Nature needs help to prepare for autumn
Colette Beckham, Cornwall AONB Partnership Manager urges 'paws' for thought.
I know none of us want to admit it but there comes the time toward mid Sept that we all have to face the fact that the lovely summer is coming to an end as we drift slowly into autumn. Landscapes in the AONB are lovely at this time, as the trees on the Fal, Fowey and Helford turn russet and gold and the moors reflect the brassy tones of the dipping sun.
For our wildlife though, it's a time of preparation for change, as many creatures begin to think about how they're going to get through the cold winter months. This is especially the case for our hibernating creatures and there's loads we can do in our gardens and green spaces to help them survive.
Autumn is the time in the garden when we turn our attention to clearing. Things are a mess and mess will not do! As flowers drop and stems go brown and woody, its engrained within us to clear, to cut back, to tidy. All manner of machinery is brought to bear on the garden, from hedge trimmers, to strimmers, to chippers... even flamethrowers!
Before launching armageddon on the garden, its worth pausing for thought and working out how you might be able to give wildlife a helping hand. Consider leaving some uncut hollow stems through the winter. Spiky balls of gone over Alliums and feathery fronds of Stipa seedheads can maintain winter interest in the garden but can also provide little nooks and crannies for overwintering insects. Leaving evergreens like ivy intact provides shelter for gangs of overwintering ladybirds, giving you the added bonus of an army of aphid eaters, ready to defend your broad beans in the spring!
If you must cut down your hollows stems, don't chip them up. They can be usefully refashioned into bug hotels. Cut them into 20cm lengths and bundle them up with string. Lay them in a sunny corner of the garden. Easy! What you've done there is create a whole apartment block - affordable homes for spiders and bees. If you're lucky you might even get to watch one of the industrious Megachile species (leaf cutting bees) building their front door (you won't mind a few holes in leaves of course).
If you're feeling really ambitious, you could go all out and build an entire bug city! Old bricks, cut garden canes, straw, upturned plantpots, rolled up corrugated cardboard and bundles of sticks and twigs, encased in a large frame (pallets are ideal) and secured with a wire mesh, will provide a multitude of nooks and crannies (habitat niches to those in the know) for a myriad of insects. The Guinness World Record largest Bug Hotel is located at the WWT, Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Lancashire. The gauntlet has well and truly been thrown! Come on Cornwall!!
For those of you who just really can't abide having a 'DIY' feel to to your garden, there's plenty of examples out there that demonstrate that your can have a beautiful designer garden that's also good for wildlife. Local Cornish company Green and Blue make some amazing and stylish bee houses that would grace any garden! If its inspiration you're after, look no further than Nigel Dunnett's 2013 Chelsea show garden, 'Blue Water Roof Garden'.
So thats the insects sorted, but what about the bigger animals? Its an unfortunate fact that tidy gardens that are mown and sprayed to within an inch of their lives are veritable green deserts, not capable of supporting much at all really. Given the serious trouble that many of our once common species such as hedgehog are now in, and the major contribution our gardens can make, it may just be time to stop worrying about what the neighbours think. Leave some brambles, unpruned shrubs and long grass for a hedgehog or a family of voles to nest in. Make a hole in your boundary for those hedgepigs to get through. Create those homes for nature and watch your resident slug population fall! As the RSPB are fond of saying - "If you build it, they will come".
So what's in it for you?.. Well, you get to spend the autumn with your feet up, not woking so hard and you'll go through the winter with that warm glowing feeling that you're helping to support and are not in any way contributing to the UK being one of the most nature depleted countries in the world (State of Nature Report 2016).