Here are some easy autumn tips to help the wildlife in your garden. Please comment below if you would like to add more to the list.
For a general understanding of British wildlife in autumn we recommend watching BBC2’s Autumnwatch programmes.
Autumn/Wintering Flowering Shrubs
Late flowering shrubs such as viburnums, lonicera and mahonia provide vital nourishment for bumble bees and other pollinators.
Mature ivy is also a vital source of food as it produces a carpet of flowers in autumn.
Don’t tidy your garden!
Hollow stalks like sage, dead nettle, allium, fennel, golden rod will be home to insect eggs and larvae during the winter and fallen leaves are food for caterpillars.
Wood piles are important habitats for beetles and other insects at the bottom of the food chain. Scrubby areas provide refuge for small mammals and amphibians who need shelter from predators (especially cats).
We all love to see these guys snuffling across the lawn. Here are lots of great tips to keep them safe. They like to nest in piles of dry, medium sized deciduous leaves (eg oak, hazel, beech, apple cherry).
Rake the leaves into piles underneath something to keep them dry, like a piece of wood propped up against a fence.
Cleaning out bird boxes
Now is a good time to check and clean out any bird boxes you have put up. Bird parasites can build up in boxes that have been used a few times and these can reduce the chances of young birds fledging. Give the box an autumn clean so it’s ready for next spring.
There are several things you can do to attract these mysterious mammals that are a sign of a healthy environment (they also eat lots of midges and mosquitos). They love night-scented flowers and ponds. If you have a cat please try to keep it in at night as they might prey on bats. Read more on bats.org.uk
When buying bulbs for the spring see below for the importance of using suppliers who don’t treat their bulbs with pesticides which will harm pollinators along with the other insects they are designed to kill.
See more information below.
Your lawn doesn’t need to be carpet-perfect.
If you leave the moss it will keep the moisture in your lawn so you don’t have to water it so often and if you don’t cut it so short and allow clover, daisies and dandelions to flourish you will be providing welcome food for pollinators. And the more diverse your lawn is, the more carbon the soil captures (all to do with the funghi in the soil).
More Information on Wildlife Gardening
There are lots of ways that you can make your garden friendly for wildlife. Roselle Chapman from Wild Oxfordshire shares some of her top tips here (listen from 5 minutes 30 seconds). In general, if you maximise the bio-diversity of your garden, you will have a healthy predator/prey web which means that the critters you don’t want around (eg aphids) will be taken care of by their natural predators (eg parasitic wasps). If you use chemicals to kill aphids, the wasps will be killed too.
Lots more information on butterflies, bats, amphibians, woodlands, verges and so much more on Wild Oxfordshire’s website.
Buying pollinator-friendly flowers for your garden
This is a tricky topic as everyone who buys flowers to feed bees and other pollinators that visit their garden will be gutted to realise that those flowers (often marketed as ‘bee-friendly’) will actually be a poisoned chalice if they contain pesticides . Designed to kill aphids and sap-sucking insects, pesticides are also very harmful to our precious pollinators. Recent research suggests that the distribution of bee and hoverfly species has declined by an average of 25% across Britain since 1980, particularly among specialist species (Powney et al., 2019).
Farmers do need to protect their crops from insects. But researchers like Professor David Goulson from the Univeristy of Sussex believe that less harmful chemicals will not be developed as long as growers are allowed to use pesticides like neonicitinoids in an emergency and the big pharma companies that make them, like Bayer and Syngenta, continue to take powerful legal action against the bans on neonicitinoids.
In 2018 Goulson and Friends of the Earth launched the Great British Bee Count and there was much media coverage of the issue of neonics. David also analysed the pesticide levels in plants on sale in garden centres and shops that revealed many plants being marketed as ‘bee-friendly’ were infact laced with pesticides harmful to bees.
In response to media coverage, B&Q and other retailers announced that they were prohibiting their suppliers from using neonicotinoids. But other pesticides that are very harmful to pollinators are still legal. So the problem still exists.
How to avoid bringing pesticides into your garden
Be careful who you buy from. There are plenty of organic bulb and plant suppliers to choose from. The initial investment might be a little bit more expensive but you could save money by swapping plants with friends, propogating cuttings from plants like cranesbill geraniums and lungwort, lavendar and rosemary or growing from seed. In 2018, UK bulb retailer Peter Nyssen decided to source all their spring-flowering bulbs from growers who don’t use from neonics so that their customer’s spring flowers will be genuinely bee friendly.
Also make sure that everything has been grown in peat-free compost because peat acts as a carbon store, it’s a great habitat for wildlife, it has a role in water management, and preserves things well for archaeology.
Bees and farmers
The other thing consumers can do is to put pressure on local farmers to only spray their crops when pollinators are less likely to be foraging and to notify their local bee keepers so they can keep their bees safe in the hives while the spraying is happening.
Tudor Thatch Honey in Wickham reports: we have heard of many beekeepers who have found dead and dying bees on the landing boards or underneath the hives after crop spraying has taken place near them. We subscribe to Bee-connected and local farmers can inform us online of imminent crop spraying. Luckily the Welford estate have subscribed and provide us with both the details of the pesticide and the date and time of proposed spraying. Unfortunately the other farms in the area don’t. If spraying occurs on crops our bees are likely to forage from, we then have the option to confine them until after the spraying has been completed. Unfortunately we can’t confine them for more than a few hours during the day and therefore the crops can still be covered in fresh wet pesticide. Of course other insects and wildlife will not even have the protection of being confined in a hive.
Pet flea treatment endangers water insects
It is also now being recognised that the nerve agent in pet flea treatment called fiprinol exists at very harmful levels in our rivers, threatening water insects and the birds and fish higher up the food chain that depend on them.
The washing of pets was already known to flush fipronil into sewers and then rivers, while dogs swimming in rivers causes direct contamination. “It has to be the flea treatments causing the pollution,” Goulson said. “Really, there’s no other conceivable source.”
There are many veterinary products containing fipronil and imidacloprid in the UK, many of which are sold without prescriptions. Many pets are treated monthly, whether they have fleas or not.
One of the worst cases is from Dec 2018 – Jan 2019 when half a million bees in Brazil were killed by fipronil that was used to control ants and termites on soy crops.
So please talk to your vet about limiting flea treatment of your pets.