Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wildlife Stacks

One of the easiest things to create is a bug hotel -  all you need are some sticks or bits of bamboo, an empty container to wedge them into and some method of hanging it up or somewhere to place it where it will not be disturbed. A good start is an empty soda bottle. The size does not matter. All you need to do is to remove the bottom of the bottle with scissors and string a length of sturdy garden twine through the top of the bottle and loop it through the bottom, then tie it off so that it's hangable. Then grab a few dry leaves and wedge them along with some bamboo and/or twigs into the bottle so that they are securely wedged in. Make sure they're differing sizes and that there are lots of little nooks and crannies for insects to creep into. They're sure to find those nice warm leaves and find a cosy place in there to shelter from the elements. You could also use an old beat-up bird house with the front removed and do the same thing with shorter sticks, then a square of chicken wire tacked over the front. Then you could hang it on a tree or on your wall, like this one I saw at Heronden Gardens.

If you are more adventurous you could create a wildlife stack.

What many types of wild creatures really need are those naturally occurring nooks, crannies and decaying tree trunks that provide all the housing space they might need. For those of us who really can’t provide the real thing, a wildlife stack is a good alternative and they can give us a glimpse of creatures we otherwise might not get to see. To improve the chances of your efforts being rewarded it is important you provide plenty of pollen and nectar-rich plants. Made of recycled materials, stacks imitate the natural features required by wildlife. They are especially suitable for the 1,500 or so invertebrates regularly found in the average garden, many of which help control garden pests such as aphids. Stacks may also provide refuges for amphibians and hedgehogs. A wildlife stack will give you the opportunity to watch these fascinating creatures close up, and begin to understand how they behave. You'll also be able to show your friends and family, and maybe then they can provide this wonderful wildlife a home in their garden too!

To get started

  • Choose a firm, level site in the sun or light shade - most invertebrates like moist areas of dappled shade. Find somewhere that's easy to see, perhaps close to a hedge, shrub bed or pond.
  • Arrange some bricks on the ground on their side. If you have bricks with holes in them, face the holes outwards. If not, butt a pair of bricks together side by side and leave a small gap before the next pair. Create ‘H’ shaped cells of bricks and fill the space between with woodchips, leaf litter and sand (frogs and toads like to bury themselves into sand and soft soil).
  • Lay a wooden pallet, a sheet of plywood or strips of wood across the top of your bricks and then construct the next level in the same way. Remember to fill the gaps with your materials like hay, straw, dry leaf litter and wood chippings. Straw will provide nesting sites for ladybirds and thin twigs will provide shelter for larger insects. Place another pallet across the top and repeat. Logs and pine cones will provide extra homes for all sorts of insects.
  • Keep your stack dry with roof tiles or a sheet of board covered in roofing felt or polythene. On top of this, place crushed brick rubble, concrete or limestone chippings and plant with sedum or other low growing drought tolerant plants.

You could even incorporate bird and butterfly feeders into the design of your wildlife stack, and possibly some plants like the one in this picture.

What to use and/or include
The following list is in no way exhaustive, feel free to come up with your own ideas.

Pallets, or strips of wood
Pen casings and drinking straws
Cardboard tubes and corrugated card
Straw, hay, dry leaf litter and moss
Plant pots
Plastic and ceramic pipes of various diameter
Roofing felt
Bricks and concrete blocks, preferably with holes
Roof tiles
Hollow bamboo canes
Dead hollow stems cut from shrubs and herbaceous plants
Logs drilled with various sized holes
Crushed brick and concrete rubble
Succulent plants

Some other examples of wildlife stacks:

Wildlife stack from the RSPB's feature garden at BBC Gardeners' World 2008 - (RSPB)

Photos by Hayley Parfitt

As you can see, they're all quite easy to make and constructed of stuff that is not hard to find. True, they vary in the levels of complexity yet they all serve a very useful purpose, particularly if you happen to be a garden critter. Make it a family project and create one this month!

(Dawn Isaac)

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