May in the wildlife garden

Ladybird © Julia Sier

Wildlife notes from Plumgarths' gardener, Julia Sier.

The warmer weather is now bringing an abundance of insects, just in time to feed the hungry mouths of newly hatched chicks, returning migrants and bats emerging from hibernation.  If you’re spending more time at home, then why not get up close with some of the smallest creatures on your doorstep and think about how you can take action to encourage insects into your garden.

Go on a bug hunt to find out what’s already hiding in your garden

  • Look under stones, logs and plant pots to find millipedes and woodlice, the hardworking, but often overlooked, recyclers of the garden.
  • Peer beneath a few freshly emerged leaves and you will probably find sap sucking aphids which in turn provide food for ladybirdslacewing and hoverfly larvae and predatory beetles. Think twice before reaching for chemical sprays which will upset the natural food chain.
  • Go out at dusk, especially after rain, and you may be alarmed to see slugs and snails emerging.  Take comfort in the fact that they provide food for another nocturnal visitor, the hedgehog, who will be actively feeding at this time of year to be in peak condition for breeding
Aphids on leaf © Julia Sier

Aphids on leaf © Julia Sier

Listen out for ‘Maybugs’!

  • Common cockchafers or ‘Maybugs’ will be taking to the wing to find a mate and can sometimes be heard bumping into lit windows at dusk.
  • Their clumsy flight and large size can be off-putting, but if you take a closer look you will see their fan-like antennae used to detect pheromones, as males try to find a mate in the darkness.
Cockchafer © Nick Upton/2020VISION

Cockchafer © Nick Upton/2020VISION

Say 'no' to the mow

  • Consider reducing the frequency with which you mow your lawn or even better, leave some areas of grass to grow long, saving you time and benefiting wildlife at the same time.
  • Longer grass provides cover for invertebrates which has a positive knock-on effect for birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
  • Most lawns are home to at least a few common wildflowers, such as clover, dandelions and self-heal. If left to flower they will not only look pretty but also attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden.
  • Why not use some of the time saved to record and learn about the species you find?
Shield bug in wild lawn © Julia Sier

Shield bug in wild lawn © Julia Sier

Take time to appreciate the ‘May’ blossom – a magnet for insects

  • Historically hawthorn or ‘May’ was the subject of much superstition and folklore, the centre of spring festivals, a marker of boundaries and meeting places but these days often written off as ‘scrub’.
  • If you have hawthorn growing in your garden then count yourself lucky and if not then think about planting it as it is one of the best shrubs for wildlife, especially insects.
  • Known to support over 300 species of insects, the larval foodplant for many moths and a nectar source for many pollinators. Later in the year the berries provide food for birds and mammals and the thorns offer protection to nesting birds.
  • The old weather proverb ‘Ne’er cast a clout till may is out’, warns against removing too many layers of clothing before the hawthorn or ‘May’ blossom is out, so take heed!
Hawthorn blossom © Julia Sier

Hawthorn blossom © Julia Sier

Julia Sier

Julia Sier, Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Plumgarths' gardener