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Attracting or supporting?

I think there is a useful discussion to be had about the difference between supporting wildlife and attracting wildlife.

Often they amount to the same thing.  For instance, putting out good quality bird food in well-designed feeders achieves both.

But I feel sometimes people want wildlife in their garden for their own entertainment, and have a sort of smug satisfaction in "having" such and such a creature in their garden as though there were some sort of prestige about it.

I made a wildlife pond five years ago, and have never seen a frog or toad.  I'm mildly disappointed, but wouldn't do what some do and bring in spawn from elsewhere.  The froggy conservationists warn against it, because you don't know what infection it might bring with it.  Frogs need more than a pond, they only go there to breed, and having a pond in one's garden doesn't necessarily make it a good place for frogs.  None of us, I suppose, would take eggs from a wild bird's nest for the fun of incubating them at home and hand-rearing the young.  But to me taking frogspawn from the wild or even a neighbour's pond is no different.

I think the aim of wildlife gardening is, or should be, first, to make our gardens a safe space for wildlife by not using pesticides and chemical fertilisers, and secondly to enhance those spaces by offering suitable food and arranging suitable habitats and shelters.  But we shouldn't feel affronted if they choose to stay away, and certainly shouldn't force them to share our environment just because we enjoy their presence.

Sorry if this sounds self-righteous.  I know I'm not perfect - the first thing I did when I moved here was to get rid of a lot of mature trees and shrubs I didn't like, and I have lots of double flowers in my garden although I know they are no use to pollinators.


  • ButtercupdaysButtercupdays Posts: 4,281
    It can also be quite a balancing act, when it is hard to get things just right. We live in the Peak Distict National Park and have 10 acres of rough grazing alongside the garden.
    Our flock of Welsh Mountain/Soay sheep will eat some wildplants, but also keep the grasses from overwhelming everything, so the smaller plants like tormentil and eyebright have room to grow. But I'm not sure where we stand on the carbon issue, would need a specialist to work that out!
    There are badgers out in the fields. Judging from the amount of nest clearing and enlargement there was this spring, it must be a healthy population though we have hardly ever seen them.  it's still nice to know they are there.
    There was a large pond here when we came, 35 years ago, that was completely silted up and largely grassed over. We had it dredged and got half a dozen ducks. Every spring we were kept awake by the racket of mating frogs and could hardly move for them.
    Many years on and the ducks have bred and in winter are joined by many wild ones who come for the food, but fly off as soon as they see us. The frogs and toads are fewer in number, but still here - well fed ducks probably don't hunt them down as much as hungry ones would.
    The number and variety of our garden birds has increased hugely since I started feeding them and even more since I carried on all year round. This year has been a very successful breeding season, with lots of nests and many babies (including more ducks!)
    Many of the parents have brought their babies to the feeders: Blue and Great tits, goldfinches, Greater Spotted woodpeckers, maybe greenfinches too; all come on their own now. But isn't this the avian equivalent of sending them down the chippy for dinner? Are they going to bother to hunt aphids or look for grubs in bark when they can fill up so much more easily on our terrace?
    Sadly too, some birds have decreased or even vanished from the scene. Don't get Mistle thrushes any more, lapwings and curlews are much less numerous, due to changes in farming practice. And my current swallows may be the last ever. I counted 28 on the wires last autumn, only 7 made it back. It's made it a very bittersweet joy  to watch them catch insects under our trees or scoop water from the pond...

  • OmoriOmori North YorkshirePosts: 1,659
    edited July 2019
    Regarding whether birds will also hunt for insects if provided with feeders, yes they will.  They need the juicy bugs for their young, and I often see them in the rose bushes. The feeders help them keep their energy up.  
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,544
    I work on that basis too.  Keep the adults fed and healthy all year and they'll produce more and healthier offspring and have the nergy to hunt the insects they need till they can feed and drink for themselves.

    I don't use chemicals except for careful applications of glyphosate but haven't even done that for 18 months.   After seeing last night's GW I'm going to try and persuade OH to leave or drought hit "grass" as a wildflower zone as the soil is poor anyway and there are lots of wildflowers already till he hits them with the mower.

    We have swallows or house martins nesting in the ruin, sparrows in the donkey shed and house eaves and lots of lizards in dry areas as well as frogs and toads using the recently cleared pond but I have no idea really how many insects, birds, reptiles and mammals consider our plot as home.  I just want them to be safe and find food and shelter.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 3,601

    It's such a complex and difficult subject that I often feel absolutely confounded. There is a large rookery near my house: if you put out birdfood, as many do, the rooks descend, drive away the smaller birds and eat the lot. They also prey on small birds, robbing nests of eggs and chicks. I have seen the number of small birds decline as the number of rooks has increased. Rooks are admirable birds who have adapted to modern farming methods and gained from protection to the point that their numbers are growing enormously. Magpies have benefited too.

    Badgers pass through my garden on their nightly wanderings. Some people put out food for them. All the hedgehogs are long gone. Badgers are protected and their numbers have increased so that once, a glimpse of one was a real treat, but now they are a destructive nuisance in some areas.

    I wonder whether we need to take a less sentimental and more practical approach to wildlife. Clearly, we are hundreds of years too late to leave it all to nature, whatever we do or don't do has an impact but we don't have a coherent policy or an overview to guide us.

  • LynLyn DevonPosts: 21,134
    Until something can be done about China catching these small birds in nets and selling for food, we are never going to get them back.
    Gardening on the wild, windy west side of Dartmoor. 

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Derbyshire but with a Nottinghamshire postcode. Posts: 16,456
    Not just China. Mist nets are regularly used in Malta.
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,544
    My last home was a former farmhouse in rural, central Belgium.  The "garden" was former cow pasture right up to the walls and mostly boggy and there were two uncared for pollarded willows plus a strip of conifer hedge.   It was devoid of visible wildlife but had fertile, alkaline loam soil.

    We had a drainage pond dug, the land smoothed out and the willows removed.  We planted a mixed hedge, a holly hedge and a hawthorn hedge, sowed a grass lawn, planted assorted shrubs, trees and perennials and fed the birds.
    It took the sparrows 2 years to recognise a bird feeder but once they did we developed a colony of sparrows and another of tits living in teh eaves around the house an din the hedges.   Visiting birds were numerous and varied and we had all sorts of insects, to the point of being a site listed for its diversity of birds and insects.

    Now we have retired to another ex farmhouse and are doing our best to become a chemical free haven with a wide and varied range of plants and habitat.   Someone, somewhere, has to create havens for flora and fauna to be safe and healthy for the sake of diversity but also crop pollination.

    The range of plants and bird food I can get here is limited compared to Belgium but if we can all do what we can, when we can and as we can afford it we'll all be better off. 
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • josusa47josusa47 Posts: 3,531
    Hexagon said:
    Call me cynical, but it almost seems like you created this thread to have "some sort of smug satisfaction" that your way is better than anyone else's. I'm not saying this to personally attack you; let's just say I'm playing devil's advocate.
    The nature in my garden was probably there before I moved in. It was probably there before the housing estate was built. The things I do in my garden may or may not affect the variety and quantity of wildlife that visit it.
    josusa47 said:
    Often they amount to the same thing.  For instance, putting out good quality bird food in well-designed feeders achieves both.
    With this statement, I assume you have an unofficial scale of quality for bird food. The worst quality food will be the one that damages the bird's health, possibly resulting in death? Of course not, companies would not be allowed to sell this type of product.
    I often put out fat balls from poundland which costs 10p per ball. The birds love it. Is this bad quality food? No, they love it and eat it all, a lot faster than I can afford to replace it. 
    I also put out the feed in so-called "badly designed feeders" that cost me £1.99 each (with full food inside). I refuse to pay anymore.

    I don't think it necessarily follows that because birds eat something eagerly, it must be good for them.  Look at the rubbish humans prefer to eat when given a choice!  Poor-quality seed mixes often contain a high proportion of wheat grains; they are cheap, and birds will eat them, but they provide little nourishment.  Small birds have a high metabolic rate and need to get energy from fat, which has more calories weight for weight than carbohydrates, which is all they get in wheat.

    Fat balls are often supplied in mesh bags, and the RSPB warns against hanging them up as birds can be trapped by getting their feet tangled in them, but I don't think this happens often, and probably the benefit of the food outweighs the risk of entanglement.

    Call me cynical but I don't share your view that companies aren't allowed to sell anything harmful.  Tobacco, alcohol, nuclear weapons, I rest my case.

    I'm sincerely sorry that you hate your life, I hope it gets better for you soon.
  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 6,312
    You could just grow some nettles, docks and thistles. Really very cheap - not to say free - and they support insects which support birds or, in the case of docks, cut out the middleman and just feed the birds.
    “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first” 
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