Since moving back to my more rural homestead, it soon became apparent that there was a lot more wildlife surrounding us, especially in the garden.
Naturally, the sight of garden birds, especially the rarer seen ones, was one of the first delights to greet us and it didn’t take long before they had us wound round their little beaks, as we dashed out to buy a bird feeder, fat ball holder and bird bath. Naively, we failed to take note of the complaints from the assistant in the local garden centre about how the mice had made inroads into the store of bird seed. We took no heed, as we bought a nice large bag of said seed and returned proudly to our new abode.
It was only a matter of a week or so, before word quickly spread around the local field mouse population, who visited our garden shed in their droves to munch on our new bag of bird seed. OK, we thought, fair enough, should have seen that one coming, so we invested in a thick, strong plastic container with a sturdy lid – that’ll keep ‘em out we thought! Oh no, on meeting with the opposition of the plastic container, the mice decided they would doggedly gnaw their way through the plastic lid and into the seed and just for good measure, to make sure they taught us a lesson, they made inroads into our garden fertiliser, packets of seeds and spring bulbs – carefully ensuring that they just took small bites out of each and every one, to make sure that they managed to ruin every bulb and every packet of seed.
This was war! We invested in a couple of humane mouse traps and bated them with peanut butter, having read this was an adored food stuff of the mice. Unfortunately, for us, the mice were too light to trigger the traps and so managed to nick in, lick off the peanut butter and nick off again victorious. Eventually, with the added weight on a 2p piece on the trap trigger, we managed to catch a considerable number of our rodent chums. We walked them off up to the local nature reserve to set them free in the hope they wouldn’t find their way home again – but don’t bet on it! Apologies to the frog who got mistakenly captured once – he was released with no harm done, other than his rather hurt pride as he hopped off angrily toward the pond, refusing my offer of a gentle shower from the watering can.
As the mice population gradually, if only temporarily, diminished, a bigger brother rolled up to take their place – a rat! Fortunately, it was a young, solitary rat and didn’t bring along its friends, but it had found our reliable feeding of the birds with bread an irresistible treat and became a regular visitor to the garden. Hence, bread was off the menu for the birds and fortunately, the rat didn’t seem to care for seed alone and left – small victory.
Next to arrive on the scene were the dreaded wasps. They had spotted a tiny opening in our soffit and decided to set up home there. On the plus side, they didn’t seem to be aggressive in nature and mainly kept themselves to themselves as we sat watching them lining up in hovering formation entering the nest. However, as autumn arrived, they started to go a bit off piste, as wasps tend to at that time of year and developed a liking for lights – any lights would draw their fascination: garden lights, solar lights, bedroom lights, bathroom lights – you name, they loved a light and popping in through an open window for a peek around was an added bonus for them! As November arrived, we desperately wondered if they would ever diminish – they finally did in time for Christmas.
Following on from the wasps, the next piece of wildlife to challenge us was a mole. We awoke one morning to find an unexpected and rather large mound of earth in the middle of our back lawn – it definitely hadn’t been there yesterday! We were incredulous that it could be a mole, but closer inspection of flower beds and other grassy areas revealed that the little creature had been hard at work digging a labyrinth of tunnels under our garden. As more and more molehills appeared, we reluctantly decided to invest in a trap.
We diligently followed all the advice available online about how to trap moles, but to absolutely no avail. We tried different kinds of traps, we tried multiple traps, we moved the traps, we didn’t move the traps, we covered the traps with pots, we didn’t cover the traps. The battle raged on and on, all the time the mole must have been laughing himself silly, watching us in our attempts at catching him – he somehow managed to trigger the traps, giving us false hope and not getting caught in the process! One of our former mice visitors even rolled up one day, to sit and patiently watch us setting a mole trap for the hundredth time! Eventually, we did manage to finally catch the mole and did our best to fill in his handiwork, but still we live in dread of seeing another mound appearing on the grass.
Next along was Fearless Fred. As above, we’d invested in a fat ball feeder for the garden birds – we had in mind maybe sparrows, robins, blue tits, great tits. We didn’t really picture a marauding flock of starlings descending on the fat balls, scaring away all other birds within a 10 metre radius and devouring the said fat balls in 5 minutes flat. Thus, a new battle began.
The first strategy was to run out, clapping our hands and shooing off the starlings – but they were undeterred and quickly learnt we were no threat whatsoever to them and couldn’t even be bothered to fly off when we approached.
Next, we hit on the idea of a soft foam ball that we could throw across the garden (not at the birds I hasten to add) but to try to give them a little scare – not a bit of it – they quite enjoyed the game and continued on their quest to eat us out of house and fat balls.
Resolutely, my husband decided that he would roll out the big guns. He constructed a wire cage that he attached around the fat ball feeder. The idea was that the smaller birds would be able to get through the holes in the wire but the starlings wouldn’t. Well guess what, yep the starlings could and they were bolder than the other birds and cheerfully made their way through the netting curtain onto the fat balls.
Determinedly, my husband researched how big starlings were compared to say sparrows and identified the difference of a cm or so. He then wrapped another layer of netting around, offset against the first one, in order to make the holes in it smaller.
This was more successful in that it seemed to deter some of the starlings. However, there was one starling, who was slightly younger and slightly smaller than the rest and who was extremely brave. He managed to squeeze himself in through the tightest of holes and get to the fat balls, only to then squeeze himself back out again – we nicknamed him Fearless Fred. My husband refused to give up with the battle of Fearless Fred and eventually he managed to get the offset of the netting holes just about right to prevent him from entering – although he did still on occasions squeeze himself in. Who knows, maybe he finally grew just a bit bigger and that was that, but eventually we kind of won that one, although I’m sure battle will commence once more with the arrival of Spring.
The upshot of all this is that we’ve learned quite a lot about how to manage the wildlife factor so that we co-exist more harmoniously and it’s not all been a challenge by far.
We’ve enjoyed watching the garden birds, especially rarer visitors like wrens, long tailed tits and green finches. We’ve befriended the pair of blackbirds that call our garden home and they’ve learnt we’re a push over for a crumb or several and come up tweeting at us when we’re sat outside, or even at the bedroom window if they feel it’s time for their breakfast.
Then there’s been the hedgehogs – we’ve been blessed to see several of these little creatures gracing our garden, drinking from our little pond and even bringing along their hoglets – to see them has been an utter privilege and pleasure for us. We’ve also enjoyed spotting little frogs jumping around; dragon flies, butterflies and moths gracing the air, as well as a variety of bees, including a rare shrill carder bee the other year.
So, all in all, the wildlife has been a delight to us – but it certainly has proved to be a little wilder than we’d maybe imagined!