Providing homes for wildlife

Blackbird in a nest box / Amy Lewis

Birds

A dense shrubbery will provide nest sites for species such as blackbirds which will not use nest boxes. If you are planning to plant some shrubs, choose hawthorn, firethorn (Pyracantha), Berberis, California lilac (Ceanothus), or Cotoneaster. Their thorny branches make good nesting cover, and they also produce berries, a natural bird food, as well as nectar for butterflies and bees.

Any regularly clipped hedge becomes very dense and so can be ideal nesting cover. Even species such as Leylandii, which has little other wildlife value, will be used by birds for nesting and roosting. Climbers such as ivy, clematis and honeysuckle make ideal nest sites if allowed to form dense tangles against a trellis or wall.

Bird boxes

As natural nesting sites are in decline, many different birds such as blue tits, great tits, house sparrows, starlings, swifts, swallows and even owls will use a nest box if it is provided for them. Different species require different box designs.

 

Bats

Bats are fascinating animals that have historically undergone serious decline in Britain. There are 18 species of bat in the UK with 11 of these recorded in Lincolnshire. They are all protected by both UK (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, as amended) and European law (Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations1994). Different species have different roosting preferences, eg buildings or trees, and may use different sites throughout the year eg maternity sites or hibernation sites.

Buildings and trees

Bats often roost in buildings and rarely cause problems for householders. Both old and new buildings may support bats as they will use warm cavities and roof spaces for breeding and/or roosting in summer. Bats will also use buildings for hibernation; where conditions are cool and moist (e.g. cellars).
Some species prefer to roost in trees, using features such as holes, cracks, loose bark or dense ivy growth.
If in doubt check with the Lincolnshire Bat Group before carrying out any work on large trees or buildings.

Bat boxes

Wooden bat boxes can be put up on buildings or large trees to replicate the cavities bats use to roost in. Specially designed ‘bat bricks’ can also be incorporated into new buildings to provide a permanent self-contained roost space within the walls, or access tiles can be fitted to roofs to allow bats to use loft spaces.

 

Frogs, toads and newts

Amphibians (frogs, toads and newts) need water for breeding but spend up to 99% of the year on land. All species hibernate over the winter.

Frogs occasionally hibernate in mud at the bottom of a pond, particularly male frogs, but female and juvenile, in common with toads and newts, hide themselves away under piles of damp leaves, rotting logs and in underground tunnels.
A heap of large stones or logs especially near the pond or in a damp corner, will offer suitable shelter.

Frog mortality can be caused by ‘winterkill’ where frogs suffocate under ice covering ponds. To help avoid this, make sure you have plenty of oxygenating plants in the pond and clear off snow to make sure they get enough light to carry on photosynthesising.

 

Insects

By providing the right habitats we can greatly increase the number of beneficial insects including those which will help control pest species. A small pile of twigs or a rotting log may provide a home to a range of different species.

Dead wood

Dead wood is extremely important to a wide range of species. Whether as a log pile, a branch on an old tree or an entire dead tree left standing. Bees and wasps particularly like dead wood in a sunny spot but beetles will prefer the shade.

Bumblebees

Bumblebees like to nest in warm, sheltered sites, different species have differing nest preferences, however the easiest ones to provide for are the ground and surface nesters.
Most natural bumblebee nests are down a small tunnel in part or all of an old mouse or vole nest, or they will be in the dry base of a grass tussock or untidy hedge bottom. Excessive tidiness can remove these nest sites.
An old teapot buried in the ground with the spout providing an entry tunnel makes a good secure nest site if it can be kept free from damp.

Solitary bees

Solitary bees are valuable pollinators and like cuckoo bees or leafcutter bees, have fascinating life cycles. One of the simplest ideas is to tie together a bunch of hollow stems or bamboo canes and hang them on a tree branch or attach to a railing; making sure they’re securely tied and can’t blow away. Alternatively, drill some holes 2-8mm in diameter into logs on a log pile or in gate or fence posts to provide nest sites for

Lacewings and ladybirds

Lacewings and ladybirds are voracious predators of aphids and other garden pests. Although the average wildlife garden provides lots of homes, an over wintering box can boost winter survival of lacewings and ladybirds dramatically.

 

Snakes and lizards

Old slates or a piece of corrugated iron laid in a corner of the garden will attract slow worms and common lizards. Stones or patches of bare earth in a sunny spot may attract basking reptiles.
Grass snakes enjoy the warmth and moisture generated by compost heaps and may use them to lay their eggs.
Make sure you leave gaps in garden fences to allow reptiles and other animals to move from garden to garden.

 

Hedgehogs

All a hedgehog needs for the winter is an undisturbed area away from the winter elements. Even a pile of leaves and twigs in the corner of the garden would be tempting to a homeless hedgehog.

Boxes

You can make a custom made home by building a hedgehog box or using an old upturned crate covered in soil or wood; alternatively simply allow room under your garden shed or create a large log pile.

Bonfires

Hedgehogs may crawl into unlit bonfires in the hope that it will be a cosy location for their winter hibernation only to find that it goes up in smoke.
Hedgehogs can be kept safe from harm by following these guidelines:

  1. Try and build the bonfire as close to the night as possible to reduce the chance of a hedgehog moving in.
  2. Ideally make your pile of material next to the bonfire site and re-build the stack prior to lighting.
  3. Before lighting, search the bonfire for hibernating creatures using a torch and rake, to gently pull back twigs or vegetation.
  4. Move any hedgehogs found to a ready made hedgehog box or somewhere dry and safe away from the fire.
  5. If possible, before bonfire night create an alternative hedgehog home by placing some hedgehog boxes in the surrounding area or raking up grass cuttings or autumn leaves into a pile a safe distance from the fire. Hopefully the hedgehogs will occupy these rather than the bonfire.

 

Downloads

FilenameFile size
Making bird nest boxes430.25 KB
Making bat boxes396.29 KB
Overwintering homes for hedgehogs and insects499.29 KB