Sunday, 14 October 2012



One of the things that had to be done for this house to achieve Code 6 was to minimise its ecological impact both in terms of its construction and surrounding environment. 
Now, given that a year ago this is what the surrounding environment looked like, clearly the only way was up so every available moment I've had when it hasn't been raining (admittedly not much this year) I've been outside trying to do something to improve the biodiversity of the garden.

The first thing to do was plant the trees in the spring and thanks to the dismal rainy summer they have at least become pretty well established. One of my favourites is this crab apple which was dripping with fruit at the end of the summer. We used to have a wonderful crab apple next door that fed birds throughout the winter, including a flock of fieldfares one Christmastime and provided a glorious splash of colour in the winter sunshine. That tree was recently, unceremoniously, cut down so I'm pleased we have a small version in the new garden. The crab apple is a native tree and according to the excellent How to Make a Wildlife Garden by Chris Baines it supports around ninety species of insect; so apart from being beautiful it's useful too. Certainly our tree is providing food for local birds judging by the way they are helping themselves to the fruit.

Some features of the new garden are artifical aids for wildlife. We have this ridiculously-named hogitat for hedgehogs and actually saw our first hedgehog in the garden one evening, although I think it was just passing through. We also have a box for overwintering lacewings and, up in the trees, there are boxes for bats and birds.

The boxes have only been in place for the last month but we have at least one bat who visits so hopefully s/he will know she can roost in deluxe eco accomodation if required. For the plebs amongst the wildlife I also have log piles created from one of the trees that was felled during the house build.

Set into the insulation of the east wall we have two concrete swift boxes (you can see the holes above the narrow window at the top of the house). They didn't accomodate swifts this year but two blue tits raised a family there in the early summer.

In January each year I've taken part in the RSPB's annual bird survey but this year I couldn't because there were absolutely no birds visiting the wasteland that's pictured at the top of this page. I didn't find this very encouraging but by putting out food and digging and planting the garden I've now got a healthy population of birds. I was equally panicked in the summer when it was time to record butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count but that was due to the appalling weather and the number of butterflies in the garden increased dramatically during September.

As befits the resident of an eco house I've also been doing my bit for our apian friends and have had a succession of nectar-rich plants since the spring to keep them fed, so most visits to the garden have seen bees lazily roaming through the flowerbeds.

My other great contribution to encouraging wildlife has been planting and landscaping the pond. According to Chris Baines' book a pond is the sine qua non of a wildlife garden and I was much struck by his observation about how easily a pond manages to colonise itself. I haven't had to make any effort to bring creatures into the pond but it has taken the summer for them to arrive. Since the spring the pond has become home to at least one frog, a water boatman, a lot of midges, gorgeous electric blue damselflies (I don't care if they are 'common blue', it's still a fantastic colour) and a spectacular green and gold dragonfly. We also act as a watering hole for all the local birds and possibly a fox too.

So in a year we have gone from a muddy field with two trees and a climbing rose to a space rich in native trees, wild flowers and plenty of food and shelter. Next year I hope to be able to spend some time outside actually enjoying the space but we are still, very much, a work in progress!