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Irresistible oases for our wildlife

Outdoor Living

POND LIFE A wildlife pond attracts frogs, dragonflies and damselflies, a host of bird species, and more.

Nature and Rewilding
Pat Fahy

It’s at this time of year that many realise the couch and themselves have been seeing a little too much of each other and they definitely need to get a move on outdoors or in the garden. Snowdrops, daffodils, coltsfoot, lesser-celandine and flowering currant are all dropping the hint.
Your garden, however small, can make a real difference for the wildlife in your locality. A wildlife garden isn’t all about untidy neglect as some might imagine; on the contrary, it’s more like a relaxed informal approach to garden design with a little know how to provide as many places and spaces for a variety of wildlife.
Every action creates a food chain for wildlife, and in no time at all you’ll have a valuable garden oasis with lots of life in it. Any garden can have something of benefit to wildlife – even a single tree, a wall climber, some pollinator friendly flowers or plants growing closely together signal to passing wildlife that this is somewhere of interest that they need to check out.
A wildlife pond more than anything can be a magnet for all sorts of species, a parallel universe of the aquatic kind. If a frog can hop in and out, it’s a wildlife pond, it’s as simple as that. Wildlife ponds also provide water for birds to drink and bathe, and give dragonflies and damselflies a place to hunt or lay their young.
One local wildlife-pond enthusiast recently relayed to me the story of a pair of swallows rising over the hedge adjoining his wildlife pond, repeatedly swooping to the pond for drinking water on a hot summer’s day. He also had 80 singing frogs in his pond this year – and all the neighbours wondering why there was a procession of frogs heading towards his house! At this stage it’s normal for North Woods – a ribbetting tale if ever I heard one.
Another local naturalist, Dr Oliver Whyte Jr, has an extensive knowledge of wildlife habitats. He had an incredible 200 frogs in his pond this year, as well as bats, swifts, swallows, house martins and a barn owl over his meadows, with all almost staying within the boundaries, such was the attraction. Proof positive that the reverse in insect decline is only a comprehensive biodiversity plan away. If you build it, they’ll surely find it.

Other attractions
Naturalists like this with an eye on nature make our Facebook group ‘Westport Wildlife and Tidy Towns’ and our local (WhatsApp) rewilding group ‘We are the ark’ such rewarding sources of interest and knowledge. In the words of Zoe Devlin, author of ‘Wildflowers of Ireland’, “No matter how much you know, or how much you do, no one person can do everything. We always rely on others.”
For most gardeners, the first foray into attracting wildlife is the bird feeder, bird bath and nest boxes. Always remember that some birds are possessive and territorial around the nest, and if there’s too much activity they’ll find somewhere else. Place the nest box at least 20 metres from the feeder if possible. Bat boxes or a barn owl box are also worth a try, sometimes as an unintentional bonus used by some our more beautiful hibernating moths (such as the herald and the red-green carpet) and butterflies (peacock, lesser-tortoiseshell).
Insect hotels are a classic sign that you’ve got the buzz. The best insect hotel is a log pile stacked close together; the smaller the gaps the better for insects to hide. When the bark gets wet and peels slightly, the chemicals released are a powerful invitation. If the ground underneath is dry and blocked from the wind at one end, then newts will make use of their new refuge – sometimes hedgehogs too, digging underneath just enough to get snug.
Local nature lover Wendy Stringer goes one better with an ever-increasing pile of blackthorn cuttings, wedged in so tight you wouldn’t think a midge would get through, but in they go, safe from harm, hedgehogs hibernating every year without fail.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.