-saturday-09-03-2019/

Anemone blanda https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/90635/i-Anemone-blanda-i-White-Splendour/Details

Bulbs : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Bulb compost : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/products/bulb-compost.p.aspx

Six on Saturday- My Garden view March 2 2019

Snowdrops are fading fast. We’ve had the warmest February on record, which means they flowered early. But late-flowering varieties came into flower and withered within days.

Warm weather means an early start for daffodils. I’ve planted wild-type varieties here. Amongst the trees. Fancy doubles would look out of place.

Pots of Paperwhite Narcissi have been successionally flowering since November. For very little work, staggering the planting, a steady stream of flowers are produced for container and cut flowers. The scent is so welcome when it’s cold and dark.

New variety Snow Baby was an experiment this year. They are perfect for hanging baskets, window boxes and containers. Long flowering- whatever the weather. A little beauty. It’s earned its place on my order list for next spring.

Terracotta pots of white primroses and polyanthus are all around the garden today. Such a fabulous scent – and much loved by bees.

Pale yellow wild primroses are popping up all along the grass verge and our front garden. I haven’t used weed killer or feed on the lawns for years. Nature’s reward is a blanket of wild flowers starting with primroses, then wild violets, blue self heal, and in the damper areas, lady’s smock, cardamine pratensis, or cuckoo flower. I wonder if we’ll hear the cuckoo this year. We only heard it once last spring. Sad to think that in my Grandfather Ted Fould’s day, cuckoos were a common sound in the woods around his home. Now we are lucky to hear just one.

We have lost half of our cuckoo population over the past 20 years. I’m anxiously watching the BTO’s satellite tracking survey showing the position of tagged birds in the Congo rainforest. Soon they will set off for the long flight back to Britain, via the West African coast.

Climate change is causing the timings of the spring season to fluctuate. Evidence shows that migrant species are not advancing their arrival times sufficiently to keep pace with the change. One thing we can do is not spray our gardens so the cuckoo and other migrant birds find insects to eat when they get here. And I’ll leave our surrounding hedgerows tall and wild, to encourage all types of nesting birds.

You can learn more and watch the satellite tracking here https://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

I’m joining the Propagator with his Six on Saturday meme. You can see more here :https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/six-on-saturday-02-03-2019/

In a Vase on Monday

It’s 25th February- and it feels like May. There’s a steady low hum of bumble bees on the hellebores by the front door. I’ve just seen a wren making a nest under the bedroom window; there’s been a nest there every year for the past 30 years. And joy! There’s frogs in the pond. So hopefully there will be frogspawn soon. Today I’m sharing a selection of photos of my containers. So it’s not strictly in a Vase on Monday- but rather in a container on Monday. I thought I would share photos of the places where I’m taking flowers from to make my daily arrangements for the summerhouse, and kitchen table. And of course some of the flowers will always go to the care home where my in-laws are now living. They can’t easily get out to see gardens, so I shall take spring joy to them.

These narcissi are Snow Baby, new to me, and a real beauty. Grows to only 6″ with flowers the same size as tete-a-tete. Flowers start off the colour of clotted cream and fade to white. Perfect in every way, and the bees love them too.

It’s good to try new varieties, while still planting old favourites such as February Gold and Paperwhites.

Speaking of Paperwhites, I’ve still got pots of deliciously scented flowers on my garden trolly next to the greenhouse. Very handy for picking and adding to bouquets. They are propped up with hazel twigs from the wild garden.

Hazel catkins- “lambs’ tails” – are a much awaited treat. A joyful sight. So full of bees today. I’ve never seen as many out in February before.

White crocus Joan of Arc has joined the trolly display. Also a wonderful pollen supply for bees.

Giving months of interest is hyacinth Delft Blue . Such a wonder to watch it slowly forming a flower spike and starting to unfurl. The scent is heavenly too!

I’m very fond of hyacinth Carnegie too. I love the green tinge to the petals followed by pure white flowers. Well worth growing.

And finally, even the humble daisy is putting on a show right now. Some of these dainty flowers will be going into my jam jar posies. I’m leaving plenty behind for the bees.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my roundup of what’s in flower in my garden. Thanks to Cathy for hosting In a Vase on Monday. Why not go over and see what Cathy and the others all around the world are growing and displaying in their pots, vases and containers this week. It’s a fascinating read.

Links : #IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/in-a-vase-on-monday-it-had-to-be-you-2/

Paperwhites https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/daffodils-narcissus/tazetta-poetaz-narcissi/narcissus-paperwhite-grandiflora

Hazel https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/hazel/

Narcissi Snow Baby https://www.peternyssen.com/narcissus-snow-baby.html

crocus Joan of Arc https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/crocus/large-flowering-crocus/crocus-joan-of-arc

Hyacinth Blue Jacket https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/hyacinths/ordinary-hyacinths/ordinary-hyacinth-blue-jacket

Hyacinth Carnegie https://www.peternyssen.com/prepared-hyacinths-carnegie.html

Six on Saturday

For a change, I’m going to let you wander around peacefully on your own. I’m in the potting shed cleaning tools and generally getting set up for the growing season. There’s a lot to do.

Overhead there’s skylarks. I’ve turned the summerhouse towards the back fields so you can watch them. Such a wonderful sight and sound. Four years ago, we had only one. A lonely skylark is heartbreaking. No amount of frantic singing attracted a mate. Since then numbers have increased and I counted several today. They nest on the ground in the field behind ours.

Like a mirror, the field is reflected in the glass. In the top right window, you can see the trees on the other side of the field.

We peep through the gap in the hedge to watch the skylarks.

Bullfinches are investigating a bird box in the trees behind the summerhouse.

Finches have been eating the wild clematis seeds. Each day I replace the stolen wisps of old man’s beard.

Pots of Paperwhite narcissi sit on the steps. The scent drifts in through the doors.

There’s lots of white Joan of Arc crocus too. Plenty of bumble bees today. It feels more like April than February.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden.

Links : Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/six-on-saturday-23-02-2019/#comments

Skylarks : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/skylark/

Bullfinches : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/bullfinch/

Paperwhites ; https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/daffodils-narcissus/tazetta-poetaz-narcissi/narcissus-paperwhite-grandiflora

Joan of Arc crocus : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/crocus/large-flowering-crocus/crocus-joan-of-arc

In a Vase on Monday – Spring Flowers

Monday 18th February. I’ve run around the garden and picked flowers for a tiny posy. My mother in law Joan gave me the little cut glass vase. So cheerful, the reflection of light, and jewel- like flowers. How can such delicate beauties survive the cold.

There’s double and single snowdrops, chinodoxa glory of the snow, pink cyclamen coum, crocus, Paperwhite narcissi, and heavenly-scented daphne.

I’ve spun the vase round to show you the yellow aconites. What a joy to see them flowering in the wild garden. Just as the aconites start to go over crocus tommasinianus suddenly appear. A feast of pollen for emerging queen bumble bees.

Crocus are doing well in the woodland garden, but I didn’t plant these out in the meadow here. I wonder why an unexpected plant, growing where it wants to be, should make me so happy. I run out and check these little flowers each day and stand and ponder. I couldn’t be happier, and I’m not sure why.

For my summerhouse door wreath this week, I’ve popped a few crocus flowers in my recycled test tubes filled with water. No need to use florists foam which adds to pollution. Use little test tubes, glass spice jars or miniature jam jars.

Fresh green ivy berries and moss hide the workings, and wild clematis or old- man’s beard- makes a nest for the snowdrops.

There’s stirrings from the pond already. I’ve seen several frogs- maybe there will be frogspawn soon. A pair of bullfinches are investigating the nest box in the tree next to the summerhouse. They are going to be very noisy neighbours, judging by the racket they are making. A friend and I sat and watched them this afternoon, and marvelled at the weather being mild enough to sit outdoors, in the middle of February, the summerhouse doors thrown open. A moment to treasure.

Links; Cathy IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/in-a-vase-on-monday-alternative/

Bullfinch song https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/bullfinch/

Crocus tommasinianus https://www.peternyssen.com/tommasinianus-ruby-giant.html

Cyclamen coum for autumn planting https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/cyclamen/cyclamen-coum

Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis https://www.cumbriawildflowers.co.uk/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=181

Chinodoxa https://www.avonbulbs.co.uk/autumn-planted-bulbs/chionodoxa/chionodoxa-forbesii-blue-giant

clematis vitalba https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants-and-fungi/woodland-wildflowers/travellers-joy/

Announcing my prize draw winner. CJ Wildlife bird feeder.

I’m pleased to announce that Chloris has won my prize draw for a bird feeder kindly donated by CJ Wildlife.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment and took part in this draw.

Look out for my next prize draw which will be for a copy of Emma Mitchell’s new book The Wild Remedy. I’m enjoying reading this beautiful book, and a review will follow shortly.

Shropshire company CJ Wildlife kindly send a selection of bird feeders and nest boxes for me to try out,

The items arrived well packed in a cardboard box, with recyclable shredded cardboard and paper packaging inside.

Inside the box was an Apollo feeder, HighEnergy No-Mess feed, a Shannon peanut butter feeder and jar of special Peanut Butter for Birds. Also some suet and seed hearts. And a bird table scraper and some disinfectant to keep everything safe and hygienic.

APOLLO FEEDER

The Apollo feeder is made from UV stabilised polycarbonate materials which should be long lasting. I found the feeder easy to disassemble in seconds, with no tools needed, making it simple to clean and refill. There is ventilation in the lid part, which prevents condensation in the tube, helping to keep food fresh for longer.

My feeder has three port holes. There are five and seven-hole- types available. The distance between ports ensures birds don’t feel stressed by being too close together. I like the perching rings which allow birds to feed in a forward facing position.

HIGH ENERGY NO-MESS FEED

This was very popular with the birds in my garden and disappeared quite quickly. The seeds have been de-husked which minimises wastage and mess. This is great for ground, seed feeders, and bird tables. It contains kibbled sunflower hearts, kibbled peanuts, yellow millet, and pinhead oatmeal. It’s interesting to see that 100g gives 550 K/Cal energy. Some other feeds have a lower energy value.

SHANNON PEANUT BUTTER FEEDER

This feeder made from polypropylene hangs in a wall, fence or tree. Mine is on the front of the potting shed. The Peanut Butter for Birds jar slides under the roof. I found this was very popular with bluetits and great tits. There is a perch for them so they can feed in a forward -facing position. Simple to use, and clean, with no mess.

CJ Wildlife have a variety of peanut cakes containing seeds and insects, berries and mealworms. The robins love the little heart suet and seed cakes.

BIRD FEEDING TIPS

Common garden birds can be divided into three groups: seed eaters, insect eaters, and birds that eat both. Seed eaters such as sparrows and finches love food that consists of sunflower seed, corn, oats, and chopped peanuts. Insect eaters such as robins will prefer food containing mealworms or dried fruit. Tits are among the group of birds that will eat both seeds and insects.

Birds have an energetic lifestyle and need lot of calories each day just to survive. By providing high energy food we can help them through difficult times, such as when there’s bad weather, and when they are building nests or feeding their young. Sunflower hearts and peanuts have a high energy value.

Most seeds have a kernel- the part the birds are going to eat- surrounded by a tough outer case that is discarded by the bird. In some feeds the outer case is removed, meaning there is less waste. If you buy sunflower seeds for example that haven’t been shelled, birds use more effort to take the husks off and don’t get as much energy.

In a recent BBC Gardeners’ World magazine report it was revealed that we spend, as a nation, a staggering £813,698 a day on bird food. The figures come from the Horticultural Trades Association.

I was surprised to read, in the magazine investigation by Marc Rosenberg, the RSPB claim that dried peas, beans and small pieces of dog biscuits can be added to low-end mixes. It says birds will not choose to eat them. If you see coloured pieces in the mix, red, green and yellow, it might possibly be reconstituted dog biscuits.

So, from now on, I shall buy from reputable suppliers. I’ll choose kibbled sunflower seeds, knowing that birds lose energy removing the husks. I’ll clean the feeders out once a week, using hot water or bird- safe disinfectant, rather than just topping up the feeders as they get low. And I’ll remember to put out fresh water each day. Birds need water to keep their plumage in good condition and it’s fun to watch them splashing about.

I wrote about my low bird count for the RSPB BigGardenBirdWatch here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/30/nest-boxes-and-bird-feeders-for-the-garden/

Climate change is having an impact on all our wildlife. Caterpillars are not emerging until later in the season due to cold, wet spring conditions. This is having an impact on birds such as bluetits who hunt caterpillars to feed their young.

I’ll certainly be doing all I can to provide a lifeline for all the birds visiting my garden. I just hope numbers increase before too long.

Nest Boxes and Bird Feeders for the Garden

#BigGardenBirdWatch – My survey results.

Looking out of my potting shed window, I can see plenty of pigeons and a few robins. But where have all the song birds gone? Last weekend I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, and I was shocked by the results. Hardly any birds in my garden.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is in its 40th year, starting out in 1979. Over half a million people take part; it’s the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. But what it has shown over the years is a downward trend, a drastic decline in the number of thrushes, starlings and sparrows.

Results show:

  • Song thrushes down 75 percent
  • Starlings down 80 percent
  • Blackbirds down 41 percent
  • House sparrows down 57 percent
  • Greenfinches down 57 percent
  • Robins down 31 percent

Birds on the increase are

  • Wood pigeons up 950 percent
  • Collard doves up 307 percent.

In my one hour survey I spotted:

1 great tit

3 blackbirds

2 robins

1 wren

1 pheasant

1 chaffinch

5 pigeons

It’s about five years since we heard the tap- tapping of a song thrush breaking open a snail shell on the garden path. And I can’t remember the last time we spotted a sparrow. It must be 10 years at least.

So, with plummeting numbers, what can we do to help. One positive action is to put up a nest box. Loss of habitat might be a factor in the decline of the sparrow. We are all keeping our homes in better repair, meaning there are fewer gaps under the tiles where sparrows like to nest.

I asked Shropshire company CJ Wildlife for advice on buying and siting a nest box and here’s some hints and tips I’ve gathered.

Each bird has its preference for a particular nest box. The entrance opening is a determining factor.

  • 28mm hole- suitable for blue tit, coal, great, crested, marsh and willow tits, pied flycatcher and tree sparrow
  • 32mm – house sparrow, tree sparrow, great tit, crested tit, nuthatch
  • Oval entrance hole – house sparrow, nuthatch and redstart.
  • Open fronted box- well hidden in foliage- robin, wren, spotted flycatcher, redstart, black redstart, pied and grey wagtail, song birds.

Buying a bird box

  • Choose one made from high quality wood, up to 18mm thick, for insulation.
  • Look for an FSC label – certified products contain wood in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council regulations. The council promotes responsible forest management
  • Birds will often return year after year to the same box, choose one that is going to last. WoodStone is a mix of wood and concrete which has good insulating properties and a long life. A 10 year guarantee is given.
  • Metal or some ceramic nests might not be suitable, as they could have low insulation properties.
  • The best bird boxes come with a metal plate protecting the entrance hole from predators. These plates can also be purchased for a few pounds to protect existing boxes that don’t have this feature.

Maintenance of bird boxes

Bird boxes should be emptied every year between the end of October and January 31st. This will help to prevent parasites building up. Wear gloves and a dust mask. Wash the bird box in hot soapy water, or use bird-safe cleaners. Leave to dry for a few days in a garage or shed, and return the bird box to its original position.

Bird boxes can be painted, outside only, with non-toxic water- based paint.

Siting a bird box

  • Chose a north or east- facing position, as bright sunshine will overheat and possibly kill young birds
  • If mounting bird box on a tree, use the dry side and avoid the side where water rushes down in heavy rainfall.
  • Choose a secluded place, away from patios and barbecues
  • Site near vegetation so that young birds making their first flight will have some cover
  • Protect open nest boxes with thorny vegetation around them
  • The best height for bird boxes is between 1.5m and 5.5m
  • A clear flight path into the box is needed
  • Avoid sites such as the top of a fence, where predators can easily access the bird box.

In my garden, I’ve started off with boxes for robins, sparrows and great tits. And I’m hoping to attract a nuthatch or two. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on. I’m saving up for one that has a camera inside. I’d love to watch nesting birds in action.

Many thanks to CJ Wildlife for supplying bird food, and feeders, which I’ll talk about next time, and substantial, high quality nest boxes. I’m looking forward to attracting more birds to my plot, and doing my bit towards reversing the downward trend in garden bird numbers.

Here are some links you might find useful.

BTO https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw

Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/birds/

CJ Wildlife https://www.birdfood.co.uk/bird-feeders.html

CJ Wildlife nest boxes https://www.birdfood.co.uk/nest-boxes.html

Big Garden Birdwatch https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

 

 

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Photos of birds credit :CJ Wildlife.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #BigGardenBirdWatch and #Winterwatch on social media to share your findings and stories from your weekend survey. And please feel free to share this blog piece on any social media platform. It all helps. Thank you.