A Guide To Garden Wildlife

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Episodes

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01Log Piles And Long Grass2013070820140714

What looks like a woodlouse, can roll up into a ball, and was at one time thought to cure digestive disorders when swallowed? Well the answer can be found in the first of a new series of five programmes in which Brett Westwood joins naturalist Phil Gates in a garden near Bristol, and with the help of wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson, they offer a practical and entertaining guide to the wildlife which you're most likely to see and hear in different habitats around the garden, beginning with log piles and long grass. Here they find "tiggy hogs and coffin cutters", local names for woodlice; endearing little armoured scavengers that feed mostly on fungi. And where you find woodlice you might also find their predators; a spider, "which has got these enormous fangs and the woodlice meets a sticky end!". The decaying leaves which accumulate in log piles are also good hibernation sites for bumblebees; which in spring will emerge to collect nectar and pollinate garden plants. So log piles can help ensure pollination! In the long grass nearby, Brett and Phil go looking for cuckoo spit, and an insect which can catapult itself to a height of 140 times its body length! They are also attracted by a hive of activity; the sounds of red mason bees buzzing around artificial nesting sites which have been built for them; these are short lengths of drainpipe containing dozens of hollow tubes in which the bees make their nests and lay their eggs. Artificial nests are a great way of encouraging pollinators into your garden. Finally they discuss the merits of wood mice in a garden and the creatures they attract; "What could better than being in bed at night and hearing Tawny Owls hunting in your garden, wood mice are something you really do need!"

Producer Sarah Blunt.

02Ponds2013071520140715

Brett Westwood is joined by naturalist Phil Gates in a garden near Bristol and with the help of recordings by wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson and Tom Lawrence, they offer a practical and entertaining guide to the wildlife which you're most likely to see and hear in a garden pond. Garden ponds are arguably the most diverse of all garden wildlife habitats, and Brett and Phil begin by watching pond skaters (the wolves of the pond) and whirligig beetles on the surface of the water. "They remind me of bumper cars at the fair" says Phil as whirligig beetles whizz about over the elastic surface film. These beetles are able to look down and up at the same time. Imagine if we could this! "What goes on in a Whirligig beetle's brain I just can't contemplate" laughs Phil. Surprisingly, below the surface, life is anything but quiet as water boatmen communicate with one another by stridulation - producing a remarkably loud tapping sound. There are also backswimmers (so called because they swim upside down), which can be identified explains Phil as "the ones that bite really painfully" so best left alone! Further below the surface, you might frogs (their loud purring courtship calls announcing their return to the pond after hibernation and the arrival of spring), and the terrors of the deep; the dragonfly nymphs. These are fearsome predatory larvae with needle-sharp pincer-like jaws, "jet propelled" and feed on tadpoles. These larvae are transformed into the beautiful flying adults, which are not uncommon; species like the Southern Hawker Dragonfly readily colonise small garden ponds and "they'll come and check you out. They're very curious insects, they hover round your head and come and look at you." Don't be alarmed they are completely harmless despite their old names such as 'Horse stinger' and 'Devil's darning needle'!

PRODUCER: Sarah Blunt.

03Hedges2013072220140716

Ever wondered what causes the semi-circular holes in your rose bushes, and what is it that raids the honeysuckle for nectar? Well the answers to these garden mysteries are revealed when Brett Westwood is joined by naturalist Phil Gates in a garden near Bristol and with the help of recordings by wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson and Geoff Sample, they offer a practical and entertaining guide to the wildlife which you're most likely to see and hear in a garden hedge. Hedgerows provide food, shelter and nesting sites for birds, climbing frames for plants and food for insects. Male wrens build multiple nests (often in hedges) and the female then selects one in which to lay her eggs. Wrens are also notable for their song; it's a very loud explosive song for such a small bird "The whole bird seems to vibrate". Brett and Phil then turn their attention from song to scent; and to the honeysuckle which grows in this garden around the porch, but is often entwined in hedges and likely to attract the lovely Twenty-plume Moth - so called because "their wings look like beautiful Chinese fans... and each wing is divided into what look like little feathers", and although its called the Twenty-plume Moth, it actually has 24 plumes, six on each of the four wings; a really exquisite moth. They also look for signs of leafcutter bees, before finally discussing hedgehogs, the ardent adventures of one particular male in Phil's garden, their extraordinarily noisy courtship, and the importance of hedges as highways and corridors between gardens.

PRODUCER: Sarah Blunt

04Trees And Shrubs2013072920140717

If you want to take a closer look at the wildlife in your garden trees and shrubs, then you need an umbrella! The reason why becomes clear, when Brett Westwood is joined by naturalist Phil Gates in a garden near Bristol and with the help of recordings by wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson they offer a practical and entertaining guide to the wildlife which you're most likely to see and hear in garden trees and shrubs.

Storied vegetation creates the most diverse habitat for birds in gardens, mimicking the woodland edge. Willow Warblers, Blue Tits and Great Tits all use trees as a caterpillar food source and song posts. With the help of the umbrella, Brett and Phil discover looper caterpillars (larvae of Geometrid moths) and a staple diet of many nesting tits and warblers. They get their name from the way in they loop their body up and then stretch out. They are sometimes called 'measurers' or 'inch worms' as they appear to measure out an inch at a time! Phil then produces a strange looking object "It reminds me of dish mop" he laughs. It turns out to be Rose bedeguar gall (Robin's pin-cushion) and Phil explains how these and other galls are produced in a fascinating process in which insects, (a wasp in the case of the Bedeguar gall) reprogramme plant tissue development. Brett and Phil then move into the back garden to compare notes on the ideal tree for a small garden before finally discussing the value of old trees and dead wood in the garden; including feeding sites for birds like Nuthatches and sounding boards for drumming woodpeckers!

PRODUCER: Sarah Blunt

05 LASTStones2013080520140718

, patios, rockeries and walls may at first seem an unlikely habitat for wildlife but that's far from the truth as you can hear when Brett Westwood is joined by naturalist Phil Gates in a garden near Bristol and, with the help of recordings by wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson, they offer a practical and entertaining guide to the wildlife which you're most likely to see and hear associated with walls and stones in the garden. Many invertebrates like to sunbathe on sun-drenched stones whilst others live in the cool shade under the stones. Wolf spiders and zebra spiders (the latter so called because of their black and white markings) can be found sunbathing on patios or house walls. "Watch out for their courtship - this is real edge of the seat drama " says Phil of the wolf spider as the smaller males risk their lives as they approach the female signalling to her, often for hours, before he mates, or in some cases, is eaten! Stone walls may also harbour slow worms, although you can also encourage these into your garden with pieces of corrugated iron as Phil explains. Turning over some edging stones, Brett and Phil discover masses of black garden ants, which milk aphids for their sugary honeydew "rather like we milk herds of cattle", explains Phil. Snails in the garden are kept in check by Song Thrushes which use stones as anvils on which to crack the snail shells and extract the contents for a juicy meal. Perhaps most valuable of all are ivy-clad walls which offer shelter in winter for many species, as well as nesting sites for birds, and year round food. And if you have ivy and holly in your garden then you could be rewarded with the sight of a lovely Holly Blue butterfly which requires both to complete its life cycle.

PRODUCER Sarah Blunt