How to share your garden with wildlife

Hoverflies add colour to your garden in summer by Alan Wright

Hoverflies add colour to your garden in summer by Alan Wright - Credit: Alan Wright

Warm spring days bring out some colourful characters in our gardens and spending time at home gives us an opportunity to meet some of them. The Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Alan Wright explains.

Black slugs do have a beauty if you get close up by Alan Wright

Black slugs do have a beauty if you get close up by Alan Wright - Credit: Alan Wright

Spending extra time at home in spring should hopefully mean lots of opportunity to enjoy our gardens. Whatever social distancing regulations are in place, you’re never isolated in your own patch of wilderness.

Bugs and slugs might not be the most appealing members of the animal world to most of us, but every one of these creatures, great and small, has a part to play in the jungle that is your garden.

Sitting out in the garden, there is always a lovely buzz as bees and other insects luxuriate in some of your flowers – feeding and pollinating as they wander from plant to plant.

Bumblebees are a favourite insect, with 25 varieties in the UK, you can spot a good number of them, including white-tailed, red-tailed, garden and hooped bodied carder bees, making the most of your heather, herbs and flowers. Bumblebees have fat bodies with bright coloured, “woolly” jumpers and are a delight. They will be joined by other members of the bee family, there are 250 kinds of bee in this country, so you might try to identify some of them.

White-tailed bumblebee helping flowers to grow by Alan Wright

White-tailed bumblebee helping flowers to grow by Alan Wright - Credit: Alan Wright

Bees head straight for my Japanese anemone, cosmos and heather, but they will also land on dandelions if your lawn is left a little wild. These plants will also attract hoverflies and wasps, again spectacularly coloured insects that are great pollinators. Wasps? Yes, these wonderful predators are great for gardeners, hunting down damaging aphids and pollinating your flowers to help them flourish.

Keep an eye out for hoverflies in flight. They do hover and will spend some time hovering in front of you, probably trying to work out what you are. It’s not the time to swat these non-stinging insects away, instead just watch them and appreciate a wonder of nature, as those wings vibrate to keep their tiny bodies in the air.

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Apart from bees, butterflies are the garden favourites. I love saying that I have a peacock in the garden, but you will also spot common blues, orange tips and the red admiral, although the latter are being seen a lot less these days. Later in summer, the large and small white will drive gardeners to distraction. these butterflies are also known as the cabbage white, their caterpillars love eating some of our greens.

There will be various other insects flying around during the day including shield bugs and beetles, with iridescent wings these are truly fascinating to look at. Greens, blues and purples appear as you see them in sunlight.

Much smaller beasties like midges will make your evening glass of wine in the garden a little bit annoying, but always remember these beasties are feeding our bats and swallows and martins, who will perform aerial displays to delight you.

The insect world is still alive at night with moths fluttering and hanging onto your windows, attracted by the lights. While butterflies get all the credit, moths are just as beautiful and you do get some massive members of the family visiting, such as elephant hawk moths.

I could go on and mention spiders, which are not insects, feeding on the smaller bugs. And slugs, which have a terrible press but are responsible for clearing away a lot of leaf litter and creating a compost to help things grow. Only four smaller members of the slug family eat our flowers and plants, the rest, including the garden slug, are good news. The garden slug horrifies most people but it is a beautiful creature, bluey black on top with a decorated orange skirt.

In the coming months the Wildlife Trust will be starting its Action for Insects campaign, in an attempt to turn around a 41 per cent worldwide decline in insect species. We need people to understand the importance of insects and not to treat them as pests. We want you to love insects. Keep an eye on our website and join this campaign to help these vitally important creatures.

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