Whether you have a couple of acres in the countryside or a small back yard, you probably have room for a few flowers. A huge number of insects depend on flowers for nectar and pollen, so growing them in your garden – in borders, window boxes or pots – is a great way to attract a huge variety of insect visitors.
Pollinators such as bees, hover flies and butterflies are perhaps the best known of the flower-feeding insects, but even predatory insects like ladybirds will enjoy a feast of floral food if they can find one. Many flower-feeding insects have struggled in recent years, however, as wild-flowers have become less abundant in the countryside and exotic and highly cultivated varieties have become more common in our gardens. Whilst the latter may appear pleasing to the eye and hard to resist when browsing at your local garden centre, all too often they offer little or no accessible food for flower feeding insects.
Selecting and growing the ‘right’ insect-friendly flowers is therefore not only a great way to attract insects, but also a great way to help our declining pollinator populations. With gardens covering over 1 million hectares of Britain, they could represent a real haven for flower-feeding insects – especially if we all grow those plants with real ‘Flower Power’.
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Choose the right plants. Where possible try to avoid planting hybrid cultivars, especially those with double flowers. These are often sterile, and therefore offer no food to nectar and pollen feeders. It’s also important to consider flowering season as our flower-feeding insects need nectar and pollen from early spring right through to late autumn.
Try to remember that different insects will make use of different types of flowers according to their size and shape and features such as tongue length. Including a range of different flowers should encourage a range of insects into your garden whilst also filling your space with an attractive variety of colourful blooms.
If space is really at a premium, consider including highly ‘generalist’ flowers that are good for a range of insects. Cornflower and other knapweeds, for example, have long flowering periods and make their nectar freely available to many insects.
Some garden centers may use plant labels that provide at least some of the necessary information to help you choose the right flowers. Don’t worry if yours doesn’t though as there is a lot of useful information that can be found online. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, for example, provides details of all kinds of plants that are good for bees – as well as their flowering periods – on their gardening pages. You can also pick up some useful tips on the BBC’s wildlife gardening pages. I’d also recommend a visit to the ‘Wild About Gardens’ web page, as well as the Gardeners World page on wildlife friendly plants.
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Kingfishers can be found throughout the UK near slow-flowing rivers and streams, canals, lakes and ponds. An ideal fishing perch for this bird in on a firm branch overhanging water. It prefers to perch motionless when hunting for fish, but sometimes the Kingfisher will hover over its prey and then quickly dive into the water. As it dives into the water the Kingfisher opens its beak and then closes its eye by using a third eyelid so when the Kingfisher grabs the fish it is in effect blindfolded. How clever is that! The fish is immediately taken back to the perch where the Kingfisher strikes it a few times against the branch in order to stun the fish. It does this because some fish have very sharp spines on the fins and it is only when the fish is stunned that the spines relax enabling the Kingfisher to eat it. The Kingfisher always turns the fish around so that it can swallow it head first.
Kingfishers must eat at least their own bodyweight in food each day in order to survive, and although fish is their main diet they will also eat some aquatic insects such as mayflies, stoneflies and water beetles.
The Moon Jellyfish is transparent and grows up to 40cm wide. It is shaped like an umbrella and has short hair-like tentacles around the edges, and four rings towards centre. They are mostly harmless to humans, though may sting sensitive skin.
Moon jellyfish are very common all around the UK, especially in sheltered waters in the west of Scotland. You can sometimes see large numbers of these jellies when our chilly seas begin to warm up, or cool down. When this happens, it is known as a jellyfish bloom.
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Otters have brown fur and often pale on the underside. They have long slender bodies; small ears on a broad head a long thick tail with webbed feet. They swim very low in the water with their head and back barely showing.
Otters are strictly protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and cannot be killed, kept or sold (even stuffed specimens) except under licence. In the late 1950s and early 1960s otters underwent a sudden and catastrophic decline throughout much of Britain and Europe. The cause was probably the combined effects of pollution and habitat destruction, particularly the drainage of wet areas. Otters require clean rivers with an abundant, varied supply of food and plenty of bank-side vegetation offering secluded sites for their holts. Riversides often lack the appropriate cover for otters to lie up during the day. Such areas can be made more attractive to otters by establishing “otter havens”, where river banks are planted-up and kept free from human disturbance. Marshes may also be very important habitat, for raising young and as a source of frogs.
While otters completely disappeared from the rivers of most of central and southern England in just 50 years, their future now looks much brighter. There is evidence that in certain parts of the UK the otter is extending its range and may be increasing locally. Otter populations in England are very fragmented and the animals breed only slowly. Attempts have been made to reintroduce otters to their former haunts, by reintroducing captive bred and rehabilitated animals, with some attempts proving very successful.
With many of us distracted by our busy lifestyles, we rarely have time to look up and appreciate the beauty of the world around us. By venturing outside on a blustery spring day in the UK, you can spot a ‘wild’ variety of wildlife that is often overlooked and unappreciated. Notice the squirrels chasing each other up trees and birds collecting supplies to help build their nests!
Spring is here and garden birds are busy collecting the last of their nest materials as over the next few weeks they will be incubating their eggs and preparing for the challenge of raising young chicks!
This can be a difficult process for your garden birds as spring is known for its damp and somewhat dangerous weather to the species; birds must have built sturdy nests to protect themselves from the elements for all of their offspring to survive.
To help your garden birds have the best chance of survival once their chicks are hatched, why not provide your garden visitors with food and shelter supplies that are readily available to them for when they leave their nests late spring with their chicks! Berries are a great source of vitamins which are perfect for providing the new parents with the energy they need to look after their brood, also ensure there is a water source available in case of dry weather spells where water may be lacking.
Although the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is over, with 8,262,662 birds spotted overall, why not take a walk this weekend and discover what birds have taken up residence in your neighbourhood?
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