Formerly a vet, Stephen changed career to pursue a lifelong passion for wildlife photography and conservation.
He started his talk informing us that Hedgehogs are in decline both in the countryside and in towns and pointed us towards the ‘HedgehogStreet’ website for lots more information.
He continued with his Ten Top Tips to make our gardens Hedgehog and wildlife friendly
1) Link adjacent gardens to make a Hedgehog Highway
2) Make your pond is safe with access and exit points suitable for hedgehogs (they can swim)
3) Create a wild corner or area in the garden
4) Deal with netting and litter that may trap animals
5) Put out water and a small amount of food (cat or dog food is suitable)
6) Stop using chemicals and slug pellets
7) Carefully check before stimming longer grass
8) Check bonfire piles before lighting
9) Leave a log pile, buy or make a Hedgehog home (a stick across the entrance tells it`s in use)
10) Champion the Hedgehog by informing friends and neighbours
Stephen then took us on a journey to the of village Kirtlington near Oxford. From small beginnings with a rescue and release hedgehog, neighbours cut holes of 13cms (the size of a DVD) in their shared fence so that the animals could pass through on their nightly roam. This initiative was taken up by more villagers over time, some even constructing a hedgehog stairway when gardens were at different levels. Stephen showed us film and photographs of the animals going about their nightly wanderings as he had set up motion sensors to successfully capture their movements.
People left out dog or cat food in a constructed ‘Footprint Tunnel’ where any animal attracted to the food left their footprints on a sheet of paper placed inside. This proved very successful in engaging children at the local school to get involved too.
This project has spread to various areas of the village, avoiding the main road. Hedgehogs have been tracked to roam over a wide area of nearly 2 kilometers here.
One thing that hedgehogs love is mealworms – however as they are high in phosphorus and low in calcium, they are detrimental especially to young with growing and forming bones.
During the daytime, they like to rest in grassy flimsy nests but of course hedgehogs hibernate in winter, they make a nest of leaves in an overlapping laminated style structure usually in bramble patches for protection.
Stephen then showed us an article from the BBC One Show which featured Kirtlington and the super work they had achieved there, encouraging all the villagers to love not only hedgehogs but all wildlife.
Roy started his talk by telling us how versatile Holly is – it can and does grow in sun or shade, can be clipped into a hedge, can be either prickly or smooth, and can tolerate other plants growing on or through it. Some Hollies are deciduous but still have berries, they have different leaf forms and sizes and are found all over the world. In Uruguay for instance, a Tea, Mate, is made from the young leaves which the indigenous people sip through a metal straw.
Roy showed us images of different types of Holly leaves – a very small variety named Ilex Crenata is a very good substitute or replacement for Box, J.C. Van Thol has plentiful red berries as unusually it bears both male and female flowers on the same plant. Most varieties are either male or female, but this is not apparent until a few years into growth, so the named Golden King is a female and Golden Queen is a male. You need both male and female plants nearby for good berry production.
Holly is said to be the best roosting tree for birds and Roy`s top tip for keeping any variegation on the plant is to prune off any reverting shoots as soon as possible. He passed around some information sheets with named varieties and leaf shapes for identification at home.
Moving on to Ivy, it`s evergreen and likes the shade and is related to Fatsia. Ivy is great for ground cover, can easily stabilise a bank, and looks good in a hanging basket with winter pansies. Ivy can tolerate difficult conditions, can grow on house walls too making a 5-degree difference in temperature, cooler in summer, warmer in winter. Will it harm the walls you may ask? Only if the mortar isn`t secure says Roy. Because it can flower late into the season, Ivy is a good supply of pollen for all insects.
Ivy can be used creatively in the garden; he showed a photo of this plant made into decorative swags for instance and it can be trained into a bush shape. Once the Ivy has crept to the top of a wall it forms a bush naturally.
In times gone by, Holly and Ivy were considered very special as not many native plants were evergreen, so along with Juniper and Yew they were used at festivals by Druids and at other religious ceremonies during the winter.
Becca started her talk with a quote from Rachel Carson 1962 and then controversial book Silent Spring “In nature nothing exists alone”, looking at the effect the use of chemicals has on all life.
In the 1980`s American Ecologist Barry Commoner stated the 4 Laws of Ecology:
1) Everything is connected to everything else
2) Everything must go somewhere
3) Nature knows best
4) There`s no such thing as a free lunch
Becca then went on to explain that the garden is an ecosystem, the more complex the ecosystem the more successfully it can resist stress, such as a period of drought we experienced earlier this year.
· We can create that diversity by choosing plants to attract pollinators. Lilac and purple flowers are particularly attractive to bees, so plant Borage, Lungwort, Verbena and Lavender.
· Ivy, Sedum and Sunflowers add nectar and seeds for birds at the end of the season too.
· Helpful predatory insects prefer umbellifers such as Fennel, Yarrow and any flowers in the Daisy family such as Asters.
· Low growing plants are a haven and provide cover for Ground Beetles e.g., Stonecrop, Creeping Thyme, Sweet Alyssum and Woodruff.
· The Native Americans had a system of growing their staple crops very successfully, called 3 Sisters, planting Maize, which grows tall with Beans that intertwined and Squash on the ground their large leaves preserving the moisture in the earth.
· It has been proven that Companion Planting helps to confuse pests, so crops grow better. For instance, grow Sage to deter flea beetle, grow Marigold to deter whitefly and grow Garlic Chives to deter carrot fly. All these plants have a strong fragrance, or hairy leaf.
· You can also use some plants to lure pests away from your prize crops – Nasturtium and French Marigold attract fly, whereas Chervil and Comfrey attract Slugs and Snails. This method is called Trap Cropping.
· As more knowledge is gained about plants and their biochemical make up, we were informed that Rye Grass is good planted with Cabbages, Phacelia is a magnet for insects and is a nitrogen store and Dandelion`s long tap root brings up nutrients from below to the upper layer of soil so other plants can use it. Fascinating stuff. There is a lot of research into this, especially with commercial farming in mind.
She concluded her talk with a piece about the value of composting green waste, making your own fertilizer from Seaweed or Comfrey and adding all that organic matter to the soil. In winter keep the soil covered with cardboard, compost or a green manure. She told us about the “No Dig” movement as beneficial fungi and mycorrhiza present in the soil improves nutrient efficiency, increases water absorption and root growth.
The message of her talk was - avoid using pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, encourage natural predators - “The Garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet Nature halfway”.