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Wildlife Habitats

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Author: Linda Pollitt

First Steps

Wildlife gardeners can provide breeding places and shelters for a wide range of animals including insects, amphibians and mammals. It is possible to buy nest boxes and shelters for all manner of creatures, from mason bees, bumble bees, bats and hedgehogs to ladybirds and lacewings. It is also possible to construct effective shelters economically using materials found around the garden. For instance, a great hibernating or breeding shelter for hedgehogs can be made by piling up some dry leaves in a quiet corner and leaning a sheet of plywood over it to keep the worst of the rain off.

Similarly, shelters for insects and other invertebrates can be made in a variety of simple ways, for example by drilling holes of different sizes into a piece of hardwood and leaving it undisturbed in a sunny corner of the garden or by bundling together a number of hollow stems, e.g. bamboo canes that can be left in a quiet corner. Log and stone piles also provide myriad breeding and shelter opportunities for wildlife.

Commercially produced bird nest boxes are now available for a wide range of species. Take the time to investigate the wild bird species found in your area and you can then be sure to buy the right box.

A log pile is a fantastic habitat for a whole range of creatures. Not only does it provide shelter, but as it rots many wild animals and plants will find it a rich and welcome source of food. These include stag beetles, wood wasps, woodpeckers, tree creepers, shrews, wood lice, hedgehogs, mosses and fungi. In addition, a damp log pile can provide an ideal habitat for amphibians such as toads and newts.

A Log Pile

The best time to construct your log pile is autumn. By late October many animals and insects will be looking for a safe, damp place to hibernate before the really cold weather sets in. Any wood can be used in a log pile, but native hardwood will support the widest range of insects. The size of the logs is not important, but to make a rich habitat bury the bottom layer of logs in the soil - preferably to around 10 cms deep. Many insects, such as the stag beetle, will only lay their eggs in damp, decaying wood deep in the soil. The log pile does not need to be very tall, since the top of the pile will be dry and less attractive as a habitat. It is better to have two or three low piles than one high pile. Once your pile is established it is important to leave it undisturbed. Moving the pile disturbs wildlife and can undo all the good work you have done. A log pile may take years to rot away, but it remains an important habitat throughout its life cycle. For instance, when the stag beetle eggs mentioned above eventually hatch, the larvae may spend up to five years chewing their way through wood rotting beneath the soil. Stag beetle larvae look rather like huge white maggots. The beetles are still common in the south-east of England although they are declining dramatically due to lack of habitat. Wherever you live, you will find a wide variety of beetles inhabiting your log pile.

Some gardeners add soil to their log pile, creating a 'loggery' - the wood equivalent of a rockery. This idea works best in a cool, shady area of the garden, where it can provide an ideal habitat for ferns and other shade-loving plants.

Advice from the Garden School at Learning Curve:

To try a free home study gardening course visit:

About the author: Copyright: Linda Pollitt

Director of Studies at Learning Curve, one of the UK's leading home study providers.

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