Most keen gardeners who are also nature lovers may actively encourage wildlife into the garden in appropriate ways. It can be something as simple as putting out bird seed on a bird table or hanging nuts for squirrels.
However, on occasion, certain species of resident or visiting wildlife may be unwelcome and some course of action may be necessary.
Here are some of the most common problems and what you can do to minimise the risks.
Foxes are not as uncommon as you might think. They can be extremely good fun to watch and can provide certain benefits by eating rats and mice. They wouldn’t tend to attack cats and dogs as a rule but they would take pet rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens or ducks if their pens aren’t secure and they can bite and scratch their way through flimsy mesh. Therefore, it’s important to keep all poultry and pet animals like those mentioned above firmly enclosed and secure at night.
Badgers will also dig up lawns when looking for worms or grubs to eat and they can carry mites that can cause mange on dogs. They’re only going to try to take up residence in your garden if they think there’s a plentiful supply of food and shelter so if you have a shed, block up the access point to any area around the shed where they could make a den or burrow.
Moles can ruin your lawn as they’ll tunnel beneath a lawn to hunt for earthworms which will result in the characteristic ‘hills’ of earth they leave behind. This may be troublesome to those who like to keep their lawn in immaculate condition although, for others, these mounds make for good compost. To deter moles, flooding, vibrations and even urine have proven to be good antidotes. There are mole traps which can be used to capture the moles alive but the moles often elude them.
Rats will take birds’ eggs and can also carry Weil’s disease which starts off as flu like symptoms but, if left untreated, can cause jaundice and even death. This is uncommon however. You should ensure that waste bins are kept secure and that bread or any food put out for birds is inaccessible to rats and remove any potential nesting sites.
We are lucky in Britain in that the only snake that can cause harm to humans or pets is the adder and this is very rarely seen in British gardens, except in those close to heathland and south facing downs. It’s recognisable by the zig-zag or diamond marking along its back. Apart from that, you’d even be lucky to see even the most common snake in Britain which is the grass snake and is completely harmless. Snakes are usually just passing through but to avoid them, keep your grass short, remove any piles of logs or stones and keep any compost or grass cuttings in secure bins.
Grey squirrels are common throughout much of the UK and, if you live near a forest or wooded area, you stand a good chance of seeing several. To most people they present no threat and can be lots of fun to watch but they do take food from bird tables, raid birds’ nests, can damage lofts and trees and steal bulbs and fruit. If they’re not welcome in your garden, you should remove any squirrels nests (dreys) from trees once they are empty and block access to roof space during winter. If birds and not squirrels are your thing, there are squirrel proof bird feeders available although they’re not always effective. Repellents can also be used on containers and bulbs to deter squirrels from taking them.
Bees and Wasps
Despite their stings, bees have an important role to play in the ecosystem of a garden. Bees are vitally important as pollinators of many wild flowers, garden plants and fruit and vegetable crops. The main worry is if you encountered a swarm of bees. This usually occurs in May or June when a colony of bees becomes too large and the queen decides to ‘up sticks’ and wants to reduce the numbers in the colony. This is when swarming can occur. If this happens in your garden, the chances are the bees won’t be there for long and they should simply be left alone and wait for them to fly off.
Wasps feed largely on insects and, therefore, have an important role in the natural control of insect populations. They are most active in late summer flying to and from their nests. They will usually only ever sting in self defence but will rigidly defend their nest if it’s disturbed. If you do have a wasps’ nest in your garden or perhaps in the eaves of your roof, contact your local environmental health department as they can remove it but you should not try to remove it yourself whilst wasps are still using it. There have been numerous cases of people suffering from anaphylactic shock as a result of being stung by a swarm of wasps which can be a life-threatening allergy and must be treated urgently.
To most people, enjoying spending time in the garden is as much about seeing wildlife pass through from time to time as it is about the plants and flowers they grow but if you feel threatened by any of the above creatures or have any other kind of wildlife problem and don’t know how to deal with it, your local environmental health department will be able to offer advice and assistance.