Do you know what’s in your garden?
With many of us spending more time at home, now is the perfect chance to discover the wildlife living on your patch. Exploring the garden is a great way to connect you and your family to nature, and spending time with nature has been shown to benefit mental and physical wellbeing. You don’t need to be an expert ecologist to start identifying all the creepy crawlies you share your home with. Here we’ve compiled some activities and resources to help you start tracking and improving the range of critters you might find.
Almost every corner of your garden will be a suitable habitat for something – even if it’s small or paved. Lift plant pots, bricks and stones to find woodlice, spiders, worms, springtails and more. These like the dark and damp – be sure to replace their hiding spot once you’ve taken note of its inhabitants, otherwise they may dry out.
In hedgerows and trees, you’ll not only spot birds but also a whole ecosystem of invertebrates living in the branches. An easy way to flush them from their hiding spots is to shake a branch over a pale-coloured umbrella held upside down.
If you’re lucky enough to have a pond, use a small aquarium net to see what you can find. From aquatic snails to midge larvae. If you have frogs or fish, maybe you can get a closer look by making your own underwater viewer! [External Link]
Look for things at different times of day – you can even set up a basic moth trap at night by hanging a white sheet outside and pointing a lamp at it! Moths will gather on the sheet for you to take a closer look at.
Identifying and Recording
Arm yourself with a pen/pencil, notepad and camera. Write notes about what you find – what it looks like, any interesting behaviour, where you found it. Make a sketch or take a picture. Phone cameras are usually fine, and you can even purchase clip-on macro lenses for super close-up photos very cheaply online. There are loads of resources to help you identify things online – the Staffordshire Ecological Record have put together a handy list. These are particularly useful when going through photographs of unidentified beasties later on.
And if you want something you can take into the field (or garden!) with you, the Field Studies Council fold-out guides come highly recommended. Affordable, easy to use, and water-proof!
How far you want to take your identification is up to you – children or those with a casual interest may be happy with ‘woodlouse’, while the more enthusiastic bug hunters will want to know which of the UK’s roughly 40 species it’s likely to be. But with a bit of practice, anyone can be separating the Porcellio scaber from the Philoscia muscorum in no time! These species-level identifications are of great use to our knowledge of the local wildlife, so be sure to make notes of the date, place and species and consider sharing your collected information with the Staffordshire Ecological Record.
Not finding as much as you’d hoped? Or wondering how to bolster your natural paradise even further? There are plenty of easy things you can do to encourage more wildlife to move in.
Bees and butterflies are well-known for visiting flowers and helping with pollination, but did you know that flies are also valuable pollinators? Leave a patch of lawn to grow wild and you’ll be helping a wide range of insects that rely on long grass and wildflowers – remember, biologically there’s no such thing as a weed!
Installing a bug hotel will also encourage insects such as solitary bees which use the small openings to nest. You can buy these ready-made, or make building one a fun family activity. You could even try building a pond to encourage aquatic bugs and maybe even frogs! The RSPB website has a great list of ideas and instructions for improving your garden for wildlife.