The Den - Knowledge Hub
Nature is a wonderful thing but knowing how to care for it can be a big learning curve. It is important to know how to safely interact with wildlife which in turn will encourage a long-term interest in supporting wildlife in years to come. Follow our wildlife friends to find out about nature do’s and don’ts, getting started guides and other ideas to help you and your family enjoy the outdoors, and all its wonders, safely.
- How do I create a wildlife garden and attract wildlife to it?
Whether you have a balcony or a large garden, here are 5 steps to help make your garden as attractive as possible to wildlife, and with a range of build your own designs, children can become more involved:
1. Food glorious food
Birds spend most of their waking hours on the hunt for food, and the best way to attract them to your garden is to put out a variety of natural, nutritious feeding options. they will take advantage all year round - and the wider the variety of foods you provide, the more species you're likely to attract. See our information on what foods are best for birds.
2. Essential water
Water is an absolute must for any bird, not only for drinking but also to keep their plumage in the best condition possible. This is particularly important during spells of very cold weather, when natural sources of water may be frozen. Or install a shallow sided garden pond to attract everything from insects and amphibians to birds and even mammals like Hedgehogs.
3. Give a home to nature
Shelter is essential for wildlife to survive. Evergreen trees, such as conifers, thick bushes and hedges are ideal natural sources of shelter and will be readily used by numerous birds. For smaller species, mature ivy growing against a house wall can also provide a welcome resting space. If your garden lacks natural shelter, you can still give options to birds by installing nest boxes. As well as providing birds with a place to raise their young in spring, nest boxes will be used to take refuge from the winter weather.
4. Planting for wildlife
The plants and flowers in your garden have a big bearing on how attractive to wildlife it is. Plants for pollinating insects will encourage a natural food chain to support lots of different wildlife from tiny bugs to mammals and birds and turn your garden into a wildlife haven.
5. Go wild
Nature thrives on disorder. To really make your garden wildlife-friendly, be prepared to let at least part of it go wild. Set aside one corner of the garden and let things run their natural course. Allow the grass and wild flowers to grow, let logs and leaves pile up and you might be surprised at how quickly nature takes hold.
- Where should I site a bird bath?
A bird bath or water dish is a valuable drinking source as well as an opportunity for birds to bathe and tidy their feathers. Your garden will be more appealing if you can satisfy their thirst as well as hunger. Birds are very vulnerable when bathing, so avoid siting the bath close to low cover where a cat could be lurking. However, it is always a good idea to have some high cover such as tall shrubs or tree limbs nearby, so they have refuge if threatened.
In periods of dry weather natural water sites such as puddles will probably dry up, and as this tends to coincide with the time when the bird populations are swelled by lots of young birds, many eating a fairly dry seed-based diet, you should find that your bird bath will soon be discovered and the birds will come to depend on you to keep it filled with clean water.
- How can I encourage hedgehogs into my garden?
There are lots of different ways that hedgehogs can be helped, and if you’re already gardening with wildlife in mind you are probably doing most of them.
A “wild area” is a good start - some unmown grass, a nice selection of native plants and shrubs, perhaps a wildlife pond with sloping sides to allow creatures in and out will all help to encourage any passing hedgehog to stake a claim to your garden. Small passageways through fences will be invaluable for hedgehogs when it comes to moving from place to place.
Discrete piles of leaves, prunings and general garden refuse can help to provide nest materials or even nest and hibernation sites. Be ‘hog-wise’ and get your hedgehogs a house of their own to feel safe during winter.
A lot of hedgehog casualties occur because our gardens can, despite the best intentions, be quite hostile places. Ensure ponds or water features have at least one sloping side so they can climb out. Hedgehogs don’t appreciate the distinction between a pile of hedgehog-friendly prunings and a bonfire so it’s good practice to check first before lighting. Be careful with gardening machinery and equipment, such as strimmers and lawn mowers, especially around long grass and under overhanging shrubs.
Providing food is an obvious way to welcome guests, with the added bonus in that hedgehogs love to eat pests such as slugs and snails, so avoid using slug pellets. Supplementary food can be put out every night which will be particularly appreciated by nursing females and small hedgehogs trying to gain weight before hibernation. Clean, fresh water in a shallow dish is also a good idea, but avoid putting out saucers of milk for your hedgehogs as most experts agree that this probably does more good than harm.
- How do I attract frogs and toads to my garden?
It's well worth trying to attract amphibians to your own patch of land, as they will prey on all the slugs and snails that consume your plants, and the irritating midges that summer brings. As well as the general tips for attracting wildlife, one extra feature you'll need is a pond - any water feature will do if you haven't got the space. Frogs and toads need these to breed, so you'll be providing a vital part of their habitat if you add water to your garden.
Ensure one side slopes up so they can climb out, as amphibians are vulnerable to spaces with steep sides. Special frog ramps can help with this. Provide cover such as water-based plants and rocks for them to hide under and to bask on during warmer days.
Elsewhere in the garden, try to keep one area wild and unmowed so the creatures can pass from their pond to other parts of the garden unnoticed by predators - we'd recommend this as a good idea for other wildlife anyway. Small passageways in fences will be invaluable especially in spring when amphibians are making the journey back to breeding ponds.
Provide refuges such as log piles and compost heaps where they can enjoy damp conditions as the weather heats up. A frog and toad abode will be a welcome hidey-hole and may also be chosen by your visitors as somewhere to hibernate when winter comes.
- What foods are best for birds?
The more varieties of foods you offer in feeders, on tables and simply scattered on the ground, the more species you are likely to attract. You can feed all year round as birds very rarely over eat in order to maintain an optimum weight for flying. Generally, the more calories the food contains the better, so offer high energy foods.
The most nutritious and attractive foods for birds include sunflower hearts, sunflower seeds or seed mixes. Peanuts are also very nutritious and are full of essential proteins and oils. Ensure any peanut products are made from quality sources and whole peanuts are fed through a mesh feeder.
Specialist Peanut butter and fat cakes are inexpensive alternatives ideal for smaller gardens. They give birds a value energy boost in winter and during other critical times such as breeding, moulting and pre-migration.
Live foods, such as mealworms are packed full of protein, and ideal for hungry, growing chicks.
All our food is prepared using top quality food grade ingredients, so you can be sure you are providing the best value, no waste food for your garden birds.
As well as providing good quality food for your garden birds it is also essential to provide a regular supply of fresh drinking water.
- Which bird food feeder should I use?
Hanging bird feeders are an excellent way to feed seeds, peanuts and seed mixes to the more agile species such as Blue Tits, Greenfinches and House Sparrow.
Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Wrens and Robins are notoriously shy and prefer to feed on the ground as close to cover as possible, or even from a feeding table.
Plastic feeders are a lower cost alternative to metal making them ideal for beginners, however, they are not recommended if you have squirrels visiting your garden. Metal feeders are far more resilient to squirrel damage so are the preferred choice for many with busy gardens. Using feeders with protective guardian cages will minimise the impact large birds and squirrels have and allow the smaller birds to feast in peace.
Our unique perching rings allow birds to eat in their natural position, facing forward! The design gives birds a better view of their surroundings whilst eating so they can feel safer and stay at the feeder longer. This is especially important in the colder months when birds need to spend as much time feeding as possible to consume the calories and energy they need to survive the long nights.
Feed peanuts only with a suitable mesh feeding system that makes it impossible to extract a full peanut. Young birds can easily choke on a whole peanut so always use a feeder or for tables provide kibbled peanuts instead.
Hygiene around feeding areas is very important. Clean feeders regularly with a biological, disinfectant cleaner to avoid bacteria and unwanted visitors!
- What is the best position for a nest box and which one should I use?
A nest box can be fascinating to watch, providing a chance to see the birds bringing in nesting material and then food for the nestlings before the great day when the young birds fledge the nest. Natural cavities in dead trees are increasingly rare and modern long-lasting building materials reduce the amount of nest sites available, so it is important to provide a nest site all year round as they can be used as winter roost sites away from the wind and rain even after the breeding season is over.
Birds have different preferences for nest sites and different requirements for entrance hole sizes so check which birds visit your garden before choosing a nest box:
Great and Coal Tits and Pied Flycatchers (28-32mm); Nuthatches (32mm) will plaster mud to make it just right; House Sparrows and Redstarts (32-34mm or oval); Robins, Wagtails, Wren and Blackbirds prefer a nest box which is half open.
Nest boxes are available in all shapes and sizes so there will be one to suit your garden and design choice. If you are purchasing a wooden nest box, check if the wood used has the FSC quality mark, ensure it is thick enough to provide good insulation and has a coated durable roof for protection.
- Are there seasonal tips for encouraging wildlife into our garden?
Once the nesting season is underway, supplementary food helps adult birds to spend the necessary time on finding a mate, nest building, egg laying, feeding their young and finally getting the fledglings to independence. Natural food supplies aren’t as rich as they used to be and, for many species, climate change means the caterpillars that birds rely on to feed their young are developing sooner than the birds can adapt to. This means that the peak demand for food – when the chicks are at their largest and most hungry – is no longer synchronised with the peak availability of caterpillars. Providing extra food allows the adults to give all of the natural food that they find to their nestlings, with the adults feeding quickly and conveniently from the feeders before searching for more live foods for their chicks.
In summer the bird population reaches its annual peak as lots of hungry young leave the nest and need to find their own feeding territories. As the breeding season ends, most bird species start their annual moult, replacing their worn out feathers with new ones, a process that uses up lots of nutrients. Birds that migrate will also need to build up reserves of fat to fuel their journey. At this time of year hedgehogs will be busy raising their young, increasing the amount of food that suckling mothers need to eat, so it’s important to provide supplementary food to help them out. A garden with lots of suitable plants will attract lots of butterflies, bees and hoverflies, and varieties that produce fruit, have the additional benefit of providing food for birds and mammals into the autumn. Water is vital for all garden wildlife so keep a water dish clean and topped up all year-round. This is especially important during periods of prolonged high temperatures, when natural water sources may be in high demand.
In early autumn there is an abundance of natural foods such as fruits and seeds, but this tends to end with the first frosts of November. As the natural supplies are eaten up, temperatures start to fall, increasing the demand for food. At the same time migrant birds from further north and east arrive, swelling the number of hungry mouths searching the countryside. Shortening days reduce the amount of time available for foraging, and the end result is a sudden increase in the number of birds visiting the feeders and bird tables. Putting up new nest boxes in the autumn not only gives the birds a chance to get used to them before the breeding season, but also provides valuable winter roost sites. Hedgehogs line their winter nests with leaves so try not to be too tidy or leave leaf piles so that the hedgehogs have access to some leaves. Hedgehogs and squirrels need to increase their body fat markedly to prepare for winter, and squirrels will also store food so that they can use it later in the year.
Winter brings the shortest days of the year. Birds have only eight hours a day to build up enough fat to survive the long cold nights of around 16 hours. During this time the pressure on the feeders and tables can be intense so it’s vital to offer food with high energy value to make every beakful count. It’s worth having an extra feeder or two on standby in case of snow or severe cold. Make sure that piles of leaves or prunings remain untouched to avoid disturbing any animals that may be hibernating under them.
- My child is frightened of insects, how can I overcome this?
Young children (and adults) are afraid of the insects generally because they are things we don’t know about. Getting up close and personal with a few creepy-crawlies in a kind and gentle way to minimise any upset:
Staying calm around insects—especially bees and wasps—will encourage children to do the same. Insects are just as curious about your smell and taste as you are about them. Teach your child the difference between which insects may be harmful and which are not; and learn about them together. If you wave your arms around and squeal at the sight of a bee, it’s liable to sting because it feels threatened, and send a negative message to your child. Obviously, seek medical help if a member of your family is unlucky enough to be stung!
Observe and learn
Get outside and watch nature in your own garden space and take notice of the busy lives of insects - ladybirds, dragonflies, butterflies and even bees. For an even closer look, use a bug trap and viewer to take the time needed to see the wonder in a safe unthreatened environment, but encourage the release of creatures afterwards. There is a vast range of books available on insects, birds and wildlife suitable for all ages. Share reading time with your child discovering the importance and variety of insects in our world. You can alleviate fears about insects and other creepy-crawlies by pointing out how important they are. Try heading out to a natural area after a rainfall to find a glistening web, it’s a great way for children to accept spiders.
Nurture and study
Encourage your child to be responsible for an insect home, whether natural in the garden, a build your own design or a shop bought habitat. Different species of insects have different requirements so check it is suitable for the insects you want to encourage. Ensure the habitat has a variety of materials and lots of hiding places for bugs to thrive. Planting specific garden plants for pollinating insects will attract more species. After a while, get out the magnifying glass and an identification guide to study your tenants.
- What should I do if I find injured or baby wildlife?
Always think about your own personal safety first, both the location you are in and also whether the injured bird is a potential danger to you.
An injured animal can generally be calmed by draping a light blanket or towel completely over it before picking it up. This covering also provides warmth and contains wriggling legs/wings, therefore minimising any additional injuries.
Place in a box wrapped in the covering and call your local wildlife rescue centre or vet. Do not be tempted to try and nurse the casualty yourself – wildlife has specialist needs.
If you do have to take the animal home, please keep it in a warm, dark and quiet place, away from pets and only offer water, no other fluids.
If you are out in the countryside and come across a baby animal which is not obviously injured, DO NOT RUSH TO PICK IT UP. Many animals will leave their babies alone for several hours in the day. Leave the baby alone if it is safe to do so, and also leave the area for at least up to two hours. This will give the parents time to feel safe about returning. You can check two hours later that the baby is still not in the same place or in distress. If it is then alert a wildlife rescue centre near to where you live.
- What should I do if I find injured or baby birds?
While most birds with obvious signs of injury or illness would benefit from treatment, catching them is easier said than done, so call a wildlife rescue centre before taking action.
Bird that can still fly are best left as trying to catch it and failing will only stress the bird and make things worse.
For a bird who is unable to fly, carefully pick it up and put it into a box containing a towel at the bottom and air holes in the top. Large birds will need two hands, one to cover each wing, but leave birds of prey for the professionals.
Place the box in a dark, quiet place away from pets and call your local wildlife rescue for advice. Injured birds often need prompt treatment to prevent infection.
If you see a baby bird on the floor, it may not need rescuing at all. It is nature’s way for fledglings to leave the nest before they can fly and sometimes spend a few days around the ground. The parents will usually be nearby the baby will have much higher chance of survival if left where it is. Alternatively, if you are very concerned that the baby bird may be in danger from predators, simply place the bird into some nearby bushes to get it out of harm’s way, or in in the case of nestlings, back in its nest if you can see it.
Don’t be tempted to interfere with nestlings or fledglings in their nest but leave alone to get on with growing up. View from a distance with binoculars or view the live webcams to see what goes on inside.
- What are pollinators and why do we need them?
Insects are essential in nature, and therefore also in your garden. Ladybirds and lacewings will help you in the battle against greenfly while bees, butterflies and hoverflies work tirelessly to pollinate flowers and fruit blossom. If you have lots of nectar-rich flowers in your garden, you will naturally increase the numbers of these beneficial insects.
Butterflies are a welcome addition to any garden and watching them grow from caterpillar to chrysalis before emerging as a beautiful adult is one of life’s best pleasures. All insects are cold blooded so find a basking spot to enjoy better views. Did you know that Red mason bees are docile insects and also safe with children and pets. Bees make honey, are excellent pollinators of fruit trees, raspberries and early strawberries and are fond of a range of flowers and tree blossom. Without them and many other insects, we wouldn’t have any fruits and vegetables.
Our pollinating insects have suffered badly over the last fifty years due to changes in land use, urban spread and new transport links. Much of our flower-rich grasslands have been lost reducing pollen and nectar sources leading to a serious decline in wildlife depending on this habitat. Leading invertebrate conservation charity, Buglife, has introduced an imaginative and beautiful solution to this problem with B-Lines: a series of insect pathways running through our countryside and towns which link wildlife areas together. You can help provide even the smallest habitat rich space by planting flowers specifically for pollinating insects and habitats in which to live. Buglife, were so impressed with our insect houses that they have endorsed the whole range.
- The Countryside Code – what you need to know
The Countryside Code, issued by Natural England, gives advice on how you can safely enjoy your visit to the countryside:
Respect other people:
- consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors.
- leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available.
Protect the natural environment:
- leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home.
- keep dogs under effective control.
Enjoy the outdoors:
- plan ahead and be prepared.
- follow advice and local signs.
Here are some tips to help you follow the Countryside Code:
- Protect wildlife, plants and trees by leaving all natural places as you find them and be aware of wildlife breeding seasons.
- Guard against all risk of fire, careful to extinguish all used matches/cigarettes and use a stove for cooking rather than a fire.
- Keep dogs under close control and on a lead where indicated especially near roads or farm animals. If a farm animal chases you, it's much safer to let go of your dog’s lead.
- Leave gates as you find them ensuring the last person in your group does the same and use gates and stiles to cross fences and hedges.
- Stick to paths across farmland and fields if possible to help prevent crop damage.
- Do not interact with livestock, especially if they are with their young, but contact the farmer if an animal appears to be in distress.
- Take your litter home, not only is it unsightly but it is dangerous to wildlife and people.
- Clean up dog mess and dispose of in the nearest bin. It can cause infections to livestock and children, so make sure your dog is wormed regularly.
- Country roads can be dangerous to local people, visitors and wildlife, drive carefully and walkers should walk in single file.