The Official Site of The Friends of Blaker's Park in Brighton, Sussex, UK.


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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hotel Insectoria

If, like me, you are something of an armchair or fair-weather gardener, and you are, also like me, not an avid adherent of that modern-day scourge of home and garden ‘de-cluttering’, then read on. Here is an idea that will make your lack of urgency and ardency seem both virtuous and purposeful.

When you feel up to the challenge, stroll out into the garden and survey those accumulated heaps of wood, bricks, tiles, old pots, gravel, cardboard, roofing felt, dead leaves, hay, string, bamboo canes, wire netting, plastic bottles and the rest. Believe it or not, you will have just taken the first step on the relatively simple unstrenuous project of creating both a stunning piece of architecture and a valuable wildlife haven in your very own backyard.

Next get into your car and take a trip around the neighbourhood and find about half a dozen discarded palettes. You can now add the public service of litter clearance to your CV of praiseworthy achievements!

It is not necessary to collect all these ingredients during your first skirmish with the alien and hostile Great Outdoors. This Grand Scheme can be viewed as a work in progress that can evolve over more than one growing season. The discoveries you make along the way will allow you to tweak the development of the Project as you go along, thus allowing for plenty of scope for contemplation and rumination.

It’s about time I told you what this wonderful worthwhile wildlife project actually is. It is the construction of a wildlife or invertebrate tower or hotel.

Using combinations of the above items, you attract a wide variety of species into your garden, not only as visitors but, more importantly, as long-term residents by offering them accommodation where they can take advantage of first-class facilities in which to spend a few days or even survive the winter. The attraction of insects in particular will contribute greatly to the conservation of bio-diversity in your district, as they are crucial in the pollination of plants and provide food for birds, amphibians and reptiles.

The Tower is constructed by laying palettes on top of each other like a pile of sandwiches and filling the spaces within with the various sandwich fillings you have collected. Placing concrete slabs or sheets of polythene between layers can allow the lower storeys to remain dry and draught free so that overwintering creatures stay secure, dry and warm. Higher layers may be damper – perhaps the top could be covered with a layer of turf in which wildflower seed could be planted to attract feeding birds and insects. This will require some watering on warm summer evenings – plenty of work for the more active among us.

The ground floor might be a hedgehog hotel with leaves, hay and straw. Piping, roof-tiles and the like might provide shelter for amphibians and reptiles such as frogs, toads, slow worms and lizards. Bundles of twigs and bamboo canes tied together with string or electrical zip ties will attract insect species such as lacewings and airbricks or logs drilled with holes can invite masonry bees, moths and other interesting and threatened species. Logs with loose bark or corrugated cardboard will encourage woodlice, beetles, centipedes and spiders. Dry hay or shredded paper may provide nest material for field mice and some species of low nesting birds.

If the delicate eco-system you are creating is at all threatened by larger household pets – cats and dogs – you can protect it by judicious application of wire netting on exposed areas. The gauge will depend on the animals you wish to attract. If you are hoping for small mammals, avoid chicken wire at the appropriate level.

You will have gathered by now that the possibilities presented by this challenge are endless. You can take the project as far as you are inclined to do and at a pace that suits your energy level. Its extent is only limited by your imagination and even that can be extended by exploring the Internet. I suggest Googling for combinations of "wildlife/invertebrate hotel/tower." And if you feel building your own creation rather more exhausting than you’re willing to contemplate, you will even find a number of commercially produced alternatives available there!

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