Bring Springwatch to your own back garden

Keen to create your very own Springwatch experience? Kate Bradbury gives you 10 tips on how to turn your garden in to a dramatic wildlife show.

Birdhouse full of birds


Create a solitary bee habitat

Many species of solitary bee nest in cavities such as hollow plant stems and holes in dead wood made by beetles. Recreate this habitat by buying or making a ‘bee hotel’, consisting simply of a box filled with hollow bamboo stems and other materials such as wood drilled with holes ranging in diameter from 2mm to 10mm.

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Site your hotel around 2m off the ground in the sunniest part of the garden. Your hotel should soon attract residents – look out for leafcutter bees flying to the box with pieces of leaf rolled under their bodies. Red mason bees seal their nests with mud.

Build a bird-feeding station

A bird-feeding station creates a focal point where you can sit and watch birds from the comfort of your home. Site your station carefully – ideally it should be in a good spot where you can see the action clearly, but also near the shelter of trees, shrubs or hedges, where birds can quickly fly to safety if they need to.

Provide a range of food, including sunflower hearts or seeds, peanuts, suet products and mealworms, in dishes and hanging feeders. Don’t forget to add a bird bath, which birds will use for drinking and bathing.

Track animal footprints

You can easily track animals’ footprints in the garden by using a large piece of card and some black chalk, or mud. Choose a dry evening and simply lay down the card with the chalk or mud in front of it, so animals have to step in the chalk or mud before walking on the card. You could try placing a dish of water and food on the card to encourage animals to walk on it.

Watch hedgehogs, badgers and foxes

Hedgehogs, foxes and badgers readily visit gardens looking for a meal. Tinned cat or dog food, meat-flavoured cat- or dog-biscuits and chopped, unsalted peanuts can be left out for all three species, and you can also buy biscuits designed specifically for hedgehogs.

Don’t forget to leave out a dish of water for your guests, especially in times of drought. Please note that both badgers and foxes sometimes prey on hedgehogs, so consider making a box in which hedgehogs can feed away from larger mammals. For ideas on how to cheaply make one, visit hedgehogstreet.org.

Discover your garden’s moth species

Mostly nocturnal, moths often go unnoticed in our gardens. But you can bring them to you by buying or making a moth trap, which consists of a box with a light attached. The moths are attracted to the light and fall into the box, where they remain until you come along the following morning to see what’s inside.

It’s a great way to discover which moth species are visiting your garden – a field guide, such as the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (British Wildlife Publishing), will help you identify them.

Make a reptile-sunning spot

Cold-blooded reptiles such as the common lizard, grass snake and slow worm need to bask in the sun to gain enough energy to hunt for food. Lizards will happily bask in the open – on a sunny wall or log pile – but make sure they have somewhere to dash to safety if they need to, such as a patch of long grass.

Slow worms and grass snakes seem to prefer basking under cover. Leave squares of corrugated iron for them to shelter under, then return once a week to see what’s taken residence.

Construct a pond-life aquarium

There’s a whole other world living beneath the surface of your pond, and making a pond-life aquarium is one of the best ways to see it. You can easily make one using an old bowl or tin bath, although a glass or plastic-sided tank offers better viewing options.

Make sure you clean the bowl or tank and rinse well. Add a layer of washed gravel to the bottom, sloping it gently so any waste settles on one side. Add a few oxygenating plants, such as hornwort and Canadian pondweed – wash them beforehand to remove traces of duckweed. Fill the aquarium with tap or pond water, and then leave it for a week to allow the water and plants to settle.

Use a net to catch creatures in the pond and then gently turn it inside out, emptying its contents into a container half-filled with pond water. Look out for predatory sticklebacks, dragonfly and damselfly larvae and water beetles, which are likely to eat anything else in the aquarium, such as water fleas and mosquito larvae.

Never stand the aquarium in full sun as the water will overheat and some animals may die. Don’t keep the aquarium for longer than a week and return all animals to the pond when you are finished.

Discover bats using a bat detector

Bats fly and feed using echolocation, sending out shouts and listening to the returning echoes to give them a sound picture of what’s around them. These high-frequency sounds are inaudible to most people, but with a bat detector you can hear them as well as identify different species.

Increase your chances of seeing bats in your garden by digging a pond and growing plants that attract insects, then choose a warm summer evening to fire up your detector. If you haven’t used a bat detector before, it’s a good idea to join your local bat group for tips on how to use them. Visit bats.org.uk for details.

Install a bird-box camera

Watching nesting birds is the ultimate Springwatch experience. You can buy boxes with cameras already fitted in them, or invest in a simple kit to install in your existing box. At this time of year, many baby birds have already fledged, but you may have luck with a camera fitted in a robin nest box, as robins can have a second or even third brood.

Alternatively, invest in a nestbox and feeder camera. This versatile piece of kit enables you to fix the camera to the nest box or feeder, so when the nest box isn’t in use, you can still have close-up footage of birds visiting your garden. It’s available from the RSPB.

Plant a nectar bar for insects

A sunny spot and a few flowers are all that are needed to lure bees and butterflies to your garden. Plan ahead for next year by downloading the RHS Perfect for Pollinators plant list, or use Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Bee Kind tool to find out how bee-friendly your garden is. Seeds of biennials such as foxglove, honesty and hollyhock can be sown now to flower next year.

You can also still buy plants from the garden centre – it’s easy to tell which ones attract the most insects as they will be covered in them! Grow plants in a border or containers where you can sit and watch the different species topping up on nectar and pollen.

You can find out more about Springwatch in this month’s Countryfile magazine.

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And don’t forget to enter your best spring wildlife images to our photo contest, here