Today is the first day of the '30 Days Wild' challenge. Created by The Wildlife Trusts, this annual event challenges people to do something wild every day in June, inspiring and increasing our connection to nature.
When I signed up last month I knew there was a complication: my dog was due a major knee operation at the end of May, requiring strict rest and constant supervision. At the very time of year we're itching to be out in the woods and wild places, we're housebound.
In the early evening yesterday I carried the dog up the steps into the garden and wondered how I was going to participate meaningfully in 30 Random Acts of Wildness. Standing still while I waited for her to do the necessary, I noticed a remarkable diversity of bees around me. I've planted my garden to be as wildlife-friendly as possible, but perhaps I had never stared so hard before. (Perhaps the early effects of solitary confinement). Bees of all different sizes and colouring, favouring different flowers. And it occurred to me that if I couldn't go out into the wild, instead I could become better acquainted with the nature in my own back yard. So for this year's 30 Days Wild challenge, I pledge to spend a few minutes every day recording the wildlife visiting and living in my garden. The next four weeks are captured below.
My garden is 4.5m wide by 15m long. When I moved in four years ago, a third of it was filled with scrubby grass and dandelions, another third with straggly saplings (about 200, honestly, of sycamore, beech and hazel, all ranging from a few inches to 1.5m tall) and weeds over buried rubble, and a third set to cracked and wonky hard standing. The only flower was a struggling leggy dianthus.
Without the time or cash for re-landscaping, I decided to work over the top of what was already there. Over a couple of years I scarified the lawn and cut out the weeds, pulled out the saplings, dug a small 1.5 x 0.75m pond out of the rubble, put in a raised nursery bed over the rest of the rubble, and covered the hard standing with a small shed and greenhouse. Then I dug out areas for plenty of planting, leaving a lawn of approx 2.5 x 3.5m. It breaks the rules of garden design - tiny lawn, a garden crammed with everything but the kitchen sink - but I work and propagate plants and test theories here, and the wildlife loves it.
It didn't take long for the wild things to notice. Two weeks after cutting a hole in the back fence, a hedgehog arrived and took up residence for the best part of a year. Starlings and blackbirds started to feed on the lawn. Frogs arrived, and bees started to wander in to take a look.
By this year, my fourth Summer, my small patch of South Bristol is teeming with life. More hoverflies than I've ever seen before, and butterflies, moths, bees, all sorts of flies, beetles, spiders, centipedes and huge fat earthworms. There are blackbirds, starlings, wagtails, blue tits, gold finches, gold crests, magpies and pigeons. Seven different frogs spawned in February, and sometimes I see a bat.
The absolute highlight came for me in August, some weeks after 30 Days Wild had ended. Sitting on the steps up to the garden with a mug of tea, I spotted something fat-bodied with astonishingly fast wings nosing around a lavender plant. I got up to have a look, and saw the unmistakeable markings of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. It stayed for a moment and flew away. It was a lovely feeling, an affirmation that all you have to do is make the place, and they will come. Gardens as sanctuaries have never been more important.
Last 2 days
I thought I knew the wildlife in my garden, and I sort of did, but only as something I noticed in passing that would delight me for a moment before hurrying on to the next garden task. Taking part in 30 Days Wild has taught me a completely different way of looking at things. It taught me to be still, and to wait and listen and smell the air and watch. Not for anything in particular, but just to see what happened. In that stillness, whenever I waited, after only a short time I would see something unexpected - wildness all around me, everywhere, if only I took the time to notice. A month of being housebound became a gift, thanks to 30 Random Acts of Wildness.