Wildlife gardening tips

Here’s a useful looking blog from Graham Eaglesham (posted below with his permission) with lots of things anyone can do to encourage more wildlife into the garden. Apart from just ‘letting things grow wild’, most of these don’t have to make the garden look untidy and are quite easy to do, though a change of mind-set from ‘tidy’ to ‘natural’ or ‘informal’ at least in some parts of the garden, would help even more wildlife of course!

The only wild plants I would suggest not tolerating (or at least keeping well on top of) in a wildlife garden are Creeping Thistle, docks, brambles, and Blackthorn which suckers, as all of these can quickly take over grassy areas to the detriment of more desirable wildflowers. Marsh Thistle and Common Sorrel are much better in the small garden as they host many of the same insects as their larger relatives, whilst Bramble and Blackthorn if they are to be tolerated are best restricted to a boundary hedge!


Gordon Eaglesham blog Song Thrush

“There’s been a lot of talk recently in Britain about grand plans for ‘ecological restoration’. But what about rewilding on a smaller scale?  At a time when our garden wildlife is suffering from the effects of overly manicured lawns, pesticide-laden vegetation and a general lack of habitat connectivity, there’s never been a better time to inject some much needed wildness into your garden.  Here are some suggestions on how to go about it and some information on the species that could benefit as a result.

  • Let things grow wild.  Sounds very simple, and it is!  Just sit back and let nature take its course.  This is the easiest and arguably, most productive thing you can do to improve biodiversity.
  • Create log and leaf piles and compost heaps, which provide an ideal dwelling for hibernating hedgehogs, toads and newts.
  • Install a pond.  This could attract a wide variety of wildlife, such as toads and dragonflies and needs little maintenance.  Or if that’s not suitable, even keeping a dish of fresh water out should attract more birds.  Having a water feature in the garden is one of the best things you can do to boost biodiversity.
  • Plant wildflowers and develop a mini-meadow ecosystem; this will be a haven for enticing myriad insect species, which in turn, will attract birds and small mammals, such as voles and shrews.  Voles and shrews then increase the chances of larger predators, such as kestrels, foxes and badgers, establishing themselves nearby.
  • Put up nestboxes and bat boxes.
  • Stop using pesticides and metaldehyde* slug pellets.  The latter are toxic to hedgehogs.
  • Ensure there is plenty dead wood lying around.
  • Create hedgerows and rock piles.  Hedges function like a woodland in  microcosm and can support a wealth of bird species; rock piles and hedgerows can act as a den for species such as Stoat and Weasel.
  • Remember, a dense, tangled, rotting pile of vegetation is good!
  • Grow trees and shrubs with berries.
  • Allow as much variety in the garden as possible, whether it’s plant species or types of habitat.
  • Keep your green space as undisturbed as possible.
  • Check that any plants you have, or acquire, are not poisonous to wildlife and are, ideally, native species.
  • Keep your weeds!
  • Encourage moss and lichen growth.  Both are widely used by birds for nest building material.
  • Construct a rockery, which can support a rich variety of insects”.

Gordon’s always interesting wildlife blog can be read here.

*I have added the ref to metaldehyde as organic slug pellets containing ferrous phosphate are meant to be a lot safer to birds and mammals – see earlier post on Westfield Wildlife here. Ralph


Take a look at this photo of a cranefly (click on it to enlarge).

2013 089

If you look very carefully you will see a spider on the back of said cranefly – the fly must be at least 10 times the size of the spider.  The tussle between the two of them lasted at least 30 mins. I think it was a crab spider – not sure on that though.  The spider did not have a web – it just hung on to the fly as it kept trying to fly away up and down the plant it was on.  Who won in the end? – don’t know as it was time to make a cup of tea!!

Ron Foreman

I will try to get this ‘garden’ spider identified Ron, and post the answer here as an update!


Grassland Butterflies

Interesting post from WILDLIFE EXTRA.

Dave — Ralph

Populations of Europe’s grassland butterflies decline almost 50 % over two decades

butterflies/2011/alps_fritillary_wxIntensifying agriculture and abandoned land are the two main trends affecting the populations of grassland butterflies

Butterflies ‘restricted to road verges, railway sidings, rocky or wet places, urban areas and nature reserves’
July 2013. Grassland butterflies have declined dramatically between 1990 and 2011. This has been caused by intensifying agriculture and a failure to properly manage grassland ecosystems, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

General indicators of biodiversity
The fall in grassland butterfly numbers is particularly worrying, according to the report, because these butterflies are considered to be representative indicators of trends observed for most other terrestrial insects, which together form around two thirds of the world’s species. This means that butterflies are useful indicators of biodiversity and the general health of ecosystems.

17 species studied
Seventeen butterfly species are examined in ‘The European Grassland Butterfly Indicator: 1990-2011’, comprising seven widespread and 10 specialist species. Of the 17 species, eight have declined in Europe, two have remained stable and one increased. For six species the trend is uncertain.

Butterflies examined in the report include the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), which has declined significantly, the Orangetip (Anthocharis cardamines), which seems to be stable since 1990, and the Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon), which shows an uncertain trend over the last two decades.

Intensifying agriculture and abandoned land are the two main trends affecting the populations of grassland butterflies.Intensifying agriculture and abandoned land are the two main trends affecting the populations of grassland butterflies.

‘We could lose many of these species forever’
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “This dramatic decline in grassland butterflies should ring alarm bells – in general Europe’s grassland habitats are shrinking. If we fail to maintain these habitats we could lose many of these species forever. We must recognise the importance of butterflies and other insects – the pollination they carry out is essential for both natural ecosystems and agriculture.”

Why are butterflies disappearing?
Intensifying agriculture and abandoned land are the two main trends affecting the populations of grassland butterflies. Agriculture has intensified where the land is relatively flat and easy to cultivate, and, on the other hand, large areas of grasslands have been abandoned in mountainous and wet regions, mainly in eastern and southern Europe. Both intensification and abandonment result in the loss and degradation of habitat for grassland butterflies.

Agricultural intensification leads to uniform grasslands which are almost sterile for biodiversity. In addition, butterflies are also vulnerable to pesticides, often used in intensively managed farming systems.

Farmland is often abandoned for socio-economic reasons. When farming on low-productivity land brings only a small amount of income, and there is little or no support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), farmers give up their enterprises and the land is left unmanaged. The grassland becomes overgrown and is soon replaced by scrub and woodland.

Butterflies ‘restricted to road verges, railway sidings, rocky or wet places, urban areas and nature reserves’
In some regions of north-western Europe, grassland butterflies are now almost restricted to road verges, railway sidings, rocky or wet places, urban areas and nature reserves. Areas using traditional low-input farming systems, known as High Nature Value Farmland, are also important habitats.

Monitoring Europe’s butterflies
The report is based on the European Grassland Butterfly Indicator, compiled by De Vlinderstichting (Dutch Butterfly Conservation), Butterfly Conservation Europe and Statistics Netherlands, using data from 1990 to 2011. The indicator brings together information from national butterfly monitoring schemes in 19 countries across Europe, most of them European Union Member States. Thousands of trained professional and volunteer recorders count butterflies on approximately 3 500 transects scattered widely across Europe. This volunteer fieldwork is essential for understanding the state and trends of Europe’s butterflies.

While the report is based on data from 1990 to 2011, it should be noted that in many areas of Europe the current changes in land use began before 1990. The report therefore suggests that the recent halving of butterfly numbers may be the most recent development in a much bigger long-term decline.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy recognises the poor conservation status of grasslands. Grasslands should be properly managed, the report states, both within Natura 2000 protected areas and on HNV farmland. A new system of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy could help support better management, the report says.

The European Grassland Butterfly Indicator could be used as a measure of success of agriculture policies. Sustainable funding of butterfly indicators would help validate and reform a range of policies and help achieve the goal of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020.

Moth Night

Here is another interesting post from Wildlife Extra.

Moth Night 2013 8th – 10th August

Organised by Atropos magazine and Butterfly Conservation, Moth Night is the annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland by enthusiasts with local events aimed at raising awareness of moths among the general public.

Each year has a theme, and for 2013 the theme is Tiger Moths, although recorders are always welcome and encouraged to do their own thing.  Each year the event takes place on different date periods which are confined to the warmest months, and each event lasts for three consecutive nights (Thursday – Saturday) so that recording can take place on any one or more of these nights.

More details 

We are considering participation this year by holding a local event somewhere in the village on Friday evening 9th August.  If you would like to attend further details will be posted on Westfield Wildlife soon!

Ralph — Dave

Butterfly Count

We thought this from Wildlife Extra might be of interest to Westfield Wildlife followers.  All that is required is to simply count butterflies over any 15 minute period in bright (preferably sunny) weather during the big butterfly count period which starts tomorrow!  Further information on how to take part can be found by clicking on the ‘More details’ link below.

Dave – Ralph

Big Butterfly Count 2013

Big Butterfly Count – 20th July – 11th August

The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey designed to assess the health of the UK’s environment. First run in 2010, Big Butterfly Count has become the world’s biggest butterfly survey. 25,500 people took part in 2012, counting 223,000 individual butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK.

The 2012 survey showed that the terrible spring and wet summer was very bad for almost all butterflies. Many common butterfly species were much less abundant in 2012. Almost three quarters of species (15 of the 21 target species) showed year on year declines and 11 of them decreased by more than one third compared with 2011.

Worst affected
Most species showed year-on-year decreases. Common Blue numbers fell by 50% and the Speckled Wood was 65% down on last year’s Count. The Red Admiral, which was so abundant last summer, fell back sharply, with numbers down by 72%. All of the white butterflies declined, as did garden favourites such as the Holly Blue and Brimstone. Peacock numbers fell by 89% compared with 2011, but a late emergence of the butterfly in better weather at the end of August and into September may allow some recovery.

Meadow brown, ringlet and marbled white all increased
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Meadow Brown counts rose by 186% on 2011 and this grassland species topped the chart for the first time. The Ringlet and Marbled White also did well. Ringlet numbers increased by 354%, seeing the species climb to 3rd most abundant species this year, while Marbled White counts increased by a staggering 503%, rising from 17th position last year to 7th. The Six-spot Burnet moth did well for the second year in succession, reaching 6th place.

More details 

Download Butterfly Conservation’s handy identification chart to help you work out which butterflies you have seen.

Four-spotted Spider

Happy Birthday to ‘Westfield Wildlife’!  2 photos of an interesting spider found on the underside of one of the Cosmos blooms.  I have included 2 to give a good view of the cephalothorax and abdomen.

My bed of Cosmos has given me the opportunity to observe quite a variety of insects –  I have seen about 4 different species of bumblebee including the Bombus hypnorum.

Edna Southey

This is the beautifully marked Four-spotted Spider Araneus quadratus which is found mainly in grasslands where it spins its web between grass stems.  Unlike the similar but commoner Garden Spider Araneus diadematus which has a cross-shaped marking on its abdomen, the Four-spotted Spider is not usually seen in gardens unless an area of long grass is present.  The Four-spotted can be distinguished by the very rounded abdomen as well as the four white spots.  In late summer females swell up to an enormous size as the abdomen fills with eggs!


New species on peanut feeder

Not a bird but a slug!   Two in fact, which had somehow managed to slide their way down a drooping rose stem and onto the peanuts in the rain [8/7/2012].  These are the brown form of the large black slug Arion ater which fortunately eat mostly dead and decaying leaves etc in preference to garden plants!   One seemed to be following the other, probably with the intention to mate, whilst a third had found its way into the dish below the niger feeder and was eating spilt seed.  Needless to say I hastily removed all three using a large leaf to get a grip, and also cut out their access route!

If any slug could ever be described as handsome then this would surely be right up there!



As a follow up to Ralph’s posting [8/5/2012] on Crab Spider, I took some photos of a spider in my shed a few days ago, uncertain of its identity.  I made a few enquiries, and as it happens it is another species of Crab Spider, an immature Philodromus.  Should you find any spiders around your garden or shed please submit photos to us as we like to include a varied selection of subjects on this site.   Many Thanks,  Dave

Crab Spider

This relatively attractive (for a spider!) Crab Spider, so called because it walks sideways like a crab, does not build a web but instead sits on top a flower waiting for a pollinating insect to arrive. 

Sometimes, like the one I photographed today eating a large blowfly, they manage to catch a whole week’s worth of food all in one go!   They always choose a white or pale flower to sit on and then take on the exact hue of the petals to perfect their camouflage. 

This creamy coloured individual closely matches the flowerhead of the Alexanders plant it has made its home on, but they can also be pure white, or a delicate shade of pink or lilac!  Later in the spring they can be found on flowers such as ox-eye daisy and valerian waiting to ambush their prey.


Organic slug pellets

This is the time of year when gardeners start seeing slug and snail damage on their Hostas and other precious plants and quickly resort to slug pellets!  Unfortunately there is evidence to suggest that the usual metaldehyde formulations can harm hedgehogs and song thrushes.  This happens when they eat the still living slugs or snails that have ingested the bait, but not yet died.

In recent years a much more wildlife friendly ‘organic’ pellet has become widely available and I have been trying it out.  It is made with Ferric phosphate which is not only harmless to hedgehogs and birds, but also harmless to us when used in the vegetable plot (certified for organic use).  Instead of causing the slug to dessicate by shedding its protective mucous (leaving nasty slimey bodies everywhere) it causes the slug to retreat underground to die out of sight where it then rots naturally.

I have found the organic pellets do work well if used on mild evenings when slugs and snails are active as the pellets are eaten more quickly and before they can decay.  It is best to use them sparingly and only around particularly vulnerable plants so birds and hedgehogs are still able to find enough to eat.

Better still is to go out in the garden at night with a torch and a large plastic bag – it is then very easy to see and pick off the big garden snails!  They can be ‘set free’ the next day in a roadside hedge or wood edge perhaps – somewhere well away from gardens and farmers’ crops!


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    WESTFIELD WILDLIFE has been created for Westfield residents and visitors to submit news and photos of any wildlife observed in the Parish. We also aim to post our own sightings and topical wildlife news as often as time allows.

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