Victory in the Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards!

I have an award-winning garden! I never thought I’d end up saying that, and anyone who could see it now would be equally surprised. But it’s true – the garden been awarded a Gold Award in the inaugral Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards. Not only that: it came top in the small private garden category. I officially have the best small private wildlife garden in Surrey!

Suffice to say, the award is not for the decorative appeal of the borders, or the precision neatness of the lawn. Nor is it for the volume of fruit and veg I get from the garden (which is just as well, as the wildlife seems to munch most of that before I can get hold of it). To look at, my garden’s nothing special; small and scruffy. But it does have quite a lot of wildlife-friendly features, which in turn means there’s also quite a lot of wildlife.

Today I got an early Christmas present, as Dawn Fielding from Surrey Wildlife Trust dropped round my prize – a signed book on a Surrey garden’s natural history, a wildlife gardening information pack, some notecards and a calendar. I’m looking forward to reading/using it all – the wildlife gardening information pack looks like it’s got some good new ideas to try out, and the book looks inspiring.

My prize for winning the Surrey Wildlife Garden award for best small private garden
My prize for winning the Surrey Wildlife Garden award for best small private garden

Of course, to me the most exciting prize from having a wildlife-friendly garden is seeing the wildlife enjoy it. It was so satisfying when we found the first frog in our pond, just weeks after we created it. And one of my most memorable wildlife experiences of this year was when we were sitting out in the garden, and a hedgehog walked right past our toes, unaware or unconcerned by our presence. Having hoglets born in the hedgehog house we made was fantastic – thinking that our efforts could help these creatures really gives me a buzz.

Hoglet C (Ericnaceous)
Hoglet C (Ericnaceous)

I think the purpose of the awards was to encourage people to think about how they can make their gardens more wildlife-friendly. Hopefully our garden shows that you don’t need a big garden to make a difference, and you certainly don’t need green fingers, or to put in lots of time each week.

It also spurs me on to think about next year – what can we do to make the garden even more wildlife friendly? Well, I have a few ideas, and my prize will help me identify a few more. I feel a new challenge coming on… I’m secretly very competitive, so intend to give holding onto my crown my best shot. Why not take me on, if you live in Surrey? The awards process will open in April next year, so there’s plenty of time for a few wildlife-friendly gardening projects before then… The Wild About Gardens website has lots of ideas.

Hoglets with mixed fortunes

Back in August we saw an adult hedgehog  gathering bedding in daylight, a sign she may be about to give birth.  And that was the case. We were lucky enough to have baby hedgehogs born in our garden.  Life as a young wild animal isn’t always easy, and our youngsters have had rather mixed fortunes.

Hoglets stay in the nest for a few weeks after birth, so by the time they were ready for their first foray into the world we were away on holiday, so we missed that milestone.

Hoglet A met a tragic end. I am not sure what the cause of death was – by the time I found the body only the prickles and skull were left. This isn’t atypical; less than half of hoglets survive their first year.

Hoglet B did better initially, but our neighbours found it out in daylight,  looking confused and unwell. They took it to Wildlife Aid, our local wildlife hospital, where it’s now being looked after. It will be kept warm and well fed over winter, as it’s not big enough to hibernate. Again, this is a common story. Wildlife Aid expect to look after a hundred little hedgehogs this winter, and other wildlife hospitals throughout the country will be experiencing similar demands. This all costs money – hedgehogs can eat a lot of cat food, and their medication can also be costly. But the good news is that hedgehogs cared for by wildlife hospitals have good survival rates: 70% of admissions to Wildlife Aid are saved. So hopefully Hoglet B will be back with us in spring, ready for adult life.

Hoglet C (Ericnaceous)
Hoglet C (Ericnaceous)

The other hoglet we know about, Hoglet C, (or Ericnaceous, as we named him) did rather better. He was a regular visitor to our garden, and set about gobbling the mealworms we left out with gusto. He still looked quite small for a hedgehog, so I did weigh him to make sure he was on course to be big enough to hibernate. His weight was fine, given he still had plenty of time to put on more before the cold weather was likely to strike. We haven’t seen him for a while, but I haven’t really been looking for the last few weeks. We’ve had pretty mild weather so far (only a couple of frosts), so he may still be out and about.

 

 

Another 10 Christmas present ideas for wildlife enthusiasts

Breaking news: Christmas is coming. It’s kinda crept up on me, but I notice from the web stats that quite a few people have been looking at my previous posts on Christmas present ideas for wildlife lovers.

So I guess it’s time for the next installment.

The previous two lists cover some fairly broad ideas. This year I’m trying to give some specific ideas that fall under the categories mentioned in previous years.

  1. A Sting in the Tale: this is by far my favourite wildlife book that I’ve read this year. I’m not particularly into insects, but Dave Goulson’s evident passion for bumblebees, engaging writing style and fascinating facts held me entranced. I ended up underlining loads of sections that I knew I’d want to come back to again and again. I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in wildlife.
  2. Trip to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition: I’ve not yet been to this year’s exhibition, but it’s always one of my highlights of the year. It’s on at the Natural History Museum in London until April.
  3. Wildlife Broadcasting on a Smartphone course: Surrey Wildlife Trust are putting on an intriguing course next year. Having recently been delving into filmmaking in my professional life, I’m keen to find out more about how I could apply it to wildlife. It doesn’t come cheap, but sounds fascinating.
  4. A monopod: having got myself a massive telephoto lens this year, and had to lug my tripod around, I can see the appeal of a lighter, sturdy monopod to take with me on walks.
  5. Some wildlife art: I’ve seen so much beautiful wildlife art this year – things I’d love to have around me at home to remind me of the wonders of nature. The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation has a good selection, with profits going to fund conservation. Try your local gallery as well.
  6. The New Wild: I bought this book because of its beautiful cover, and intriguing (and controversial) central argument: invasive species will be nature’s salvation. It’s certainly a thought-provoking read. (I’m planning a blog post on this soon, as there’s lots to mull over…)
  7. A subscription to Lynda.com: The Lynda.com website has a huge library of online courses, including hundreds of photography ones. I get access to this through my work, and have found the courses very informative. Useful for brushing up your skills during those long winter evenings…
  8. Wildlife photography courses: there’s a wide selection available. Local Wildlife Trusts or wildlife centres often run them. Birds, badgers, deer, fungi, reptiles, flowers – something to suit any wildlife photographer in your life! I’ve got my eye on David Plummer’s courses.
  9. Some sturdy wellies: I’ve really appreciated having comfortable, sturdy wellies this year, helping me through the muddier dormousing months and squelchy harvest mouse surveys.
  10. A good head torch can really make a difference for night-time wildlife surveys, camping or just walking back from a country pub. I’ve really appreciated my new one this year.

Wild South’s second foray into retail

After last year’s moderate success selling wildlife photo cards and prints at a craft fair, I decided to do it again.  I’ve been doing my best impression of a candidate on The Apprentice, trying my hand at selling. This doesn’t come naturally to me, but it does give me a good opportunity to talk to people about the wonderful wildlife we have. and raise money for Surrey Dormouse Group.

As Lord/His Eminence/Sir Alan Sugar advises his candidates, I tried to ‘smell what sells’ based on last year’s experience. This meant a few changes:

  • British wildlife sold much better than my more exotic pictures, so I decided to focus on that
  • Several people suggested that I should do a calendar, so, after in-depth consumer research (AKA asking my Facebook friends for their views) I put one together with a mix of British mammals, birds and insects (listening to the focus group is something that Apprentice teams never seem to do)
  • Packs of cards went well last year, but I hadn’t prepared enough, so this year I put together plenty, and made the ‘packaging’ a little more professional (having a printer that actually prints really helps with this!)

I set myself a target to make enough profit to pay for 11 dormice boxes (which is, completely coincidentally, how many I want to add to my site next year, and just a little above my profit from last year, which went to another charity).

Wild South stall at a craft fair, November 2015
Wild South stall at a craft fair, November 2015

The craft fair went well – I smashed my fundraising target, got lots of compliments, got to chat to some interesting people, and even managed to do some Christmas shopping. The best selling items were the calendars, followed by packs of four British Mammal Cards. Hopefully, thanks to the support of all my customers, a few more dormice will have cosy boxes to nest in next year!

Here are some of the images used in the calendar:

Badger
Badger
Kestrel stare
Kestrel
Tawny owl in dappled light
Tawny owl in dappled light
Hedgehog
hedgehog
Fox
Red fox
Water vole
Water vole
Blackbird
Blackbird
blue butterfly
Holly blue butterfly
Red squirrel eating
Red squirrel eating
Bumblebee on yellow flag iris
Bumblebee on yellow flag iris