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A South East garden

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: General
Forum Name: Wildlife Gardening
Forum Description: For discussion about wildlife (especially amphibian and reptile) gardening
Printed Date: 17 Mar 2018 at 3:58pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 -

Topic: A South East garden
Posted By: chubsta
Subject: A South East garden
Date Posted: 20 Feb 2018 at 7:38pm
Well, figured it is about time I put up some details of my own garden instead of jumping in on other peoples posts! So, with thanks to Gemma for the inspiration, here goes...

I live in a smallish village on the cliff top between Folkestone and Dover in the very South East. Because of our proximity to the Continent we often have very different weather to the rest of the Uk and I believe we are now classed as semi-arid due to the low rainfall, it is very noticeable if you go just 20 miles North West how very different most days are.

I have lived here for 20 years but for most of that time have had pretty much zero interest in maintaining the garden for wildlife but I guess as most of us get older we often discover where our true interests lie. I have always had a great number of fogs in the garden and have a decent sized pond for them, but apart from that the garden has been kept as low-maintenance as possible - just a lawn and hedges - as I just don't have time to do much, we have two houses and most of my spare time is spent at the other one.

I guess it all changed about 6 years ago when I spotted some hedgehog droppings in the garden and my partner decided to buy me one of those cheap domed hedgehog houses. I put some food in a bowl inside it, went back indoors to fill the water bowl up and when I came back out there was a hedgehog in it!

And that was me hooked - I am now far more conscious of the needs of wildlife and although most of the garden is still lawn I have a rough area of about 25 foot x 5 foot at the far end which is overgrown with logs and piles of compost and decaying vegetation. As time goes on I hope this will become more 'natural'.

Thanks to advice and inspiration from here my pond is looking the healthiest it has ever been, and last year for the first time in forever I saw a couple of newts, and I also spotted slow-worms in a rough area near the conservatory. Hedgehogs, my main passion, seem to be maintaining numbers and I look forward to helping their survival prospects by becoming more proficient in treating them (unfortunately my local rescue closed down last year).

Although I don't have much to do with my neighbours, when we do chat it is usually about the wildlife we have and it is clear that people in the immediate vicinity are very interested in helping create a good environment.

So, to the future, this year I hope to do the following:
improve the two 'rough' areas I have, making them more attractive to insects etc
plant more around the edge of the pond - last years plantings have all done really well so with the advice on new ones to add from a post on here I should be able to create a good environment for the amphibians.
I have a strip of unused ground about 25 foot x 1 foot along one edge, I am going to place pieces of corrugated sheeting along there in the hope it will be attractive to slow-worms and also for the hedgehogs to shelter and nest under.
Put more cameras in - I have recently upgraded all my cameras to 4MP and 5MP ones and the quality is far better so will add a few more to better cover some blind spots, particularly around the pond.

Unfortunately, I am rubbish at gardening and pretty much everything I have ever planted seems to die - I even tried to get ivy growing up a tree-stump and that died off as soon as I looked at it, so only time will tell how my efforts will pan out...

Species list for 2018 is as follows:
brown rat
wood mouse
field vole
common frog

here is a little photo of my current set-up, should be able to get an idea of what I have to work with...

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 21 Feb 2018 at 1:28am
Fantastic and great to hear we've all given some inspiration! Our wildlife garden is relatively tiny, but it packs a lot into a small space. Looking forward to updates and news of progress. I'm kind of a keen gardener, but have to be honest I prefer wildlife gardening as it is less of a chore. Intentionally untidy works for me and I'm much more easily motivated if I know my efforts will benefit wildlife. Just one tip, for many years I cut down a lot of the 'wild flowers' (weeds to my neighbours) because I thought it looked kind of grim over the winter months. Last year I didn't as I thought it might give the pond some protection from chemicals sprayed on the adjoining field. What I really noticed though by keeping all the standing vegetation is just how much it is used by birds as a food source when there is very little else available. Often had blue tits eating the left over seeds of the purple loosestrife during the winter and they are still enjoying them now! I was told a few years back by an entomologist how important leaving standing vegetation is for many bugs which hibernate in dead vegetation. So now I think we will always keep at least some of the old vegetation standing over the winter.

Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 01 Mar 2018 at 12:43pm
Always enjoy reading about/seeing other folks gardens - thanks for posting and good luck!

Agree with Gemma. What other people might describe as untidy, to me looks natural and beautiful.

Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 01 Mar 2018 at 1:43pm
As far as plants go, you could endeavour to find out what type of soil/ph you have so you can make better informed choices. Simply noting which plants are commonly observed growing around your area will also help. I suspect those which favour dry conditions and light soil will suit best.
Another option might be to simply turn the soil and let whatever's in your 'seed bank' come up.
It's the same with ponds, some plants will 'like' the conds while others won't take. It's best to use native plants as they are most suitable (having evolved alongside the newts etc) and happily, these days many species can often be sourced from garden centres.
Once well-established, you'll probably need to thin them out annually to prevent the pond from becoming 'choked'. This is best done in autumn or you'll 'throw the baby out with the bath water'. IE lose newt larvae etc.

Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 01 Mar 2018 at 2:52pm
Whilst I agree with Ben on most of this, I would say that I have newt larvae overwintering in the pond and so find it hard to choose a clear out time.


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 01 Mar 2018 at 5:41pm
Well there's no perfectly ideal time i guess, but by autumn the larvae should be bigger and more easy to see. So you could painstakingly remove weed bit by bit by first swishing it in a bucket under good light and sift them out.

Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 06 Mar 2018 at 12:04am
Well, although temperatures were very low we didn't get the bad snow like the rest of the country, even 10 miles away inland they had up to a foot but we just had a light dusting and freezing rain.

As expected frogs have been a bit thin on the ground this last week but as I type this at midnight I can see at least a dozen pairs of eyes in the pond so they are starting to be active again - luckily no spawn was laid but with night temperatures around the 7-8degerees mark for the next week or so I guess it won't be long now.

Released a hedgehog last night, and plenty of activity from the mice and voles so I would say Spring is just around the corner...

Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 06 Mar 2018 at 11:38am
Fingers crossed for a good spawning! 
We had about 8-9" snow which froze, but has all gone now. It was bitterly cold.
My frogs must have been sitting cross legged somewhere waiting for the thaw (see my today spawn post).


Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2018 at 8:43pm
Still very quiet here - about a dozen frogs in the pond each day but no pairs and certainly no spawn although the weed is getting a bit torn up where they are moving about actively at night.

No signs of my newts or slow-worms, plenty of wood mice and my lone hedgehog visiting about three times a night, have to de-tick her every few days as she is like sugar to them, took 13 off her face and ears last night! Apart from the ticks she seems happy enough and is getting through at least 150grms of dog food a night, not bad for something not much bigger than a grapefruit...

Weather is till pretty poor, very wet and cold, which is a bit annoying as I am working nights outdoors at the moment. A positive of working nights though is that I get to see what happens over my cameras in the garden, always a nice thing to see foxes and other wildlife rooting about.

If anyone is looking to get cameras set up I have upgraded mine to Reolink 4MP and 5MP ones, the picture quality is fantastic, so can definitely recommend them.

Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 15 Mar 2018 at 12:46pm
Still no spawn and only about a dozen frogs in the pond, no couplings at all. Very strange given how warm it has been during the day this last week. I had a record number of fogs in the garden last year so doubt they have all succumbed to the cold weather a few weeks back.

Perhaps with another cold snap on the way they know to keep their heads down. Only my one 'regular' hog who has been coming on and off since New Year - she seems firmly out of hibernation and actually has looked tick-free this past couple of nights so that is a bonus.

One thing that has always puzzled me is the lack of birds in my garden - I have a wren, a regular Robin and a couple of blackbirds and wood pigeons. Any food I put out just sits there for weeks. I am in a smallish village surrounded by countryside on 3 sides and the sea on the other but we hardly get any birds at all. Our other house is in a small town, albeit near the large 'wild area' of an Army shooting range, and we have loads of birds of all different types, the feeders get mobbed as soon as we put them out. I have plenty of hedge cover, as do all my neighbours, who also have a number of large trees of different types, yet if you do the one-hour Garden Birdwatch for the RSPB you may not see a bird at all, very odd!

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 15 Mar 2018 at 4:56pm
We don't get a huge number of birds in the garden now we don't feed them anymore (neighbour's cat put an end to that). We get wren, robin, blackbird, etc pop in and out and we use to have sparrows nest in the ivy at the front of the house. In the summer pigeons will often drink from the pond in the early evening. I think we could easily not see a bird for an hour too. The flip side is that we have the blue tits thinking of nesting in their box now, so having the garden less busy with visiting birds probably suits them. 

Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 16 Mar 2018 at 12:22am
It doesn't bother me as they aren't a big interest, but we only get a few bird species too.
Lesser black-backed and a few Herring gulls, plus pigeons are probably the most conspicuous.
What with their loud, piercing screeching (quite often continuing throughout the night), i wouldn't blame anyone for hating the gulls. They can torture like toothache. But they're also charismatic, fascinating and even entertaining birds.
I've seen one repeatedly dive-bomb a cat, sending it terrified under a bush for all of it's lives, then land on a nearby roof and watch until Tiddles dared poke it's nose out again, then repeat the attack - over and over.
You'd have loved it Gemma!

There's always looking up instead. I've spotted loads more species flying or circling over my garden (though i don't always know what they are), including ravens and buzzards on occasion.

Here you go Chubsta. Chuffed to find this in the garden earlier....


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 16 Mar 2018 at 3:31pm
Ben, think I will get one of those gulls and train it, sounds like the best cat deterrent ever!

One I forgot to mention is the pied-wagtails, fairly regular visitor and common locally (we are not far from the Blackwater Estuary). Such funny little things the way they bob and literally wag their tails, always a pleasure to see one. Was one in this morning which reminded me I had not mentioned them.

Looking up is getting more and more interesting here in the past few years, buzzard sightings are much more common than 10 years ago, certainly made a come back in a big way locally and a pair nest at the local farm. Red-kites too occasionally, that's a bird I never saw in all the years of growing up in East Anglia.

Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 16 Mar 2018 at 8:48pm
buzzards have really increased on numbers over the last few years, we started to notice them towards maidstone in north kent and then recently over ashford and the last couple of years at hythe and folkestone, now they are very common and see them wherever we go.

have only seen one red kite a couple of years ago near canterbury, guess they will expand like the buzzards have.

being on the coast we get s lot of the continental birds, great white egrets are very common here whereas they are rare in the rest of the uk

Posted By: chubsta
Date Posted: 17 Mar 2018 at 11:10am
Well, I guess the snow has put paid to any hopes of spawn in the next couple of days - temperatures have dropped through the floor overnight and we have more snow than at any point this Winter. There were about 20 frogs in the pond at the start of the night but they all disappeared as the temperature dropped, only my one faithful hog who are three times and seems determined to be the fattest one around.

This time last year I had a pond full of spawn and at least five different hogs each night so I'm not too worried about the lack of number as it seems all wildlife is very slow to get going around here at the moment.

Posted By: Suzy
Date Posted: 17 Mar 2018 at 12:52pm


Good to read about your garden and wildlife. We all have different passions for wildlife, some just herps I know. I had badgers here for over twenty years – lots of them. They didn’t have setts here but I think came from the grounds of a large house nearby. In fact we are in a dense badger area so they probably come from all over. They brought their cubs along and I got to recognise different ones. As I watched over so many years there must have been several generations I guess. They would feed on peanuts next to hedgehogs too, no aggro but a bit of pushing and hissing at times.

Birds are a long time passion and we get a good selection here. However several neighbours started feeding gulls (herring) some years ago and they are a prefect pest now (4am summer mornings for example). So to discourage gulls I’ve had to start feeding ground food inside a metal dog cage. This allows up to thrush/blackbird size but nothing bigger. I have hanging feeders too. It sometimes seems to me that birds all disappear in cold weather, but if it is prolonged they will come back. That is the time for redwings and fieldfares to be brave and go into the cage. A neighbour who feeds all sorts – gulls, crows, jackdaws, rooks included – had a large flock of bramblings in the snow the other week, which never came here. I did have a black redstart which was great. I have lots of goldfinch, chaffinch and various tits. Siskins come to feeders and breed in the gardens here too. Blackcaps we get summer and winter. I put out peanuts in a feeder and generally have to throw them away eventually. Tits and great spotted woodpecker go on them, but not enough to make much impression. I put up a fat slab for blackcaps in the cold snap and that too is hardly touched. These latter are a long way from the house so are not disturbed by us. I think maybe so many others feed birds and they are spoilt for choice. Certainly when my brother fed birds in the Yorkshire Dales, I was amazed at how much food they got through in a day, no other people feeding where he lived.

I have a lot of flower beds and lawns but have enlarged wild areas over recent years. One thing that seems a common thread on here is that you will still get various herps if your garden is pristine, but you will get more/they will stay if you put in a pond or two and ease back on the mowing. In the early years of having grass snakes in my compost heaps they were certainly crossing mown grass to get there – it didn’t dissuade them.



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