Now is the time to get outside and enjoy all the natural wonders summer brings - the warmth of the sun, those long summer evenings, the ever changing palette of meadow colours, swifts, butterflies and bees drifting by to the cacophony of calling grasshoppers and crickets.
If you are out and about and fancy doing a bit of citizen science, Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count runs from 16th July until 8th August. There's no need to be an expert, each count only takes 15 minutes and Butterfly Conservation provides all the information and I.D. sheets on their website. This type of surveying helps us to keep tabs on how our butterflies are faring but, as they have annual lifecycles and are highly reactive to environmental conditions, also gives us good up to date indications of the wider ecology’s changing fate so it is a really valuable endeavour. It’s also a very good way to learn your butterflies.
There are some other things we can be doing at home to give nature a helping hand too. If you feel the need to mow the lawn, leaving some areas uncut will hopefully mean there are always flowers available for the bees and hoverflies, and also gives many of our other invertebrates the habitat they need to complete their lifecycles. Maybe you could try only cutting a frame around the edge of your lawn or a curved path through it- then people will know you haven’t just forgotten to cut it! Ideally, aim for at least a third of your lawn to remain uncut at any one time, checking for any hidden frogs and toads as you go and moving them safely away from the areas you want to cut. All of those added invertebrates will prove invaluable to so many other animals, in particular to birds, many of whom will be under the added pressure of needing to find things to feed newly fledged young. For this reason, it is also important to keep stocking up those bird feeders consistently, not forgetting to put water out for them to bathe in and drink from too.
You never know what will turn up to take advantage of the habitat you provide, and the endless unpredictability of nature is one of its greatest gifts. After many years of absence, I was delighted to find a lovely healthy-looking hedgehog snuffling around our urban Brighton garden one evening a few weeks ago.
To say I was over the moon is a vast understatement! I have heard from friends across the city who have had similar experiences this year so this may hopefully a sign of a recovery for our prickly friends. In addition to making sure that they have ample invertebrates on offer, to help attract hedgehogs to your garden you could make an open compost heap for them to overwinter in and cut hedgehog sized holes in fences or dig access ways under them to allow hedgehogs and other terrestrial animals to move more easily between gardens as they forage. To protect hedgehogs and keep them safe when they are in your garden, ditch the use of slug pellets which can poison them and kills their prey, limit the availability of mealworms if you put them out for the birds as they can cause growth issues in hogs, ensure that your ponds have gentle sloping edges or make ramps for them to clamber out should they fall in, and always check for hedgehogs before mowing or strimming, or burning piles of brash, ideally moving the brash to a new site immediately prior to burning. If you find a hedgehog out in the daytime it is often a sign that it is unwell or struggling to find enough food. If you do, it is time to call one of our local wildlife rescue centres for help and advice.
Find out more at Brighton & Hove Wildlife Forum