Saturday, 8 October 2016

Helping the hedgehogs..........and other important stuff

This week, following a conversation at a meeting with Avon Wildlife Trust's new Chief Exec, Ian Barrett, about hedgehogs and slug pellets, and then a tweet from Ian linking a piece about toads being two thirds lost in the last 30 years, I began to really think about what seem to be really obvious links between loss of species that eat slugs and metaldehyde slug pellets. Now there's been lots of work done in this and I'm no scientist, so I'll post some links below, but my thoughts turned to why we use them.
I know lots of people work very hard to ensure they use only the organic pellets, but from the beginning of the season the garden centres and gardening sections of all the big superstores are full of metaldehyde type pellets. Usually these are next to advertising boards with huge photos of molluscs on, as if by mid March we need reminding of the blighters faces! For many years gardeners picked them up without thinking about the results on the local wildlife. Indeed that thought was never had. 

Hedgehogs, thrushes and toads were aplenty and our gardens were tidy places, places where nature was controlled. 
But today in 2016 there are some chilling stats.
We've lost 97% of our hedgehogs.
Thrush species are rapidly declining.
We've lost two thirds of our toads.
We've lost 90% of our wildflower meadows.
These stats aren't new. We know all this and so I wondered why we continue to use chemicals in our gardens that we all know are harmful to nature? 
I wondered what made us think it was ok?
But then I also realised that there's some really confusing advice out there, which leaves most of us scratching our heads and pondering.
So here are some thoughts......
Coffee grounds, whilst some feel they work, are not allowed to officially be used for slug prevention. So says the EU and that's why it's often hard to access them as giving away anything that's waste is complex. But equally they're great for soil conditioner and if that means a pile of it ends up round your prize Delphiniums, then I salute you!!
Beer traps whilst great mean the slugs are traipsing across your garden towards the yeast and will graze on the way, meaning they could munch your lettuces on the way to the pub!!
But beer traps can be a good part of a multi pronged attack.
Good, thick copper tapes do work but if you buy the thinner stuff, they're not overly bothered if they really want your prize dahlias. So unless you've got a fortune to spend, I wouldn't bother.
The organic pellets do work and as I write are deemed harmless to any creature who might eat said slug. But there is aquestion as to whether putting something that they like onto your garden, may just attract more molluscs in as they find them delicious. And who's to say they won't snack on your border before they eat the pellets? 
Nematodes do work but are an expensive option that will need applying regularly to ensure they work. Your neighbours of course won't have used nematodes so as their population becomes larger yours may end up increasing regardless of nematode use.
So what on earth do we do I hear you screaming. Well there are lots of options so don't despair. 

Dawn and dusk slug patrols are really necessary. I pick them off and put them into a bucket of salty water which despatches them. It's possible to pick a good many off both plants and paths at these times, and it definitely helps against the onslaught. I also go out straight after rainfall and pick them off. It's said that leaving a dead slug on a path will scare others away, but I'm definitely yet to be convinced of that!
But, that said, there are some really simple things that will save your seedlings without any outside help.  Pot them up from modules into 3" pots and grow them on. Once they fill these pots they'll be large enough to cope with most small infestations as long as you carry on with the dawn/dusk raids. Obviously this isn't useful for your beautiful herbaceous displays in the border as they appear in spring, but it's how to keep your new plants safe.
In the border there are ways of keeping them off. Egg shells, bran and coffee all work as long as you keep reapplying. There is product made of old bathroom suites crushed up that works an absolute treat sand rarely needs replacing, but equally broken and crushed bricks will work too.
But most importantly your garden needs its own biodiverse system. The smallest pond, some bird feeders, even if it's just a window feeder, a wildlife area that's a bit lost and untidy where beasts can hide, and feel safe. A hole in your neighbours fences for hedgehogs to wander through. Bug hotels, piles of rotting wood and even the dead heads of some plants are all important to encourage nature into your garden. And most importantly an understanding that if we over control, we actually kill off. That gardens need to support nature, rather than control it. 
A wise man, part owner of Common Farm Flowers, Fabrizzio Bocchia, was once heard to say 'look after the invertebrates, and you'll bring in everyone you need,' or something similar! So plant for insects, for pollinators and everything else, with perhaps a bit of persuasion, will come. 
It can be done but it's important to remember that you won't always win. And that doesn't matter because in the long term we will win if we stop controlling and start allowing. 
Now why this now? Well it's the perfect time to get organised!! Put up feeders, bird boxes, bug hotels now and by spring the birds will be in them. Make a wood pile now and you'll soon find frogs and toads nestling in with the autumn leaves ready to hibernate. You could even get a hedgehog box-I've never had one that was empty for long!! Start to plan your biodiverse garden over winter and by spring you'll see the difference. This is particularly important in cities of course. Recently we added a garden to a sunken roundabout in Bristol city centre and just planting lavender bought the bees rushing in to a space that had no wildlife in it at all. There's truth in the phrase, 'make it and they will come'!
And if you get to the point of feeling you must use pellets, please make sure they're organic the organic variety. 
Some people will of course ask why we should do this and what's so important about it really.
Well I'd like to think my grandchildren will be able to meet a toad or a hedgehog, and not rely on Mrs Tiggywinkle or Toad ofToad Hall to describe them to them. Don't you?!? 


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