The Series

Naturalists Brett Westwood and Phil Gates, and producer Sarah Blunt, recorded A Guide to Garden Wildlife in a garden near Bristol. The series also includes wildlife sound recordings by Chris Watson, Geoff Sample and Tom Lawrence.

Sarah and Dave, who own the garden that we made our recordings in, are passionate about sharing it with wildlife. They garden organically and their productive plot provides a home for native plants and animals alongside their flowers, fruit and vegetable crops.

Some elements of each of the habitats described in the programmes could be duplicated in any garden, however small - even in a back yard with the use of container gardening. Enticing wildlife into a garden can lift the spirits of a gardener, as well as providing a sorely needed refuge for our hard-pressed bird, butterfly and bee species. We hope that these programmes will encourage others to follow Sarah and Dave's example and create a place for wildlife in their plots of land.

Radio 4 transmission dates and times:

Programme One: Log Piles and Long Grass 9.30am. Monday 8th. July 2013
Programme One repeated: 1.45pm. Monday 14th. July 2014

Programme Two: Ponds 9.30am. Monday 15th. July 2013
Programme Two repeated: 1.45pm. Tuesday 15th. July 2014

Programme Three: Hedges 9.30am. Monday 22nd. July 2013
Programme Three repeated: 1.45pm. Wednesday 16th. July 2014

Programme Four: Trees and Shrubs 9.30am. Monday 29th. July 2013
Programme Four repeated:1.45pm. Thursday 17th. July 2014

Programme Five: Stones 9.30am. Monday 5th. August 2013
Programme Five repeated: 1.45pm. Friday 18th. July 2014

To visit the BBC series web page, click here

You can listen to all the programmes again by clicking here

Scroll down to the bottom of this page for links to wildlife organisations that can provide advice on wildlife gardening and for web sites that will help you to identify native animals and plants that might share your garden.

At the bottom of the page you'll also find a link to another blog that traces a year in the life of another wildlife garden, and also a link to a natural history blog which is updated almost every day.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Programme Three: Hedges

Hedges like this one, laden with flowers in summer and with hedgerow fruits in winter, have been lost from large areas of Britain. Few of us have gardens that are large enough to reproduce something as large and sprawling as this in a garden, but even formal, clipped hedges can provide breeding sites for birds and a source of food and shelter in winter for birds and insects, especially if they contain some native shrub species.

Hedges are much more than just a boundary for gardens - they are a vital source of shelter and food for many birds, especially in winter, and are often hibernation sites for insects like ladybirds. They are also the highways used by animals like hedgehogs when they move between gardens. Evergreen hedges, or hedges that retain their dead leaves in winter, like beech and hornbeam, are particularly good for providing shelter. Evergreen conifer hedges provide cover for the earliest nesting birds and always have bare ground at their base, even during heavy snowfalls, where small birds like wrens can find food. 

Informal hedges that are not closely clipped and are planted with a mixture of native species like hawthorn, guelder rose and hazel, with wild roses and honeysuckle weaving their way through them are best of all; they provide flowers, berries and nest sites. Remember that native species like hawthorn produce flowers on shoots that grew in the previous year, so if you trim all of these off when you cut the hedge in autumn you won't get any blossom or haws in the following year.

Guelder rose is a native shrub that can be a valuable addition to a wildlife garden hedge. Its flowers (above) are visited by many insects in early summer and its glossy scarlet fruits (below) are a useful resource for birds.

Hawthorn (above) is the traditional hedging plant in the countryside but it doesn't flower well if it is closely trimmed every year. To produce an annual supply of blossom and haws some shoots need to be left untrimmed each year. It also makes an attractive, small tree to incorporate in a hedge.

Even a plain, clipped beech hedge can provide a habitat for native insects. The caterpillars of this delightful little micro-moth, called a beech midget, feed inside beech leaves.


Wrens feed mainly on insects so fare badly in prolonged winters ........ and that's when the shelter and resources of a hedge can come to their rescue. In spring they like to sit on the hedge top and deliver their explosive bursts aof very loud song, and once they've secured a mate the males will begin to build a nest, often in ivy-covered walls.

Males build several nests and the females choose the one they like best.

The pair will usually raise about six young and when the fledglings emerge into the sunlight, dazed and confused like this individual, they can be quite approachable - but expect to be scolded by the parent birds, which are very protective of their young


The best hedges for wildlife have flowering, climbing plants like this honeysuckle trained through them. Even a uniform conifer hedge can be greatly improved by the addition of this climber which is very easy to propagate by a technique called layering. All you need to do is to pull a long, non-flowering shoot down to soil level, gently scrape some of the outer bark away from a point under the shoot about six inches behind the growing tip and then bury this exposed section of stem in a shallow layer of soil (put a flat stone on top to weigh it down) leaving the end of the shoot protruding above soil level. Keep the buried section watered and it will develop roots in a few weeks, when you can separate it from the parent plant and transplant it to a new position.

The scent of honeysuckle after dusk on warm summer evenings is intoxicating and will attract moths that come in search of nectar and will pollinate its flowers. Long-tongued bees visit the flowers during the day and some soon learn that there's an easier way to reach the nectar, instead of struggling to force their tongued down the tubular flower; instead, they crawl around the back of the flower and steal nectar through a hole that they chew in the floral tube.

Some beautiful insects breed on honeysuckle, like this 20-plume moth that's often attracted to lit windows at dusk, when you can admire its wings that are divided into feathery segments.  Each of the four wings has six 'plumes'. so it should really be called the 24-plume moth. Its larvae feed inside honeysuckle flower buds - look for the holes that they chew in them.

This is a honeysuckle sawfly, whose caterpillar feeds on honeysuckle leaves.

Blackbirds and thrushes are particularly fond of the glossy scarlet honeysuckle fruits that ripen in late summer and disperse the seeds in their droppings.

Leafcutter bees

In addition to bumblebees and honeybees, a host of other bee species will visit wildlife gardens. We have around 230 native bee species in Britain and many either excavate tunnels in the soil for their nests (mining bees) or in cavities like hollow stems.

You can give them a helping hand by providing 'bee hotels' like this old wooden box packed with hollow sections of old hogweed stems. All sorts of insects, including ladybirds, while shelter here over the winter months.

Leafcutter bees have a unique way of nesting amongst British bees, by cutting small semicircular sections from leaves (often rose leaves) and then rolling and gluing these into tubes which they lay an egg in and then provision with pollen for the hatching grub. If you find rose leaves in our hedge with semi-circular sections missing, then you know that leafcutter bees will be nesting nearby.

Leafcutter bees like to collect nectar from flowers of meadow cranesbill, which is an excellent wild flower to cultivate in a wildlife garden.

These bees don't have pollen baskets on their legs. Instead, they collect pollen on the hairy underside of their abdomen. This individual is collecting the yellow pollen of wood vetch - another excellent native plant for the wildlife garden.

When they're not feeding, leafcutter bees like to sunbathe. This one has settled on a black compost bin, which warms up quickly on sunny days.


Garden hedges are highways, used by many animals for moving between gardens. Hedgehogs roam over large territories and in summer never stay in a single garden for long, although they often return if they are fed with cat food. Their 'home patch' will be a whole row of gardens and hedgerows provide safe routes for them to commute between gardens.

Hedgehogs are assets in the garden because they eat slugs. They're most active at dusk. Sometimes they'll hibernate in large, open compost heaps or in piles of dry leaves and twigs that have been piled in a quiet, dry corner.

A hedgehog's natural defensive instinct is to roll up when threatened, presenting a ball of spines to the outside world. 

Gardens that are surrounded by continuous walls or fences are much less likely to be hedgehog-friendly. They can climb surprisingly well but small gaps in garden fences will provide them with an easy pathway on their nightly patrols in search of slugs.