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Essex Wildlife Trust
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Essex Wildlife Trust,
Abbotts Hall Farm, Great Wigborough,  Colchester, Essex CO5 7RZ
 01621 862990
Registered Charity No. 21006
‘Domestic’ Wildlife Questions
(Part 2 - follows on from ‘Investors in Wildlife’)

Part of our conversation revolved around  what I’ll call domestic wildlife issues. I invite you to sit on on conversation and see if some of these things stir an interest in you. Grant is a mine of information.
Rochford Life: Wildlife isn’t always the romantic thing that sometimes it’s made out to be is it?
Grant: No, Barn Owls are a point of fact. They have a brood at different stages so quite often if you have say three eggs, they hatch at different rates so you may have a big chick, a medium chick and a small chick and if  - and it happened on Spring Watch and they were mortified – there is a particularly bad season where it poured with rain and the adults couldn’t find any voles, field mice  and what have you, to feed the chicks,  the big chick was obviously getting hungry and the little chick was getting weaker and weaker and so the big chick ate the little chick. But it is what happens and there are certain bird species where they actually eat their siblings.  

RL:  Just now when we were talking you mentioned Green Woodpeckers. We used to have an old tree and we had a Green Woodpecker turn up and pecked the grubs out of this tree and then he just disappeared. Is there any way to attract them back?
Grant: Well Green Woodpeckers like big, wide open grassy areas because their main food is ants so that’s why you often see Green Woodpeckers on sports pitches and parks and they look strange because they’re built for going up the side of a tree and so they look odd as a feeding bird on the ground, but in some ways you need a good wooded area nearby because they do their nesting in trees, especially old Oak trees. You’re unlikely to attract a Green Woodpecker; it would be an opportunist one coming by that might see your lawn and if you have ants nests stop and feed off it. The ones to attract are Spotted Woodpeckers and they like peanuts and seeds. What we do is hang a nut-feeder quite high up and a Spotted Woodpecker regularly comes to that. They tend to come and feed for five to ten minutes and then go; they won’t hang around.  They have a very distinctive way of flying as well. If you watch them in flight, they flap their wings three or four times and then stop, dip and then flap them three or four times again and dip. So, if you want a Spotted Woodpecker, hang a nut-feeder quite high up in a tree. They’re quite a big bird and they like to come down the branches close to where it is.

RL: OK, can we try bats? A number of years ago we enthusiastically put up a bat box high in the garden knowing we have bats around, but it hasn’t been used. Why?
Grant: To be honest most bat boxes that are put up are not used on a regular basis by families of bats. They tend to find natural homes, crevices in roofs or dark old buildings or old trees and places they have nested or roosted in for ages. The good thing about bat boxes though is that if  suddenly the weather deteriorates and they can’t get back to where their roost is, they might use the bat box just for a few hours, just until the weather passes over. If you are in an area where there are a lot of bats and there are old buildings, you are more likely to get bats but we’ve had a bat box up the side of our house for the best past of twenty years but we don’t get that many bats round our way. If it has been used it will have only been used as an opportunistic thing purely because the weather deteriorated, but it is good to put that type of thing up there because it does give them the opportunity for use if the weather does deteriorate.   

RL:  OK, let me confess more of my enthusiasm in the past. We put up a ladybird house and although earlier this year we’ve had dozens of ladybirds in the garden, I’ve never seen one near this house! Why?
Grant: They call it somewhere where ladybirds can hibernate but realistically what these things are all for, is to encourage all sorts of insects, spiders, woodlice and all sorts of things, but if you call it a woodlice home or a spider home there is every likelihood that people wouldn’t buy it. What I encourage people to do is look at it as a home for invertebrates and insects generally and then look closely and you will probably see spiders’ webs on it, and if you put little bits of bark or leaf in there, you’ll probably find you’ve got woodlice in there and all sorts of things like that, so you are providing a home for things that will hibernate in there and live in there and so on, but you’re also providing a food source for other things. You will get some ladybirds in that sometimes. I know we’re using ladybirds as an excuse but by encouraging everybody to have a log pile, a bat box, two or three bird boxes, a bird feeding station, a ladybird box, a toad house, and so on, you’ll be providing a home for a whole variety of things.    

RL: Mentioning toads, what is the different in habitat between frogs and toads?
Grant: Well toads tend to like drier habitats so that’s why you often find them in garages, sheds, outhouses and so on. They tend to like to hibernate in relatively dry and dusty conditions whereas a frog will hibernate in very wet conditions and quite often frogs will actually hibernate in bottom of your pond; they go into a period of stasis where they slow down their metabolism and their heart rate and breathing and so on, and you’ll often find male frogs actually in the bottom of your pond, so if you’re clearing leaves out of the bottom of your pond in the Autumn, quite often you might pull out a frog as well. Toads tend to leave the pond immediately they have spawned and they will go to drier habitats.     

RL: How about creating a pond?
Grant: Well one thing about ponds, is if you have young grandchildren who might go near it, don’t do the knee-jerk thing that a lot of people do which is either don’t put a pond in, in the first place, or  fill it in. Instead, just think of ways to keep them out of there. When we had our children, we had a pond  but what we did was put up a fence with a gate with a padlock dividing the garden until they grew up and were old enough to get out if they did fall in. I didn’t want to fill the pond in, but worked out the best way of keeping it secure, and obviously as parents we were always out there in the garden with the kids. Also if you’re putting in a pond and you are thinking of wildlife, don’t put fish in, or if you are thinking of putting fish in, think of building almost two separate ponds because otherwise the fish might almost predate everything else.

RL: How about our bird life? I was at a school  recently that has an outdoor classroom and in the pitch of the roof they have two bird boxes with birds going in and out, regardless of the people in the building below them. I found that incredible.
Grant: It’s amazing. Our garden birds are so used to us now. You have your classic birds around so, for instance, when you’re digging the garden you’ll always have a robin around. They have obviously worked out that we are a good source of food provision by digging or weeding the garden. Now more and more of us are putting out bird feeders, more of us are getting cleverer about putting out different feeds, so lots of us put out niger seed so things like goldfinches are more common because they realise we are putting out niger seeds (try which is one of their main foods.  Previously we either didn’t put out anything, or perhaps scraps of bread, which obviously those types of birds don’t feed on, or perhaps corn, but now we’re cleverer about what we put out, which is great because it means when you’re out in the garden, instead of just seeing your common sparrows, starlings etc., you now see green finches. goldfinches, chaffinches, the whole spectrum.  There are a million acres of gardens in this country and that is a big, big nature reserve.  If every one of those million acres could set aside a fraction of it for wildlife, then even if you set aside 10% of it that is 100,000 acres of wildlife habitat. Bear in mind it’s taken Essex Wildlife Trust 53 years to build up 7,250 acres!  So it’s just important that we encourage people to do these things. Put a log pile at the end of your garden and forget all about it and wildlife will get on with it.        

RL:  I nearly cut back a holly bush in the Spring until I realised there was a blackbird nesting in it. Any advice on hedge or tree maintenance?
Grant: Well yes, it is a case of reminding yourself of these things, but also in the case of holly bushes, it’s not only nesting birds that are important, but our holly-blue butterfly lays its eggs in the Spring in holly; that’s where its caterpillars exist. It has two broods a year, one in the Spring which are invariably laid on holly and then later on in the year it lays a second brood of caterpillars on  ivy so don’t cut back your hold and ivy in the Spring and Autumn. Try to do it midsummer or in the winter months.

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