Garden Insects and Pests – Useful or Damaging?
Honoured Guest or Unwelcome Pest?
Here are so many animals and birds that are native to most areas that Tit can sometimes be quite difficult to decide which ones we want to bring into our gardens. Are we going to invite just a few, , or , or are we going to encourage all manner of wildlife, including potential pests such as pigeons and ? Somehow a balance has to be achieved between welcome visitors and unwanted nuisances.
Potential animal guests range from deer to tiny shrews. The larger mammals may be a problem, but fencing the perimeter of will keep most at bay while leaving access for smaller mammals like hedgehogs, dormice and voles. Rabbits are a potential pest; again, fencing is an effective control, particularly if the base of the netting is fixed firmly underground. Most gardeners are happy to have badgers, even if they dig up parts of the lawn.
Grey squirrels are loved and loathed in almost equal measure; it is impossible to keep them out, so protecting individual trees and features is the only answer. Other mammals include hares, otters, pine-martens, water voles, stoats and weasels, but these are rarely found in gardens. Rats are a common pest in towns, where they inhabit the sewers, and on farms.
Some species ofare in danger of extinction because their sources of food and shelter are under threat from modern farming and forestry methods. Our gardens can be refuges for bats, with sheds or special bat boxes providing shelter and plenty of insects available for food.
REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS
have dry, scaly skins and primarily live on land, whereas amphibians have bare, moist skins and breed in water. Reptiles include snakes and lizards. The venomous adder, which is extremely timid, is usually found on open heathland and sand dunes. The harmless grass snake can be found swimming in garden pools and nesting in compost heaps. The slow worm is actually a legless lizard, whose main diet is slugs, while the common lizard feeds on insects and spiders. Amphibians include frogs, and , and are usually welcome.
Hundreds of different bird species may visit gardens if food, water and nesting sites are provided. Most are welcome, but pigeons can decimate vegetable crops, bullfinches will eat fruit blossom, and sparrows and starlings may attack. Netting vegetable crops and cordon apples and placing soft fruit in cages will solve most problems, as will placing cotton thread over .
There are thousands of different types of insect, and often the difficulty is knowing which are helpful friends and which are potential enemies. A useful rule of thumb is ‘fast is friendly’, so the scuttling beetle is a friend and the slow-moving aphid is an enemy. There are lots of animals and birds that feast on garden insects, and aneeds a few to bring in their welcome such as . Other insects include bees, butterflies, and , which are generally welcome, and flies and , which can be a nuisance. Removing wasp nests is a sensible precaution, as is avoiding leaving waste in the garden, which attracts flies. Garden insects such as , beetles, grasshoppers and crickets are fascinating creatures, and all are worth encouraging into the garden.
Slugs and snails can be a real nuisance in the garden but they do provide food for several species of birds, frogs and slow. Earthworms are essential, because their activities help to maintain soil fertility. Luckily, they are exceedingly common, because they are also food for many birds. Centipedes, millipedes and woodlice are all found in our gardens; centipedes live on insects but the other two eat plant material, both living and dead.
POINTS TO CONSIDER
- Fruit netting can trap birds and small mammals — keep taut when in use and roll and store when not in use. Bonfire heaps provide shelter to hedgehogs and other small mammals, so check before lighting them.
- Take care when removing compost from compost heaps in case you disturb snakes.
- Strimmers and mowers can harm slow-moving animals, particularly during the first mow of the year.
- Provide ramps or slopes out of ponds for stranded hedgehogs and frogs.
- Fix a bell around the neck of resident to warn wildlife of approaching danger.