I was sat in a sad old garden chair on my allotment late on a Sunday afternoon in January, looking at my piles of apple tree prunings and the soggy remains of last season’s growth as the sun went down. A melancholy moment – which was suddenly shattered as songs burst forth from the stillness of the gathering dusk. Robins, defending their territory, song thrushes looking for a mate, tits twittering away – the air came alive with music. I’ve no idea why they all started at once, but it was a sound so beautiful it stirred something deep within me, I stayed rooted to the spot until it was almost dark.
It was a timely reminder that gardening isn’t just about humans and plants. Sometimes the best moments can be when nature takes over. But birds need our help. According to figures from The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds even once-common birds have suffered huge declines, such as the house sparrow whose numbers fell by 71 percent between 1977 to 2008.
So, apart from feeding them, what can we gardeners do to help our feathered friends?
Firstly, help them with homes. Bird boxes come in all shapes and sizes. Having seen a lot of these in gardens over the years, my advice is that simple wooden boxes work just fine (such as this wigwam version).
Put them up soon, as some birds will already be starting to investigate nesting places. Site them somewhere protected, and ideally not too accessible to cats – under the eaves of a garage, or in an apple tree, for example. Don’t forget that evergreen shrubs and conifers provide valuable cover for birds – even better if they provide berries too (for example pyracantha and hollies).
Dead trees are a wonderful habitat for all kinds of wildlife, quite probably second only to a pond in terms of bringing biodiversity into your garden. All kinds of invertebrate life are attracted to dead wood and sheltered nooks, including ground beetles that will help eat all kinds of garden pests. If you have a dead tree or stump, save yourself the money of having it removed, attach some netting to it and plant a clematis at the base. The clematis will grow up to cover the tree, making a pillar of summer colour. Even better, nail a bird box to it and you’ll have a wildlife HQ for years to come.
Don’t forget, if you took part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the deadline for submitting your results has been extended to 16 February.