Tuesday, 11 July 2017

PASSPORT TO PARADISE


Travelling the world to film wildlife is a privilege but for ultimate fulfilment there’s no place like home when you are a wildlife friendly gardener.

My wife Sue and I are the grateful guardians of two acres of what was once largely derelict grass and dense woodland but when we first viewed it we could see the potential to create our own haven for wildlife. The cottage is 18th century cob and on arrival thirty-six years ago we noticed two ditches around the property that had running water in them.

the main pond is 'puddled' with clay Capability Brown style
spade work to create frog and newt habitat - it jumps with them in spring
Within weeks we had thinned excess trees and diverted the water to create a stream that flowed through the
five ponds we dug with spades and a JCB. Each year we have created more wetland habitat and can’t stress enough how magical it is to add water to your garden. It doesn’t have to be big, just wet.

what a lovely surprise it is when little egrets drop in to fish
Only the other day I’d cleared a small marshy area and within hours two little egrets arrived, no doubt looking for our numerous frogs, newts and tadpoles. As all wildlife enthusiasts know, create habitat and the animals will soon take advantage.

With this in mind we decided to start a wild flower meadow and so the lawn in front of the cottage was left uncut one spring. An amazing transformation took place as within weeks a host of flowers emerged from the grass, including three southern-marsh orchids.

no mowing - no seed - just a miracle of nature
We haven’t sprinkled seed but the variety of flowers keep on coming and the orchid head count is now in the hundreds, including pyramid and a few spotted. The bees, butterflies and grasshoppers love it and for us, it’s simple colourful summer joy.

pretty as a picture
brimstone beauty

lots of flowers are good for all insects, not least the colourful peacock butterfly

commas are a common treat on our patch and lichens a big bonus
the impressively sized silver-washed fritillaries visit every year
Sue has planted masses of insect friendly flowers, our woodland too, so the place hums with butterflies and bees. She’s a great fan of hover flies and solitary bees so we have a couple of insect homes for them, along with bird and bat boxes and old wood stacks to create beetle and bug banks.
one of several beetle-banks - very good interest rates too

frequent and exotic visitors - mandarin ducks - and our pheasant is called 'Prince Wilhelm The Second' - don't ask why
We feed the birds too of course and have some ‘interesting’ visitors at times, mandarin are regulars with three broods of mallard ducklings most years, the garden resembling Slimbridge.
two of these ducklings survived the hazards of foxes this year to become free flying

we usually have up to three pairs producing big broods
just some of the male escorts - ain't wetlands wonderful
We’ve left ‘no go’ areas with lots of scrubby bits and so every summer we revel in the song of blackcaps along with chiffchaff, song thrush and the beautiful warbling of the blackbird, serenading me as I write.

the great tit is one of our commonest residents
The latest bird count in and above the garden is one hundred and seven species so we know it’s a privilege to share this patch with so much wildlife. Water is the key, particularly as I love fish, for they are wildlife too.
rudd and golden orfe - all scoffed by the 'playful' otter last autumn

What’s more, fish provide food for herons and our ultimate garden visitor, otters. We receive a raiding party most years and though it’s a real treat to see them, it’s distressing when they eat our wildlife in the middle of the night. We used to have breeding moorhens but not since the otters discovered us. They are killers so are a mixed blessing.
our 'friendly' otter enjoying a midnight feast

minnows breed so well in the streams that we always have plenty of survivors
kingfishers are a frequent summer visitor - what a privilege
The streams provide a place for our minnows to spawn, food for kingfishers, magpies and even blackbirds. Yes, they do eat fish! Running water is great for bird-washing, stock doves, grey wagtails, buzzards and sparrow hawks being some of the more exciting bathers.

stock doves are a delight and several pairs nest close by
emperor dragonflies find our ponds ideal for egg-laying
The ponds are alive with dragons and damsels and on one memorable day last summer we were sat admiring a golden-ringed dragonfly close to our tea drinking spot when a hobby swooped down and snatched it with a loud crack. Simply amazing!

this golden-ringed dragon provided supper for a hobby
As if our own patch isn’t enough, the Dorset Wildlife Trust became our nearest neighbour when they bought the surrounding woodland as part of the exciting Great Heath Project. In our view that took us one step closer to heaven and being part of the growing army of keen gardeners who create so much for wildlife is the ultimate reward.

you can never have too many wisterias - the bees love 'em
In order to encourage everyone to create wildlife friendly gardens, the DWT give advice and award plaques to those who fulfil specific criteria and we wanted to become a part of this crusade. We were even encouraged to enter their wildlife friendly competition and Sue was surprised but delighted when we won the award for large gardens. Seeing all those happy, smiling folk at the Gardening Awards Ceremony last year just proved to us how much good that hard digging does for us all. So if you’ve ever wondered where paradise is, simply step outside into your wildlife friendly garden and get digging ... and planting.

It's always suggested that planting trees isn't for us but for our grand-children and it's simply not true. We planted many of the trees in this picture and look at the size of them, especially the glorious beeches across the pond, only thirty years old and BIG.
the glorious colours of autumn are always enjoyed, especially the acers
 
no, we didn't plant the ancient oaks but we did dig the marsh