‘Flaming June’ is certainly living up to its nickname this year. In Sussex it seems as though the sun came out for the May bank holiday weekend, and never left. Much of the UK is basking under temperatures high into the 20s, a stark contrast to the cold and wet weather that dominated earlier in the year and lingered late into the spring. Although welcomed by holidaymakers and thrill-seekers, for our wildlife, the soaring temperatures and absence of rain is just another challenge to endure. Summer, and the living is easy… but it’s not without its problems.
When the north wind bites hard and iron frost grips our gardens and countryside, many of us brave the cold to ensure our wildlife is well cared for. In summer, it is easy to forget that these same creatures may be thankful for an extra helping hand.
Here’s a 6-point plan to help wildlife during summer heat!
A shallow dish of water, refreshed daily, left in a shady spot in your garden will be welcomed by a whole array of creatures. Every animal, from birds, to bees, to hedgehogs, need to drink daily. In hot weather water is especially vital but when rain is scarce natural sources quickly become depleted.
You can create a bee drinking-station, by filling a dish with stones or pebbles, and adding water to the top of the stones. This allows the bees to land on the stones and drink safely, without falling into deep water. Alternatively, if you have a pond, make sure there is a stone, flowerpot, floating log or similar to provide perches for insects as well as birds. Don’t forget to check your pond has an escape route for any clumsy hedgehogs and other mammals that might fall in! Be water wise – follow any local government recommendations on the use of hosepipes/sprinklers and other water uses to avoid wasting this precious resource.
- Care for your blooms
For many people, summer wouldn’t be complete without flowers. The bees and butterflies think so too! Many of our favourite garden flowers originate from countries with hot dry climates, meaning they will thrive in heatwave conditions. Despite this, prolonged periods of high temperatures and no rainfall can be a challenge for almost any plant. A little TLC will help your plants keep performing at their best; something the pollinating insects will thank you for! Water regularly, in the early morning or cool evening to keep the plants hydrated, especially those in pots as these dry out much faster. You can use the ‘grey water’ from your household such as left over bath water rather than pulling the plug, but don’t use anything containing harmful chemicals. An occasional feed with an organic plant food will help your blooms to keep looking their best.
- Watch the grass grow
Put your feet up and let the grass relax too. Cooler, damper and more resilient – reducing the number of cuts and raising your mower blades just a few centimetres higher is a great way to help your garden withstand the summer heat. Short grass can easily be scorched by hot sun, leaving the ground with no protection. A slightly longer lawn will stay greener for longer, shading the soil, and the wildlife that shelters there. A fun activity for the summer holidays is to mark off a metre square patch as a ‘no-mow zone’ and watch what grows. You might be surprised by the wild flowers that pop up, or even find it full of grasshoppers or caterpillars!
- Maintain your highways
A heatwave can mean that animals and birds have to travel further to find food and water, and at this time of year some young animals need to disperse from their birth places to set up territories of their own. Ensure there are access points in and out of your garden, such as a small hole under the fence for hedgehogs to pass through. Providing a green and wildlife friendly garden will be a huge bonus to those travellers that need somewhere to rest or feed on their wanderings. Hedgerows provide the ideal habitat and corridor for birds, mammals and other wildlife. Just remember that some birds will still be nesting so please don’t cut your hedges yet – wait until the autumn for any major trimming or tree-felling work.
- Feed the birds
Dry ground is a challenge for many invertebrate-eating birds. Moisture loving creatures such as worms and snails become increasingly inaccessible during hot weather. Although many of us think of feeding birds as a winter essential, it can be hugely beneficial in summer too, especially for hungry youngsters and moulting adults recovering from breeding. Put out small amounts of protein rich food such as suet balls, mealworms, grated cheese, and mixed seed. Check the food regularly, and remove any uneaten offerings, replacing it with fresh food each day. Rotten or spoiling food can spread disease amongst the birds.
- Think sustainability & protect against wild fires
Bbq or beach days, picnics or lunch in the garden – ditch the plastic and opt for recyclable paper/reusable options instead! Always bring a bag and take your rubbish home with you to recycle or dispose of safely. Have you thought about where your BBQ charcoal comes from? I wrote a blog about just that a few weeks ago… “The Great British BBQ”
And talking of BBQs – At this time of year, especially during a heatwave, the countryside is tinder-dry. Grasslands and heathlands are at high risk of wildfires. Please be vigilant, report any fires/smoke to the emergency services and avoid any naked flames – do not throw cigarette ends from car windows or drop them on the ground. Camp fires, disposable bbq’s, and even discarded glass and litter can cause dangerous fires. Sorry to nag, but it really is important and could even save your life!