Bishop's Garden July Update: From Moths to Wild Flowers

Blog post by Barry Madden on 15 Jul, 2021

In a new update on our Bishop's House Garden Wildlife Audit project, Volunteer Surveyor Barry Madden reveals all on the species that have been making the garden their home this summer.

It's a busy time of year for gardeners as well as garden wildlife. The spell of warm weather during late May and early June saw an explosion of invertebrate life feasting on the ample supply of nectar from wild flower margins, as well as feasting on each other.

White Ermine by Barry Madden

Robin by Barry Madden

During this period many species of insect were noted, amongst them orange tip, holly blue and both large and small white butterflies, burnet companion (a day flying moth), dock bugs and thick-legged flower beetles (a species NWT are particularly keen on recording as part of their Wildlife Spotter Survey - if you see one make sure you report it by completing the simple form).

It can be quite fascinating to simply stand and stare at a patch of wild flowers or grasses and see what is using this mini jungle. Predators and prey will be playing out their short existence as part of an intricate web of life. Every garden can make a space for these small wild creatures, perhaps by leaving an unmown strip of lawn or not tidying up the bottom of the hedge. Your reward will be the ability to explore a hitherto unnoticed micro world of wonder, as well as supplying food for hungry birds and natural predators for some of your garden 'pests'. Give it a try, you really won't be disappointed.

The county recorder, Tim Strudwick, visited the Bishop's Garden one sunny morning to undertake an audit of the bees and solitary wasps using the site. In a two-hour period, Tim discovered a quite amazing 28 species, most by simple observation of nectaring insects, a few by actively sweeping a fine, soft net through the wild flower margins. Excluding the honey bees that are very active around their hives, a total of 210 other insects were found, demonstrating how rich and diverse the garden is. A further visit is planned for later in July when this impressive total will no doubt be increased.

White Ermine by Barry Madden

White Ermine by Barry Madden

Moths get a bad press, probably because they have associations with the night and all things spooky. However, they are very important insects that have a key role in pollination, as well as proving an important food source for birds, bats and small mammals. In other parts of Europe, they are referred to as night butterflies, which is a far better way of looking at them I think. Blue Tits and Great Tits rely heavily on moth larvae to feed their young, and across the UK they consume several billion of these little green wrigglers each spring.

After a slow start with very few moths appearing, harmless trapping in the garden picked up during June. James Lowen, author of Much Ado About Mothing, visited the garden to feature in a live recording of the results of one successful overnight trapping. The recording can be viewed here and provides an enlightening and entertaining introduction into the fascinating world of our garden moths. Particular beauties we found on this occasion were white ermine and common swift, as well as light brocade and several heart & dart. We plan to continue trapping, as weather allows, throughout the summer to produce a much broader picture of the species range using this inner-city sanctum.

One of the reasons the Bishop's Garden has such a wide range of invertebrate life is down to the management regime. Sam Garland, Head Gardener, explains:

We avoid using pesticides. There really is no need to be using pesticides in most cases. If we are really worried by a bad infestation of aphids, we spray them with a soft-soap solution. Alternatively, we often find some ladybirds and move them onto the infested plant.

Sam Garland, Bishop's Garden Head Gardener

Sam also has a very simple philosophy on how to incorporate wild flowers into a garden: "We have been taking the time to get to know our weeds. Weeds sit on a scale between the downright annoying to the exquisite and remarkable. So, we have been taking the time to learn them and leave the ones we like."

Other creatures we have noticed making good use of the bountiful supply of invertebrate life in the garden are Robins, Blackbirds, Wrens, Dunnocks and, most surprisingly, Herring Gulls that utilise the lawn as an area to look for worms and anything else within beak range. Hedgehogs are using the garden and will be making inroads into slugs and snails, whilst other small mammals will prey on beetles and suchlike.

Future surveys of bats and other mammals are planned for later in the summer, when we also hope to survey spiders, hoverflies, sawflies and fungi. It really is most exciting - watch this space!

Find out more about our exciting Bishop's Garden audit project on our project page.

Barry Madden is a Volunteer Surveyor with the Bishop's House Garden project.

Header image: Flowers in Bishop's Garden by Barry Madden

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