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Garden slow worms

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: General
Forum Name: Reporting
Forum Description: Report garden sightings and field days
URL: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=5158
Printed Date: 17 Dec 2018 at 9:47am
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 - http://www.webwizforums.com


Topic: Garden slow worms
Posted By: Suzi
Subject: Garden slow worms
Date Posted: 04 Jul 2017 at 8:30pm
Been a while since I posted photos of my garden slow worms. I've not looked at most locations much this year as the covers have got very overgrown and the compost heap has got a huge clump of comfrey in the way of lifting the black plastic off. Anyway I decided to have a bit of a sort out...
These images show how hidden the Coroline covers had become...





Although I could just about lift the covers I couldn't do it in a slick enough fashion such that everything was still there as I juggled with the camera. There were plenty of slow worms under both covers and I managed a few shots. I took the covers off and cut back the grass and relaid them. I also managed to get the compost heap revealed and, again, plenty of slow worms to see. 
This evening I went to photograph a clump of young slowies that I know spend the night, or some of it, all huddled together. I've seen them as late as 10pm. There are never any older ones, just youngsters. This cover is the only one I have kept accessible and it must be about April or early May I last looked at the others. No toads seen yet under the covers, but they have been seen in an open compost heap.






Below the youngsters snuggled for the night.



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Suz



Replies:
Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 04 Jul 2017 at 10:43pm
Lovely photos, interesting that you say there are only ever youngsters and no adults - do you see the adults elsewhere in the garden at all or is it that the youngsters all migrate away as they mature? I guess given the number of youngsters that it is a safe environment in your garden for slow worms so it is unlikely that they get predated before reaching adulthood?

I must get a sheet put down at the end of my garden where everything is slowly getting overgrown, as i have had a slow worm in my hog feeder i guess there may be a few about, if nothing else they would be a welcome change to the hogs diets!


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 04 Jul 2017 at 11:55pm
Thanks Chubsta. I didn't explain very well...there are adults and youngsters under this cover in the daytime, but in the evening it is only ever these youngsters. I rarely see slow worms unless I look under the covers or in the compost heaps under the plastic sheets. 
Sadly there is predation...cats! I've seen them kill slow worms here. My garden provides some safety but cats do catch them sometimes, often as they cross mown grass  between gardens (many of the gardens just have wire or little in the way of divisions so it is easy for slow worms to move about).
If you put down a cover you will soon get slowies under it if they are in the area.


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Suz


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 05 Jul 2017 at 7:29pm
Lovely shots Suzi. Although I have masses of slow worms in my garden I seldom see them in such quantity - mind you, if I could find the time and energy to give the wilderness area a good chop and expose where my felts are (were?) I might do better. As you know, I have outdoor vivaria for sand lizards and the like and slow worm get into every one of them. Makes them feel very secure so they are often seen basking in the open.


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Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 06 Jul 2017 at 11:58am
I think Chris many people have slow worms in their gardens (if they are in an area of slow worms) but they never see them.
You could walk round my garden any day in their season and you'd be very lucky to see one. That is the nature of the beast of course, but it means they are often overlooked. I envy you seeing them openly basking.
I envy Gemma having common lizards in her garden, that I would like!


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Suz


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 06 Jul 2017 at 12:23pm
I quite agree Suzi. I find many local residents are astonished when I tell them that the whole area is teeming with 'em! Even more so that there are also grass snakes albeit much more rarely seen. I sometimes think it is a case of "none so blind as those that don't want to see" but frequently it is just a complete lack of awareness. We did have common lizards but they have slowly disappeared due, no doubt, to the high density of cats! What we seem to have recently acquired is a very small colony of wall lizards. An adult female appeared last year and obviously laid eggs. We saw four babies in mid-summer and three of them (now nearly mature) and their mother are still enjoying the garden and dodging the cats. They appear to be West Worthing animals (a fairly distinctive colony) and I am guessing that local kids took the 5 minute bike ride and caught one or two which escaped.
Escapees tend to find their way to my garden - attracted, I guess, by the smell or sounds of the wild and captive animals. Thus over the years I have had two King Snakes, a couple of yellow bellied toads amongth others - all species I have never kept before anyone leaps to the obvious and erroneous conclusion!
Chris


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Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: PDorman
Date Posted: 11 Jul 2017 at 8:30pm
I moved 5 years ago into a basement flat opposite allotments.
Last yeat on a sunny day I was gardening and left foolishly my frontdoor open which is 7 steps down from groundlevel. To my horror I found a snake wriggling in my bedroom. My neighbours told me it was a slow worm and took it into their garden.
A week ago I found in front of my back door mini patio another brown young one which froze when I opened the door. It has been around for a few days. 
I am wondering did it fall on the patio? Did it climb down the ivy clad wall or slide down the 7 steps? Can it climb up? The patio is shaded and has a number of tubs with hostas along the walls. I've seen it hiding between tubs and walls, also climbing through the drainage grid or into the drain pipes.
It has no cosy sleeping place like chubsta's. The garden has ferocious neighbour's cats unfortunately but   positive is that there is a big old heap of brushwood and pruned off branches at the other end of the garden. It could wriggle into this heap of woodcuttings and be safe. I will look for a cover on the ground which might be preferable to the slow worm.Tongue


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 12 Jul 2017 at 12:18pm
Slow worms will happily live in walls if they can wiggle in via cracks. They will come out to bask and hunt. I know several people who have them living like this.

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Suz


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 01 Aug 2017 at 8:18pm
Took these pix just after 8pm tonight. The solitary one is I think a newish youngster. The tangle of sub-adults were just a bit away under same cover.






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Suz


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 02 Aug 2017 at 4:53am
Hi Suzy you always have a good lot of garden sloworms for us.

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: VickyS
Date Posted: 02 Aug 2017 at 8:28am
Always happy to see them! I wish I could get some but I guess we don't have enough slow worm friendly gardens in the local area (we do have smooth newts).


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 02 Aug 2017 at 3:55pm
If slow worms are in the area (sometimes a difficult thing to assess) they will get along in a mix of gardens - manicured and more unkempt. I had them in my compost heaps before I decided to let parts of the garden go wild. I had grass snakes then as well. Connectivity is important and here there is a sort of slow worm Right to Roam as the gardens don't have hard boundaries. This is because they are large and it would be too expensive and gales bring down solid fences. 
Having smooth newts is neat. 


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Suz


Posted By: VickyS
Date Posted: 03 Aug 2017 at 8:47am
Yes I'm very lucky to have a neighbour with what estate agents describe as a 'mature garden' (with pond) so when I dug my pond it was very quickly colonised (shame about the duckweed though!). Shame I am selling up but will do my best to persuade the new owners to keep the pond and trees I planted! The gardens are fairly well connected in my very local area as the hedgehogs travel from garden to garden (I eagerly follow them with my ears!) but generally the wider habitat is pretty limited (very urban). I have seen a (roe) deer wandering towards the main town up my road though :0


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 05 Aug 2017 at 3:46pm
Originally posted by AGILIS AGILIS wrote:

Hi Suzy you always have a good lot of garden sloworms for us.

what of you think the reasons for this are - i would like to encourage them but am unsure as to where to really start, what do you think are the 'secrets of your success'? Also, as hedgehogs eat them would it really be fair to encourage them in?


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 07 Aug 2017 at 1:38pm
I used to go and look at slow worms on the high banking of a lane less than a hundred yards away from my home. That was almost thirty years ago. I never thought they might be in other places e.g. the gardens here. Then I discovered my neighbour had them under carpet pieces he placed on top of his compost heaps. He was squeamish about them, so never encouraged them as such, they just arrived. When we moved here it was very lacking in cover for slow worms, but within a few years we started finding them in the bases of dalek type compost bins and under black plastic on top of larger compost heaps, one an old concrete coal bunker that we placed for compost making and one we inherited with the house that was made out of four sheets of corrugated iron with iron post corners. What seems to be important here is that compost heaps are covered in some way. Numbers built up and I think there might be over sixty adults in my garden alone. There are also lots of youngsters, and they breed in the compost heaps. Maybe five years ago I put down Coroline sheets and they seem to be favoured places. I have even had grass snakes in the compost heaps and under the Coroline sheets. I don't think it's necessary to let your garden go wild to attract them. I have lots of herbaceous areas which are densely planted and attract lots of bees etc. I also have areas of mown grass. I never use any sort of chemical in the garden - lawn weed/feed, slug pellets, fertiliser, insecticide etc. I'm not sure if any of these are harmful to slow worms, but I just don't use them. I have now, as you might have seen from my photos, let some go wild - but I had the slow worms before this. Some of the gardens here are closely mown and have shrub borders. There are places for slow worms to hide, and they can move across the gardens. As you might have read I also have great crested newts, so they almost certainly travel across the lawns. For them not to become inbred I think it is good that they can roam. Do you live somewhere where they could move about freely, whilst liking your garden? I would start by putting down some covers, to see what's about. We had newts here in the garden 20 years before I put in a pond. These were discovered in the terrestrial stage. 
This year we have had a hedgehog/s for over four months. That is the best ever as they usually end up as road pancakes. We've had them before and I guess they meet slow worms on their travels. I think it is difficult to try and encourage one species whilst dissuading another. I'm not even sure you should. Are the hedgehogs eating my GCNs? Sad if so, but I can't really stop it. In nature there are always casualties. Cats are the biggest killers of all here and of course they are  introduced.  


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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 10 Aug 2017 at 4:49pm
Great to read your update Suz.

We introduced slow-worms when a local development site I knew well was appallingly mitigated. Very poor effort and the consultant overlooked that the new warehouse would totally over shadow a bank teeming with slow worms. Mervyn and I took it on ourselves to rescue all we could and try introducing them to the garden.

It is early days but they do seem to be around still and signs of successful breeding with one or two newborns spotted last year. The wildlife garden has plenty of log piles, a very large compost heap and plastic dalek one like you have. We are far from having the success you seem to have with slow worm farming but fingers crossed they are at least established now.

The lizards are still going, first young of the year spotted last week on onduline. Still have the problem with cats, but I largely let the habitat get very overgrown now just to provide as much cover as possible. I think I mentioned the scarecrow water squirters before. Only really effective cat deterrent I have used and they do not seem to bother the hedgehogs or other mammals that regularly set them off but seem to stay or visit regardless. 

I agree with wildlife  roaming. We have adjoining hedgerows and a pasture as well as neighbouring gardens. The main aim is I have is to try to provide very suitable habitat for the purposes of breeding for a wide range of species. I guess there is an argument with the cats that I should have just leveled the whole lot, but we originally started the wildlife garden when we had no neighbours with cats. So by the time they moved in with 4 cats I felt really we had to keep it and protect it best we could.

Just a quick PS as the discussion is moving towards 'secrets of success' with the lizards the population was already present along the hedgerow. How we got them so well established in the garden, log piles, nothing more. Large (initially 5-6 ft high) piles of willow logs in sunny spots was all that was needed. We topped them off with some brambles in later years to deter the cats. As the logs decayed large cracks formed in them providing ideal hibernation opportunities. We often see that some make it a permanent home for several years while other individuals just come for a visit now and then.



Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 10 Aug 2017 at 7:58pm
I spoke to a neighbour for the first time a couple of days ago - next door but one so probably about 50 yards away - he has lived in his house for approx 18 months. He had heard about my interest in hedgehogs and wanted to ask some advice on feeding them etc. In passing he mentioned that he couldn't believe the number of slow-worms he had in his garden - turns out he has a large compost heap which was there when he moved in and when he lifts the lid he often sees 10 or more of all different sizes. 

I currently have a 20foot x 5 foot strip at the end of my garden which is all I am able to allow to go 'wild', it has old logs and pretty much all me grass and hedge clippings piled up on it, with plenty of plants growing up through the 'compost'. Hopefully some of his slowworms will venture far enough to find this as a decent habitat but unfortunately it is in the only shadowy part of the garden so i guess it may not be warm enough for them.

very nice to see there is a decent population nearby though, as far as i can tell all the neighbours in our 'block' seem pretty wildlife friendly (lots of birdtables etc) but for most people something like a slow-worm would kind of fall under their radar as you don't see them often, or they are misidentified as snakes (we get an awful lot of adders on the cliffs about 200 meters away, often see them basking in the morning but have never seen them in a garden). I have a small strip about 10 feet long and a foot wide i could cover in corrugated iron which is in a much sunnier spot so may give that a go.

Cats are still an issue here, the hogs don't mind them, even the small ones, but they have killed large numbers of mice and have also seen them attacking frogs - i guess they must take lots of small birds too. Not sure what to do about them that isn't lethal but fortunately the most common feline visitor is a massive fat thing belonging to a neighbour which shows no interest in anything other than other cats and so far this year has managed to scare most of them away without bothering any wildlife. We did have a cat that never went any further than our garden and didn't once attack any wildlife, just wasn't interested, it is just a shame they aren't all like that.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 11 Aug 2017 at 11:43am
I find the scarecrow cat squirts the best deterrent. Cats soon learn to avoid gardens with them. It helps when deterring them to think 'cat'. They have routes they follow when hunting. Disrupting their route where it happens to be in your garden is a move to keeping them out. The cats move far too quickly to even get wet when the squirters go off, but the movement and sound of the squirter is enough to deter them in the end.

There are cats and there are cats. We have an old moggy from one of the neighbours who sits on an old willow stump in the front garden. Never bothers anything and happily passes most of the day sunning itself. 

Then there is the 'black death' from our immediate neighbour, the thing is a walking death machine and was responsible for practically wiping out our lizards and voles a few years back. Tried to get at the nesting blue tits this year (had to put wire around the post that box is attached to). It hates the squirters though.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Aug 2017 at 5:52pm
Suz I meant to ask before, do you get signs of lots of tunnels in top of your composters?

I have only noticed this since introducing the slow worms. On top of the compost I see finger sized holes all over. I'm presuming it is slow worms making these as they seem far too small to be created by mammals of any kind. 



Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 01 Sep 2017 at 1:23pm
Yesterday I was moving a small metal ornament that is sitting on top of one of the smaller 'compost' piles and found a small slow-worm underneath, all nicely curled up. Not sure on the size as its hard to guess but it 'looked young' - very pleased that they appear to be in the garden, the second I have seen this year. With a bit more effort and planning hopefully they will build numbers up.


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 30 Sep 2017 at 6:22pm
Gemma, sorry for the very late reply. I didn't see your post.
I don't think tunnels would be very obvious in our composters (unless rat ones) as the contents are pretty loose in arrangement. The funny thing also is (and perhaps another factor in no slow worm tunnels) the slow worms tend to frequent the base of the daleks not the surface. We have four daleks and rarely see a slow worm on the surface. This is in contrast to a friend who can guarantee to show them off in her garden by removing a composter lid with a flourish! 


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Suz


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 30 Sep 2017 at 6:26pm
Don't know if anyone is interested in seeing my slow worms in a sort of late season round up. Today was ideal for photographing them as it was dull and not hot. 
Sorry posted one site twice (not exact image though) and can't delete the image. You get the idea...lots!












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Suz


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 30 Sep 2017 at 8:41pm
Always interested in seeing your slowies suz. in fact love seeing them. like finding a hoard of copper bronze and gold treasure!


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 30 Sep 2017 at 9:45pm
Thanks Tim. I try not to take them for granted.
Sadly not seen any grassies this time, but intriguingly thought we saw a lizard about ten days ago! We are about three hundred yards from open countryside but the corridor would be a stream/bankings or road/hedges/gardens. It seems unlikely but...


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Suz


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 30 Sep 2017 at 10:26pm
where is the closest confirmed viv lizard site to you



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 01 Oct 2017 at 9:10am
Well there are lizards dotted about in the countryside all around here. Can't be exact as I've not looked but I would think maybe a quarter of a mile maybe less.

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 02 Oct 2017 at 8:33pm
Another vote for always pleased to see the produce of your slow worm farm Suz Wink

Our lizard population spawned from a single sighting. Really did not expect to see a lizard, but there it was where I had cleared space for the compost heap. Built the log piles and very soon they were colonized. I later surveyed the adjoining field margin and hedgerow, lots of them! So locally they seem pretty abundant, though there are places were they are noticeably absent too. I think a mix of hedgerow and horse pasture is a big factor in the lizard's favour in our mostly arable landscape here, just luck we have that near the garden.

PS we don't see much 'on top' with the heap either. I was really surprised to see the hatchling grass snake on the top the other day. So I think we might have mostly 'bottom' dwellers also. Still have those tunnels though and way too small for a mammal I think. I guess I'll just have to wait to I see a slow worm with its head poking out of one to be sure!


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 03 Oct 2017 at 7:17pm
Is there likely to be a 'critical mass' for the slow worms? There does seem a lot in one go so will they just keep increasing in number or is it more likely that numbers will stay stable and the extra ones disperse?



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 03 Oct 2017 at 11:45pm
I don't know Chubsta! They can roam off into other gardens. The gardens here are large. One thing this year, it seems to me there are not as many adults as other years. There seem to be more sub adults though. Without a proper study/survey though it is impossible to know for sure.

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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 04 Oct 2017 at 8:29pm
Ah critical slow worm mass! The ecological term is carrying capacity. So roughly there is a limit to the size a population can grow, based on food, habitat, water and any other necessity from the environment (according to Wikipedia). 

As slow worms seem happy in groups and only rarely drink, one can guess the only significant limit is food. In a cool compost heap one can imagine a huge supply of worms, slugs and other inverts for slow worms. So in Suz's situation carrying capacity of the habitat could be very high indeed. 

I think it would be fair to expect some individuals will disperse away into surrounding gardens and habitat.


Posted By: Caleb
Date Posted: 05 Oct 2017 at 9:11am
Adult slow-worms will apparently eat juveniles, so that may have some effect on population size and/or density.

Presumably this is fairly rare, given how often adults and juveniles are found together.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 05 Oct 2017 at 11:35am
I've often wondered if this is true of a lot of herp species Caleb? Seems in many cases feeding reactions are triggered by movement/smell then a decision that the prey item will actually fit in their mouths. So with juveniles being of the right size, I wonder if it happens more often in general.

I once was asked to clear a courtyard of common frogs. (School that for health and safety reasons had filled in a pond). Though there were an awful lot of frogs there were no juveniles. We concluded they were probably the main food source for the larger frogs. 

Not sure if there is any studies into particular herp species preying on conspecific juveniles. Tony mentioned a 'rogue' male slow worm he knew of that he often saw with juveniles hanging out of its mouth though, so it seems that one got a 'taste' for conspecific juveniles. Though I think the general situation might be one where juveniles would become prey items in the absence of plentiful invert prey perhaps?


Posted By: Caleb
Date Posted: 06 Oct 2017 at 9:15am
Yes, I think it probably applies to all the UK herps to some extent. 

Charles Snell wrote a piece in the 1980s called 'How not to get rid of newts' (or something similar) where he described how the population of juvenile newts in his garden exploded after he gave away hundreds of adults. He thought it was mostly due to predation of newt larvae by adults, rather than competition for food.


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 06 Oct 2017 at 2:45pm
I guess predating a number of your own young is a pretty good strategy, they do all the hard work of hunting for food and growing, thereby storing all the nutrients you need, and then you eat the odd one to feed yourself, as long as at least 2 survive to breed out of the many you create there are no problems.

How soon before a politician realises this and suggests humans do the same? Soylent Green anyone?


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 18 Oct 2017 at 6:30pm
Originally posted by Suzi Suzi wrote:

Don't know if anyone is interested in seeing my slow worms in a sort of late season round up. Today was ideal for photographing them as it was dull and not hot. 
Sorry posted one site twice (not exact image though) and can't delete the image. You get the idea...lots!
















Very impressive and great to see the inhabitants Suzy!

Here's my compost heap.



As you can see it's rather large and sprawling and covered with an old rubber pond liner which is kept in place by strategically placed stones.
I regularly add my neighbour's grass clippings, plus any uneaten fruit/veg (which the brandling worms love) and it sits on top of a low bank. At the base is a layer of wood/stones, where, like you, i suspect the slow worms (and possibly other herps) hibernate.
Couple of hurriedly-taken recent shots....







Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 18 Oct 2017 at 10:40pm
Thanks Ben!
Wow your compost heap looks like two of mine, covered in black and weighted with stones. Slowies certainly like lying under the cover. I need to improve my cover for next year as I discovered this season it wasn't too easy removing it quickly to take photos. I get occasional newts, toads and frogs there too, do you?


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Suz


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 20 Oct 2017 at 10:45am
Yes, in many instances you have to be very quick! For that reason, i normally have the camera on ready and slightly zoomed if i intend taking any pics. Your first pic is perfect.
I sometimes get frogs under the cover if it's cooler, but can't think of an occasion when i've seen slowies and frogs there simultaneously.
Although i sometimes find slow worms elsewhere in the garden (esp juveniles), i get the feeling that many of them don't leave the compost heap much as they're seen so regularly. They can find food, shelter, heat and the opposite sex there of course.
I only put grass clippings (mostly other people's as i cut mine just a couple of times a year and keep a relatively high sward), other garden/hedge trimmings, excess aquatic plants from time to time, and occasional uneaten fruit and veg to attract the brandling worms.
No bread, meat or other kitchen waste as it might increase the risk of attracting rats.


Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 20 Oct 2017 at 10:37pm
Yes Ben I always have the camera ready to just press the shutter! The compost heaps with their large plastic covers are more difficult to uncover than the Coroline sheets which I can do with the hand that isn't holding the camera. I could get help, but find it is even more difficult with someone else possibly getting in the way or not being quick enough.
Yes I think the slowies in the heaps possibly spend most of their time in there.
My compost heaps comprise lawn mowings and green weeds and autumn leaves. Food scraps, mainly skins/leaves of fruit/veg are only put in the daleks, which have huge numbers of brandlings in. The compost heaps have various worms, but not many brandlings. I have had odd rat visitations but rare and not long lasting. We don't put animal products  in any type of composter heap.


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Suz


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 24 Oct 2017 at 6:01pm
The rat thing was a problem for us, definitely taking out any cooked veg, bread, meat was the cure. We put our rotting fruit and veg in a plastic dalek, too, with grass cuttings and some cardboard. Main heap is hedge clippings, some grass cuttings, weeds we clear, most years I add some well rotted horse poop, so nothing that smells too foody that might attract rats in the open heap.



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