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RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Life can be busy and stressful. It is not always easy to make time to stop, relax, and appreciate the beauty of nature. If you’re looking for some time out, a lovely and relaxing activity that you can take part in this month is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – spending a restful hour watching and counting birds.

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is a delightful activity to share. You could snuggle up by the fire and count the birds you see from your window, or wrap up warmly to count birds in the park, or at your allotment.

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch has been extended for 2017, to cover the weekend of the 28th and 29th January, as well as Monday 30th January. You’ll find lots of information on the RSPB’s website, including an online counting tool, and pictures to help you identify the birds you see. Please visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch for more.

Hanging up feeders filled with peanuts, seeds, and other foods, and supplying clean water will encourage birds to your garden. Don’t forget that the plants in your garden, and how you tend them, will also encourage or discourage birds.

Oaks are the most amazing trees, they’re a habitat for hundreds of species of insects, and provide food, shelter, and nest sites for birds. There are many other native trees, such as yew, silver birch, beech, hornbeam, and rowan that are perfect trees for large gardens.

In smaller gardens, it’s important to remember to provide food, shelter, and perches for birds. If your garden is surrounded by bare fences, and features lots of paving and low-growing plants, you won’t be providing enough facilities to encourage birds to spend much time in your garden. Holly or yew clipped as topiary (choose female or self-fertile hollies for berries) will provide food, shelter and a nesting site for birds.

Fruit trees grown on dwarfing rootstocks, which are carefully pruned, cordon-grown and other trained forms of fruit trees are great options for small gardens. Look out for ballerina apples that grow naturally as one upright stem with side shoots, they require little pruning and are a good choice for a small garden.
The guelder rose, Viburnum opulus, produces white flowers in springtime, followed by red berries in autumn and winter. The leaves of Viburnum opulus turn beautiful shades of orange and red before falling in autumn. This is a great shrub for wildlife, that provides year round interest. Growing to 5m (16ft) or more in height, and 2.5-4m (8-13ft) wide, it’s perfect for a woodland style garden. A dwarf form is available – Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’ which offers the same pretty white lace-cap style flowers, glossy berries, and other attractions, yet grows to 1.5m (5ft) tall and wide.

Growing ivy, honeysuckle, or clematis over your fences will encourage insects and birds. Hedges outlive fences, as they aren’t likely to be damaged in a storm, and support a wide range of wildlife. You could plant an edible hedge and provide food for your family, or opt for Rosa rugosa, which provides beautiful fragrant pink roses, followed by large rosehips. Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ is a white form (above); both grow well even in poor soil. Yew, holly, beech, and hornbeam produce beautiful hedges

If you want to protect birds, avoid using slug pellets, insecticides, and pesticides. All levels of the food chain need to be present for a healthy balance in your garden.

For information on natural slug controls, gardening advice for the month ahead, information about snowdrops ‘in the green’, advice on growing orchids, and much more besides, visit my website www.pumpkinbeth.com.

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