Want a Wild Night Out?

focus on wildlifeFocus on wildlife and see your garden in a different light with Wild Night Out. On your 'Wild Night Out' you can explore your garden under the cover of darkness. Discover what happens and which creatures emerge when dusk falls. Carrickfergus Borough Council is asking borough residents “Which plants are hotspots of activity for nocturnal wildlife in your garden?”

Your garden is part of a giant patchwork that's really important for wildlife. Gardens are where creatures can find all they need to feed, drink, shelter and breed. However small, every little patch counts. Our borough is bursting with biodiversity, and a lot of it uses our gardens. It is amazing to see our gardens humming with insects in the summer months, or see the birds flocking for shelter in the winter. Wildlife doesn't just need the wild – it can thrive in our gardens too.

We'd like to build up a source of local knowledge about wildlife in gardens, and this is where we need YOU. You can provide us with valuable information about the wild creatures and plants in your garden.

Want to JOIN IN? bee

See below for tips on your Wild Night Out or how to build a nest box. We have also a Creature Calendar that will be useful to identify the creatures in your garden. The discussion board allows you to share local knowledge, swap tips, and be part of a community of wildlife gardening enthusiasts. Click Here to view or log-in to the discussion board. For further information contact the Parks & Countryside Office telephone (028) 93358039 or e-mail: inbloom@carrickfergus.org.

Tips for a Wild Night Out

ladybirds

How to get the best out of your nocturnal garden safari.

1. Start your Wild Night Out just before sunset and carry on in the dark for as long as you want. That way, you may get to see a bigger range of species and watch how your garden scene changes from day to night.

2. You know your garden well, but you may be inviting guests along to your Wild Night Out. Make sure everyone takes particular care around water and on uneven ground, and always carry a torch with extra batteries so you won’t be walking anywhere in total darkness.

3. It may be summer, but make sure you wrap-up warm and are prepared for any rain.

4. Print out and take this guide which includes a list of common garden species that you may see. Don’t forget to take a note-pad and pen and jot down anything that you don’t recognise so that you can do an identification afterwards.

5. Make sure you take a close look at all the different habitats in the garden - the flower beds, the pond, the trees, the walls. Each area will be a hive of activity for different creatures. For instance, if you examine a plant by torchlight, you are likely to see a variety of insects including earwigs, caterpillars and moths.

6. To attract moths, hang a white sheet on a washing line and shine a light onto the sheet. Moths will flock to the light and you’ll be able to examine them more clearly against the white background. Sugaring is also a helpful trick to attract these creatures - mix black treacle with water to thin it, and then paint on trees or fence posts to attract moths, slugs, millipedes and other creatures with a sweet tooth.

7. Make a note of which plants are attracting which insect species so you know how wildlife is using your garden. For a list of the best plants for a night-time garden click here.

8. Spend a few moments in silence and your ear will tune into a cacophony of evening sounds that can include owls, grasshoppers and small mammals such as hedgehogs. Try and keep a note of everything you hear.

9. Be careful not to disturb any sleeping creatures. Turn over stones and logs slowly and carefully and put everything back as you found it.

10. Above all, have fun! Even if you don’t see as much as you were hoping, gardens at night can be truly magical places offering an entirely different experience of sights, sounds and scents.

Top 10 Wildlife Gardening Tips

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1. Grow a mixture of native and non-native plants to provide nectar and pollen for bees and other insects. Choose plants that flower at different times of year to ensure that pollen and nectar are available over a long period. Select trees and shrubs with berries for birds and other animals.

2. Create a water feature in your garden. A pond, ideally without fish, will enable amphibians and dragonflies to breed. If a pond is not practical, a simple bird bath or pebble fountain will provide a place for animals to drink.

3. Delay cutting back perennials until the spring. The seed heads that remain provide valuable food for birds and other animals through the winter, while the stems and foliage provide valuable shelter for hibernating insects.

4. Recycle your organic kitchen and garden waste to create compost for the garden. The compost heap will not only provide you with an excellent soil conditioner but will also be home to invertebrates and other animals, and is a rich feeding ground for birds and beetles.

5. Create additional habitats for wildlife by growing climbing plants against bare walls and fences. These provide valuable cover and food for birds, insects and mammals, as well as adding extra interest to the garden.

6. Dead wood is a valuable habitat, supporting a wide range of invertebrates. Dead wood can be used to create a simple wood pile or interesting sculptural feature.

7. Help wildlife by providing additional features such as bird and bat boxes, solitary bee nests and bird feeders. Birds can be provided with food, either bought seed or food scraps, throughout the year.

8. Consider leaving part of your lawn uncut. Long grass is an excellent habitat for grasshoppers, beetles and young amphibians, and provides roosts for insects such as damselflies. Grasses are also important food sources for the caterpillars of some butterflies.

9. Where possible, use mulches to control weeds, select disease resistant varieties of plants and use cultural or biological control methods to combat pests. Encourage a natural balance to develop by having as wide a range of plants and animals as possible.

10. Think carefully about the origin of anything you buy for your garden. Ensure that plants come from cultivated stock and that the use of any material, such as potting compost, does not put a habitat under threat, whether in the UK or abroad.

How to Build a Bird Nestbox

Bird nestboxes can be expensive and elaborate so here is an economical alternative. The best time to make and place a nestbox is in the autumn. However as nests sometimes get destroyed or raided, birds can look for replacement sites in spring and early summer. In poor weather birds may roost in the box or just visit to collect flies

Making your box

Any sort of wood will do. Exterior grade plywood is the best but plank wood makes cutting easier. Remember to adjust the dimensions of the floor to suit the thickness of the wood you use. The dimensions shown are for 15mm thickness. Galvanised nails will last longer than ordinary nails. Seal the sides with sealant as you build, to make the box both windproof and waterproof. A small drainage hole in the base is essential to let liquid waste drain away or in open front boxes to let any rainwater drain away.

build a nest box

Do not be tempted to add a perch as this allows predators to intimidate the nestlings and may force the adult birds to leave. The hole should be at the top of the box to keep the young out of the reach of cats or squirrels. Hole size is important as great tits will oust blue tits if they can get in the box. Blue tit and coal tit 25mm hole, great tit 28mm hole, house sparrow 32mm hole.

The birds may be seen pecking at the hole. This does not mean that the hole is too small. If you increase the hole you may lose the birds. Painting the box is not necessary. Indeed some colours have been proved to put birds off. A coat of linseed oil will keep the wood from drying out, though is not essential. Some wood preservatives can be poisonous to animals so they are best avoided.

Where to fix your nestbox

The nestbox should be shaded from the hot sun and sheltered from prevailing winds. In the United Kingdom this means facing north-east, east or south east. If necessary place the hole in the side of the box. A little early morning sun will do no harm. Between 2m and 3m above ground level is best. Most birds like a clear flight path into the nestbox so avoid any obvious obstructions.

Boxes too close together or near a bird table will invite competition, so allow birds a bit of their own territory. A little piece of dried moss placed in the bottom of your nestbox may be just enough to attract a family.

REMEMBER: Clean out the box every year. Rinse with boiling water to kill parasites. Good luck!

What to do more?

nature detectivesContact the Woodland Trust Nature Detectives they have a huge bank of free resources and games to make learning about nature easy and fun. Download everything you need from leaf ID sheets and wildlife puzzles to seasonal charts and woodland log books. For further information contact the Woodland Trust.

The Carrickfergus in Bloom initiative is organised by Carrickfergus Borough Council.