Flora for Fauna

All plants be they native or introduced provide essential food, cover and nesting sites for fauna. However native species evolved with our own fauna and so tend to flower and produce fruit at a time that suits the lifecycle of native fauna. Knowing what each plant has to offer wildlife benefits the biodiversity of your garden. I discuss this relationship in great detail in my Wildlife course.

Each month I would like to celebrate a beautiful plant and its role in our gardens.

Cabbage White butterfly feeding on nectar

The Hedgerow Ecology

A garden can replicate the vast and complex habitats of woodlands and countryside at a smaller scale. Habitats like hedgerows, garden ponds, meadows, and herbaceous beds all serve various fauna throughout the year.

The Hedgerow

A hedge is common in most gardens; it acts as a boundary diversion and a screen for privacy. A hedge can also provide food and shelter for wildlife. Using native trees within the hedge increases the biodiversity, as they play host for many more native species. There is a greater success rate when establishing a native species hedge, as it grows best in our climate and on our soils in Ireland and the UK. Hawthorn is the most popular and common hedgerow in the countryside.

Fields bordered by diverse hedges

Consider a typical hedge along a field and the complex ecosystem that underpins this habitat. Each level supports life and provides shelter and breeding grounds for many insects, birds and mammals.

Hedges are very important in agriculture, as well as in nature. A hedgerow reduces wind speed thus providing shelter as well as food to livestock like sheep and wildlife. It also reduces soil erosion in fields, creating warmer field temperatures for crop growing and reducing chemical spray drift.

What’s in a typical hedgerow?

A healthy hedge should be dense and mixed with many plants. Regular cutting prior to March invigorates a hedge and maintains its overall size.

Hedge-cutting time of year in Ireland is from November to March. This protects nesting birds during the breeding season thereafter.

However, some trees should be allowed to grow to create different levels within the hedge. This makes for better wind shelter.

A hedge consists of three levels that describe the top canopy of the trees, the shrubbery at mid level and grasses and banks of the low level. Each level draws in and supports fauna by creating a micro environment. Temperatures are slightly higher inside a hedge. There is a relationship between the time flowers appear and the lifecycle of insects that feed from these. The flowers attract bees, wasps, hoverflies, beetles and butterflies by providing nectar and pollen and this pollinates the flowers.

As a result of this pollination, fruit is produced. This fruit is consumed by birds, which in turn excrete the seed thus ensuring survival of that plant as well as the bird.

Attracting pollinating bugs and insects is a major component of creating the balance in this habitat. The insects aid pollination when feeding and consequently their population increases. They become food for birds and bats day and night. The hedge also provides shelter and warmth, making it ideal to nest and hibernate in.

The moist conditions at ground level is rich in organic material which is perfect for woodlice, slugs, snails and fungi. Each are important in the process of decomposing organic matter and enriching the soil – this in turn feeds the living hedge.

Understanding this cycle between plant and fauna is key to incorporating it into any garden on any scale


The Dormant Garden

I love this time of year as my garden displays the russet and butter yellow tones of the maple and birch foliage. Within a short time the branches will be bare providing only the skeletal remains of the garden. The garden will become dormant and a little derelict! Yet on closer inspection, there is much going on.

Bulbs planted during autumn will establish by growing a network of roots throughout winter, seeds germinate under the leaf litter and some plants positively thrive and come to life in winter. The hellebores bear shy pink and green flowers along with the delicates pink tubular flowers of Viburnum. The vibrant berries of pyracantha, Rowan trees provide colour as well an important food for birds throughout the winter. Insects take shelter in the undergrowth of leaf litter and organic mulch. Among the community of insects are the typical garden pests like aphids and slugs however included are also their predators like ladybirds, beetles and frogs. By providing the right conditions to shelter over the winter, the natural controls of garden pests will be on hand in early spring to reduce their numbers. Also an abundance of insects will become food for nesting birds in the following spring.

Frog sheltering among the leaf debris

Lorraine is a professional gardener who specialises in creating sustainable gardens and promoting wildlife havens.


Woodland Habitats

Our woodlands evolved slowly after the ice age receded. Marsh reed, grasses and sedges and later scrub grew in the glacial till. As the scrub peaked, a transition to a woodland habitat began with larger varieties of shrub and trees beginning to colonise.

Trees in this environment are competitive for light and the faster growing varieties fare better initially. Birch, hazel and willow grow fast, colonising spaces, but die back as they have a short life span not exceeding 30 years.

Evolution of Woodlands – The Oak

The slow growing oak, which has a life-span of up to 400 years, soon dominated our landscape as conditions became more favourable. In time, the oak became the principle life force of our environment.

All woodland fauna evolved around the oak as a major habitat because it provided shelter, food and continuity. It hosts up to thirty species of birds, forty-five different bugs and over two hundred species of moth.

The Oak as a Host

Each part of the oak tree has its own particular lodgers. Beetle larvae live in the roots; moths can conceal themselves into the crevices of the bark. In fact, moths such as Oak Beauty and Mottled Beauty have an incredible capacity to blend into the texture of the bark with their colouring.

The leaves of the oak are a food source for caterpillars and many species of moth. The lumps and bumps on an oak are called galls. These vary in size from the small cherry, marble, oyster, and silk button to the larger apple galls.

Deciduous woodland dominated our landscape after the ice age.

Oak Galls

Oak galls are the swollen lumps and bumps of varying sizes that grow on the branches of the tree. They are as a result of the activities of many wasps, worms, midges and moths that live on the tree.

Insects lay their eggs in the leaf buds and the tree reacts by producing abnormal growth around the bud becoming a gall. The grub within the gall will burrow their way out at maturity.

Each oak produces approximately 90,000 acorns a year. That’s several million in its life time.  Since only one acorn growing to maturity in the life span of a parent oak is enough to maintain the oak population, there is a surplus of food produced. Animals and birds take advantage of this each autumn. Wood pigeons can hold seventy acorns in its crop at any one time.

Glossary link for crop

[A crop is a storage organ in seed-eating birds that allows for food collection. Digestion of this food begins in the crop. A pigeon's crop can hold about 500 cereal grains.]

Wasps, spiders and ladybird larvae hunt for caterpillars that live on the bark. Native birds nest with the readily available supply of insects. For instance, Blue Tits produce their families when caterpillars are abundant.

As the oak ages and holes appear in the trunk, it becomes home to bats and owls. Also, at the base at root level, badgers and foxes burrow out their homes.


Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

It’s time to celebrate the understated but wonderful snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). Snowdrops never fail to evoke a sense of hope, breaking the spell of the winter dormant garden. Late winter, linear green leaves emerge forming grassy clumps. February sees their diminutive nodding white flowers grace our lawns, naturalising our gardens. These humble flowers play an important role for pollinating insects early in the year. They are a source of nectar for hungry queen bees emerging from their winter hibernation.

Snowdrops are bulbous plants of the lily family reaching up to 8 cm in height. They thrive in rich clay soil. This plant is so easy to propagate. Just dig up a clump after flowering, divide into handfuls and replant into drifts to increase your stock. Alternatively, share extra snowdrops with friends and neighbours. After flowering, allow the leaves time to absorb more light before dying back without cutting them. This feeds the bulbs for next year’s big show.

Snowdrops with crocus


Grass

Poaceae Family

Field margin rich in wildflowers

Grass is so common that we don’t see it as a plant; it’s just ground cover for many. The versatility of this plant can be observed in its many forms as lawn cover, as ornamental plants like stipa, pampas, and bamboo as well as a food source for grazing animals. What is not appreciated is its role in biodiversity. It is an extremely important habitat for insects, butterflies and moths as well as a wildlife corridor providing cover and food for small mammals like mice, shrews and voles.  The benefits of increasing biodiversity is well known in the farming community. By maintaining hedges and including field grass margins along the field boundary, allows predator insect populations to increase and this controls pests within the field.  This strip of long grass is an important host to insects as well as nesting birds like Pheasant and Skylark.  It is quickly colonised by many varieties of grasses, herbs and wildflowers when left to grow long without any addition of nitrogen. These varieties include the following:

Common Grasses
Bents (Agrostis spp.),
Meadow-grasses (Poa spp.)
Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)
Timothy (Phleum pratense)
Sweet Vernal-grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum)
Fescues (Festuca spp.)
Crested Dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus)
Cock’s-foot(Dactylis glomerata)
Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus)
Common Herbs
Clovers (Trifolium spp.)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)
Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Cat’s-ear (Hypochoeris radicata)
Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum)
Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)

The grass margin host bugs, hoverflies, parasitoid wasps and spiders with each providing an important pest control role.  This habitat can easily be transferred into a garden situation by simply allowing grass to grow long in a discreet corner or along a back boundary, avoid fertilisers and cut infrequently (removing all grass clippings). The benefits include pest control within the garden at no cost to the earth!

Euonymus europaesus, An Feoras (Spindle tree)

Height: 6m

Spread: 3m

Habit: A shrubby multi branched deciduous tree that sprawls making it broadly conical.

Description of foliage, flowers, cones, fruit

The leaves are large green lance shaped and opposite turning red in autumn before shedding. The flowers are greenish yellow clusters comprising up to ten small flowers apiece on short stalks appearing between May and June. From September onwards, the fruit appears as bright pink capsules which open to show four vivid orange seeds. The branches and bark are smooth and greenish grey. All stems and new growth twigs are square and flattened.

Distinguishing features: The flowers are rich in nectar and provide essential food for insects that in turn pollinate nearby plants. The fruits provide seasonal interest throughout winter. For most of the year, this is a very dull tree but it comes to life in autumn and continues to shine through winter.

Site conditions:

It grows best on well drained soil in sun but can tolerate some light shade. It can be prone to caterpillar, vine weevil and powdery mildew attack.

Native or introduced: Native to Northern Europe

Ideal suitability, specific features – positive and negative

It should not be used in close contact with children, be it a young family garden or playground because the fruits are striking and look similar to sweets. The fruits are poisonous to people and animals. In fact the fruits were once cooked and grounded into a powder and rubbed into the scalp. It was used as an insecticide to kill head lice. The tree can be cut within a hedgerow and grow successfully as a hedge.

It attracts a lot of insects many of which are beneficial to the gardener, i.e. bees and wasps. Therefore it is essential for any garden that needs maximum biodiversity and bio controls. The wood is grown commercially for spindles in times past but now more commonly used in skewers, knitting needles and tooth picks. Not glamorous but useful, perhaps the real appeal of this tree for me.


Rose (Rosa)

Rosa moyesii

Roses are my favourite, and despite all the rumours, are very easy to grow and maintain. Most varieties need full sunlight but many tolerate various degrees of shade. For me, a rose must have fragrance or it’s not worth growing. Poetry, art and books have been dedicated to the beauty of this perennial beauty throughout time. So this article will focus instead on the benefits of roses in our garden to not only the gardener but wildlife too.

Roses are prone to pest attack from green fly (aphids). This pest will target new soft growth in early summer and suck the sap from the plant. Also, by their feeding habits, they also spread viral disease between plants. Many gardeners spray to kill these bugs or wash the leaves with a soapy solution to remove them. Both methods work, however wildlife suffer. Predation will always prevail when a food supply is abundant. As the aphid numbers grow, so too will the predators in the form of ladybirds, wasps, hoverfly larvae and insectivore birds. So when roses have greenfly, consider allowing the natural balance in the garden control this as it’s an important food supply. The rose provides nectar and pollen to insects and the hips can be ornamental but are used to make a syrup rich in vitamin C for us.

The dog rose (rosa canina) grows wild as a climber in hedgrow producing white or pink open flowers. It is a host to a gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae). This tiny wasp lays its eggs in either the leaves or stem of the dog rose producing an abnormal growth called a gall. This gall, familiarly known as “robin’s pincushion”, is often noticed at the end of summer when stems are more bare and the small red hairy growth stands out. One gall may contain several grubs, each in an individual chamber.


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

The word “Dandelion” is derived from the latin “dens leonis” meaning lions tooth. This is in reference to the shape of the leaf.

This wild yellow flower can grow anywhere and is the bane of many a gardeners life. It is found in lawns, fields, road verges, waste ground and even crevices in paths. This perennial is easily recognisable with its yellow composite of hundreds of tiny flowers and long, lance-shaped leaves that are deeply toothed. The distinctive seed head is white with airy seeds disperse in the wind making it easy to spread and colonise territories.

However it is an interesting plant with a rich past. During medieval times, the leaves were considered an important food source rich in minerals and vitamins. This valuable food source arrived early in spring before many other crops. In medieval gardens, it was encouraged to grow as an ornamental flower among other wild flowers in “Jewelled lawns”. Also during this time, the roots were used in medicine to “cleanse the blood”. It was also known as “piss-a-beds” because of their strong diuretic properties.

Today this plant is considered by many as a weed and by some as a herb. It has healing properties that stimulate bile production by the liver and is used to cleanse the liver.

For me, the greatest thing about dandelions is the wonderful source of nectar they provide for emerging queen bees, wasps and other pollinators. This early flower contributes to feeding the next generation of bees when many other flowers are only budding.

How does having dandelions benefit the garden? Well by attracting more pollinating insects and predator insects like wasps and hoverflies can benefit flowering plants as well as controlling aphids and other pests. Also dandelions grow best on potassium rich soil so it is a good indicator of your soil quality!


Elder Tree (Sambucus nigra)

Summary details

Name: Sambucus nigra

Height:  4m

Spread: 3m

Habit: Has a bushy dense canopy which can be multi stemmed and knarled in appearance.

Elder berries by Lorraine Foley

Description of tree: The leaves are opposite, dull green ovate shaped with a serrated edge. The leaves produce a pugent smell when crushed. The flowers are creamy umbels displaying from June and July. Their fragrant musky attracting flies as their principle pollinators. These mature into clusters of dark berries in autumn. The branches and twigs are brittle in appearance and can be easily hollowed out as they are filled with soft sap wood. These hollow stems host nesting chambers as well as shelter for insects throughout the year.  The bark is deeply textured and corky. The wood is very fast growing yet rarely exceeds 3 metres.

Evergreen/deciduous: Deciduous

Distinguishing features: It grows mostly on marginal ground like hedgerows and is the first to colonise bare ground growing very easily from seed. Seed dispersal is dependent on birds eating the fruit and the seed passing through in the droppings.  The pungent leaves were once gathered and used as a pest repellent in kitchens and parlours in times past. It is a very useful tree in herbal healing, for instance  a tea made from the flowers help alleviate the symptoms of hay fever. Also cough medicine made from the berries is on the market today, “Sambucol”.

Site conditions: It grows best on alkaline soil that is rich in nitrogen yet it is hardy and copes in moderate fertility. It grows in full or partial sunlight.  Elder matures quickly in most conditions making it an ideal windbreak.

Native or introduced: Native species to Ireland and UK

Ideal suitability – positive and negative

This tree is invasive and it regenerates easily from hard pruning. However it is a valuable tree within the hedgerow.  This tree is never attacked by pests or diseases; in fact cattle or rabbits will not touch it! Yet it is a great food source for insects, birds and mammals. By providing all year interest even in winter with its textured bark, this is a fine tree for any rural garden. It would be one of my favourites.


Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn tree at Tara Hill, Co. Meath

Summary details

Name: Crataegus monogyna

Height: 3–6 m

Spread: 4 m

Habit: It has a classical conical shape with branches sweeping down from a single stem. It has a dense canopy with fine thorny branches.

Native species

Description of foliage: The leaves look similar to oak leaves, they are pinnate lobed green small leaves. Small white flowers in May turning to bright red berries in autumn.

Evergreen/deciduous: Deciduous

Detail description of the Hawthorn

This tree is small in stature with a dense canopy. It has thick network of branches and twigs with sharp thorns making this an ideal barrier hedge. The leaves are ovate and deeply divided miniature versions of the oak leaf. The leaves appear before the flowers unlike the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) which looks similar.

The flowers appear in May and cluster in bunches. Each flower is white with creamy stamen. The blooms fade to pink as they mature. They produce a strong heavy fragrance which makes it ideal for attracting insects much like the Elder tree which is always nearby. The flowers emit a chemical called trimethylamine which is a chemical also found in decaying tissue. It is this chemical that attracts flies for pollination. The fruits that follow during autumn are called haws and are bright red, hard small berries that are consumed by birds and rats (I saw this for myself). The seed within the fruit needs to be stratified before it can germinate. The bark of the tree is knarled and craggy. This provides great cover for the Hawthorn sheild bug which feeds on aphids making it a welcome visitor in all gardens.

Hawthorn Sheild Bug

You may find these trees standing alone in a field that was tilled. Farmers would avoid cutting such a tree down as it is known as a fairy tree. The tree is strongly associated with folklore and is never cut down for fear of bad luck.  No part of this tree is ever used for fire wood nor is it chopped down, hence the sight of a lonely fairy tree in a field. There is such a tree in Tara, Co Meath that is regularly decorated with charms and chrystals on summer solstice evenings.

Ribbon tied onto a branch for good luck

The haws or fruit of this tree is used in herbal medicine; a tea made from the haws is good for the heart and circulation.

I think it is a perfect ornate tree for a small garden, particularly St. Paul’s Scarlett with its deep pink flowers. It provides long seasonal interest and is native. The shape is beautiful and evokes rural charm.  However it is thorny and not ideal planted near a path yet it makes an ideal barrier hedge. As a tree, it’s slow growing and slow to take shape. It grows in all conditions (except very waterlogged ground) so no matter how small a garden, this tree will attract birds and insects and this is essential to good biodiversity.

Hawthorn berries

7 comments

  1. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    Hi Lorraine,

    Great to see a site devoted to wildlife gardening. It looks good, but it still needs more info, which I presume you will be adding gradually.

    I’ve a question on ‘Flora for Fauna’. Recently our residents’ association (in Sandyford, Dublin) decided to have a GAP (Global Action Plan) course on eco-friendly gardening and I volunteered my small front garden for a make-over. Our GAP instructor recommended native shrubs as they better support native insects and so on, having evolved in tandem with them, as you said.

    That’s fine (and I’m grubbing out all the tat) but I’m not sure it actually is the best solution for an urban garden, at least for birdlife. The native shrubs or small trees that could feasibly be planted in a small garden include holly, hawthorn, blackthorn, elder, rowan, ivy and perhaps a few others such as heather.

    Having studied this a bit, I know that holly, rowan and hawthorn are not particularly useful in small stands as they are stripped of their berries very quickly. And birds do not use them for nesting in either, if they’re small. So their main value is for insect life and for providing perches for birds (especially house sparrows) when they visit the garden feeders. Bullfinches will eat hawthorn buds, so that’s useful in that respect anyway.

    Elder is fine, it grows quickly, masses of flowers, tons of berries, but again stripped quite quickly of its berries, and the main problem is it grows very rapidly and quickly dominates other plants. Not very garden-friendly.

    Blackthorn would be great, lots of flowers and fruit and dense enough for birds to nest in securely. But difficult to grow in a garden, I think; but I plan to try.

    Ivy, I think, is perhaps the best of all, easy to grow, lots of berries, nectar for butterflies and good for birds’ nests. You just have to control it.

    So, not a huge lot there for birds. In fact, if I took down all my bird feeders, the birds would quickly abandon my garden, as I don’t yet have any ivy. I rarely saw a bullfinch in it until I started providing birdseed, but now there are three or four visiting many times every day, ditto goldfinches, etc. Without the feeders, almost no birds appear.

    The GAP instructor also suggests non-native cotoneaster and pyracantha for their berries, as does almost every garden bird book. But in my experience these species hold on to their berries almost all winter, which can only mean one thing: birds don’t like their berries and will only eat them if stuck. And again, birds will not nest in them, their structure is wrong. Pyracantha is also extremely spiky and difficult to handle when pruning, so it’s likely that birds avoid it for fear of injuring themselves.

    Which brings me to my main point. I believe that to make a small urban garden wildlife-friendly you have to forget some of the established rules. For a start, forget cotoneaster and pyracantha, they’re not useful. Next, plant native shrubs by all means (especially ivy, elder and blackthorn) but intersperse with non-native shrubs that are very bird-friendly in terms of food and nest sites. That way you will enhance the native insect fauna while also providing nesting and feeding opportunities for your birds.

    The argument that you should plant native shrubs only does not hold up in an urban garden context, in my opinion. If you did that, you would not do an awful lot for your local birdlife, unless you let the entire garden grow over with trees and shrubs, and who’s going to do that? No, the best bet is a mixture, plus some lawn for thrushes to poke for earthworms. Using non-natives will not harm the local wildlife, it will help to enhance it.

    So, whatever the books say, there is a strong argument for adding non-native shrubs, ones that provide both food and nesting places for birds. You will have less wildlife if you avoid non-natives altogether; you will have fewer birds, no hiding places for hedgehogs, and so on.

    Good nesting bushes include privet, while buddleia is good for butterflies, as everyone knows. Could you suggest a few more useful species, please?

    I’m hoping you can throw some light on non-native trees and shrubs that provide good feeding for birds especially. The road I live on has cherry trees and another species of tree, it may be snowy mespil but I’m not sure. These ‘mespil’ trees are of terrific value for birds, they attract tits and finches etc almost all year round, including long-tailed tits, willow warblers and siskins, which you don’t see that much of in urban areas. I’m sure the county council didn’t plan it that way, but for once they got something right.

    So I’m on the lookout for the best non-native shrubs and small trees to add to my native hawthorn, elder, birch and (hopefully soon) blackthorn, ivy, oak and others. What would you recommend?

  2. admin says:

    Hi Coilin
    you raise very interesting points in regard to native species. Wildlife will thrive in the right environment irrespective of whether a plant is native or not. Native species are generally promoted because of sequencing. This refers to the timing of various food sources in the form of emerging insects and caterpillars in sync with the nesting of birds, creating a chain of command in regards to food. Many insects create habitats in native plants and this feeds the greater community. For instance euonymus europaeus (spindle tree) hosts the lackey moth caterpillar. This emerges and feeds on the leaves at this time of year. However their large numbers are controlled by the insectivore birds feeding their own young too. Many shrubs do provide food; others provide shelter and safe access. For instance a hedge acts as a wildlife corridor and is invaluable in any garden.

    Non native shrubs that fulfill this brief of food, shelter and safe access can benefit more than just birds.

    But back to your question of non native plants for birds.
    • Cotoneaster is a great food supply late in winter for many birds and I have observed thrushes aggressively defend this shrub during very cold spells over many years.
    • Corylus avellana (hazel tree) is native but the ornamental cultivar versions are beneficial too. They produce catkins in early spring that is food for birds.
    • Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon) or any ornamental thistle plants, provides seeds that are consumed by the finches and siskins.
    • Viburnums – all varieties provide shelter and some provide berries in winter too. Viburnum davida and V. opulus to name a few.

    This is a short list but I go into this in greater detail in my wildlife course.

    All gardens can provide the right conditions for wildlife including birds if they include a broad mix of planting. No plant list can ever substitute providing the right conditions that encourage insects and their predators (birds). Plants need to provide berries, seed heads and act as a host to insect larvae which is essential for a variety of birds. Some birds rather feed at ground level like wrens, dunnocks so providing shelter gives them safe access to feed on worms among leaf litter while others enjoy feeding in the open like thrushes and starlings. So this should give insight to their needs.

    Good luck with your garden and thanks for your inquiry.

  3. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    Hi Lorraine,

    Thank you for your considered reply and useful info.

    I take your point on sequencing. Certainly the blue tits nesting in my garden are going back and forth from the small native woodland nearby to bring their chicks the caterpillars etc that are currently available there on the native plants.

    Hazel I had forgotten about. I could usefully add that. I will check out Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) and Viburnums davida and opulus.

    Still not convinced about cotoneaster. Perhaps there’s different species of it or something. The ones I have are a total loss anyway, they are left with their berries uneaten all winter; it is possible they are infected with something I suppose.

    I think a lot of the material in garden bird books is recycled and that many myths get propagated in this way. The advice on cats is often incorrect: I have several stray cats using my back garden, where I have five bird feeders, and I can see what works best.

    For a start, the presence of cats does not deter birds from using feeders, though they keep a close eye on them. Secondly, the books always say hang your feeders high and don’t hang them near bushes where cats will be lying in wait.

    But I have found that birds will sooner approach a low-hung feeder than a high one, perhaps because this makes them less vulnerable to sparrowhawk attack. I think four or five feet up is about right.

    They also prefer feeders that hang from the side of a hedge and are not way out in the open. Cats will not be able to get at them from under the hedge so long as the feeder is not too low altogether. Birds will sit on such feeders quite happily for ages, whereas if the feeder is out in the open they will fly off at the slightest provocation, real or imagined.

    Cats do lie in wait under hedges but with the idea of catching birds while they are on the ground, and this is where they do all the damage. So, any bird food put on the ground needs to be kept well away from the sides of hedges.

    A bird table in the middle of a lawn is an open invitation to any sparrowhawk. Tables are best situated close to hedging or trees into which the birds can dart if they see a hawk approaching. But where do people usually put their bird table? Yep, right in the middle of the lawn. Well, I suppose the hawks have to eat too.

  4. Caitriona Carlin says:

    Hi Lorraine,
    congrats on the website- and I do agree with much of what you say. I really like wildlife gardening and get much joy from all the wildlife we see – and have fun taking pics too!

    We planted blackthorn too, but it can take over, so keep an eye on it. Guelder rose and honeysuckle increase insects visiting the garden and would add cover and shelter among some of the other trees you mentioned. You could plant teasel for seedeaters like goldfinch – we had lots of those in an urban garden. Burdock (Arctium sp) or Knapweed (Centaurea sp) are good – both really attracts butterflies in summer but are a great food supply for many finches and other birds in winter.

    Just some quick suggestions – I hope they help!
    Best wishes with the website,
    Caitriona

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for your input Caitriona. You are right about blackthorn, it can be invasive. Guelder rose and honeysuckle make a great combination and is something lacking in my own garden! Cheers for that!

  6. Maria Lawless says:

    Hi Lorraine

    I’ve read your articles in the Dunshaughlin newsletter with interest, so thought I wouId make contact regarding biodiversity.

    We have noticed a huge reduction in insect life in the area since then (we live just at the edge of the village). The bushes in my garden used to be full of butterflies in the summer and spider webs in the Autumn, bees are a rarity too, although I’m aware that there is a decline generally in the bee population. I’ve even noticed a reduction in snails and slugs over the past couple of years, which some might consider a blessing!

    Have you noticed a reduction yourself? I know we had a couple of very severe winters, which undoubtedly would have had an impact, but are there other reasons, slurry spreading, insecticides, pesticides or whatever? Many of the fields seem largely uncultivated, with maybe just a few cattle or sheep, so, given that farming doesn’t seem to be particularly intensive, would it be possible to increase plant diversity through planting up margins or setting areas for wildlife diversity, obviously being considerate of farmers’ livelihoods.

    I visited Glendalough last summer and was amazed at the variety and quantity of insect life as I walked through the glen. I know the temperature there is slightly warmer and there is water present, which is going to attract insects anyway, but is there anything we in Meath could learn from that area in terms of wild plant diversity? Any thoughts/information would be welcome. Do the council spray the margins with pesticides, could they be convinced to use a more environmentally friendly method if they must have neat and tidy margins? I have a vision of the area being turned into a haven for wildlife diversity, somewhere to be emulated around the country, could it be a possibility, do you think? With an increase in wildlife would follow an increase in bird/animal life. Maybe I’m just a naïve idealist, but I think with a plan, it could be achieved with the help of the council, particularly if they could see the potential benefits of tourism. We already have historic sites, why not link that to bicycle tracks between villages along the edges of beautiful wildflower meadows?

    The building of the M3 motorway, while very valuable for commuters also has had a negative impact on wildlife, I’ve seen dead animals and pheasants, which wouldn’t have a hope of getting from one side to the other alive. Was wildlife even considered when it was being built, it certainly doesn’t seem like it?

    Perhaps there are like-minded people pursuing something along these lines that you know if. Any thoughts you might have on any of the above queries would be welcomed.

  7. admin says:

    Hi Maria, thanks for your insightful comments. You raise very interesting points and I would love to try and address each of them as best I can. In regard to insect population reductions, I would agree that numbers have dropped as agriculture has intensified over the years. However in recent times, the use of pesticides is more controlled at EU level and payments to farmers include conditions that protect wildlife and their habitats. Farming needs biodiversity and this is why we have great hedges, treelines and ditches, especially in Meath. For more information on farm practices and wildlife protection, take a look at the National Wildlife and Parks website (http://www.npws.ie/). Personally I think this summer has been a bumper year for insects because we had a mild (wet) winter and warm spring.
    You mention Wicklow and its beautiful glens and woods. Meath has fantastic pasture land but sadly very little woodland. However I recommend walking the trails through Dalgan Park (near Navan). Very rich in woodland, rivers and grasslands, each habitat filled with a diverse mix of wildlife and flora.
    I created a wildflora booklet that can be downloaded from my website and this covers the trail through the Porch field in Trim – very close to the castle. It’s another beautiful walk. Finally I really recommend exploring Tara hill, it has so much to offer in particular grassland. Wild mixed grasses are essential for insects, butterflies, moths and birds that feed on the insects.
    In regard to the M3, essential archaeology excavations and wildlife surveys were performed before any construction work began. In fact Meath County Council would have information on what wildlife is supported in the area around Tara. Some interesting discoveries included many species of bats. In addition, Meath County council has created a landscape character report that describes our landscape and makes suggestions on how best to protect our natural environment. It is worth contacting them for a copy of this report.
    There is a campaign piloted in Wexford (I think?) that now allows road verges to grow tall and this is proving to be very successful for biodiversity and wildflowers!
    Get involved with Dunshaughlin Tidy Towns, they have some many wonderful people interested in nature. They would love to hear your ideas!

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