22 Jul Water for wildlife
As far as supporting wildlife in your garden goes, there’s nothing more simple or effective than providing a steady supply of fresh water. This modest step will help all sorts of beneficial wildlife—from birds to hedgehogs, butterflies to bees—especially during a summer as hot and dry as the one we’ve been having in the UK. In this post, I focus on the importance of providing fresh water for birds and hedgehogs in your garden. If you’re lucky, these delightful creatures will also helpfully gulp down a few slugs, snails and caterpillars while they’re there!
Water is important year-round for birds, who need it both for drinking and bathing. Bathing in water is an important part of feather-maintenance, since it allows birds to loosen dirt before preening, which, in turn, helps to keep their feathers properly clean and waterproof. In especially hot or especially cold spells, water resources may be harder to find due to evaporation or freezing. But while a lot of people put feed out for the birds, not as many recognise the importance of providing water for them.
Most birds prefer to drink while perched at the edge of a water source (although, rather impressively, swallows and swifts can swoop down and gulp water while still in flight!). For this reason, it’s good to provide them with a safe place to stop by making a rock island in the centre of your pond or investing in a raised bird bath that will protect them from predatory creatures, like cats. Look for a bird bath with gently sloping sides that give a shallow approach to the water, which will prevent drowning, and a rough surface to provide a ready grip for visiting birds.
Clean and refill the bird bath at least once a week by blasting out the old water and replenishing it with new. I do this in my own garden using my YOYO hosepipe with its multi-jet spray gun attachment. The hose expands while in use to reach right down the garden to my bird bath without kinking annoyingly in the process and the attachment produces a high-powered stream of water strong enough to get rid of muck that has been washed out of visiting birds’ feathers. I fill mine to around 10cm deep in the middle and the slope makes it 2.5cm deep at the edges. This makes it great for a range of bird species which prefer different depths of water in which to bathe and drink.
On summer nights, hedgehogs are at their most active. They need to eat lots of caterpillars, slugs and other insects to build up their fat reserves ready for winter hibernation (which starts in October) as well as drinking lots of water to stay hydrated in warm weather. There are lots of things you can do to help hedgehogs in your own garden and providing them with water (not milk!) is just one of them.
There are several options for helping the hedgehogs in your garden to keep on top of their water needs. The simplest is to pop out a shallow dish of freshly drawn water at dusk, remove it in the morning, and replace it again each night. Do make sure the edges of the dish are low to the ground, though. This makes it easy for hedgehogs to drink out of the dish without attempting to climb the sides and accidentally spilling the water.
Ponds are also a great water source for hedgehogs, but while hedgehogs are excellent swimmers, they
can become stuck in ponds that have slippery, vertical edges. To make your pond hedgehog-friendly, provide climb out opportunities by placing rocks or planks around the edges of the pond so that hedgehogs can get out. Additionally, ponds attract species of insect that hedgehogs will eat, providing them with a ready food supply, as well as attracting other beneficial wildlife, such as frogs and toads, to your garden. It’s good all round.
Ponds require some up-keep to prevent them from silting up, of course. Your aim should be to drain your pond completely about once every 5-10 years, dependent on its size. Ponds also need topping up throughout the summer, otherwise evaporation will cause the water level to drop, reducing the amount of oxygen in the water and suffocating fish.
Rainwater from a water butt is best, if available, since tap water contains nutrients that can cause algae to thrive and can sometimes be a bit cold for fish. If you do need to refill your pond from the tap,
though, the YOYO hosepipe is a great choice here, too. It comes with a hook to latch it neatly beneath your garden tap, making for maximum convenience when topping up ponds regularly during heat waves like the one we’ve been having! Just be sure to treat the water appropriately and allow it to warm up before adding fish back in.
So, there you have it, providing water in your garden for wildlife is not only easy, but also (selfishly!) rather helpful in terms of keeping garden pests under control. Try it yourself this summer.