Wildlife Gardening and Photography for July

Wildlife Gardening and Photography for July

July can be a scorcher - temperatures often suddenly rise to the extremes. Because of this, we need to take action to avoid the heat drastically affecting the plants growing in our gardens and the animals living there. Sun-seeking species will be in their element this month. If you are lucky enough to have reptiles, you may see them soaking up the rays. Insects will be enjoying the warm, long days, buzzing with glee around the now fully on display flower borders.

Gardening is never really finished - as one task ends, the next begins - we keep our gardens on track for what the next month brings. But it’s important to take a moment to appreciate the little things - especially at this time of the year. Take that moment to sit back and enjoy the long, warm and light July evenings with your drink of choice and watch the world go by - flowers swaying in the light wind, swifts above and bees collecting the last nectar before night falls. That scenario is probably why this is my favourite time of the year in my garden - it most definitely makes all those soggy and cold days preparing in the winter worthwhile!


What to do this month

water butt
 

Ensure that water is conserved and used wisely

When July’s warm spells arrive, water can become a valuable commodity. Last month we talked about how important it is to put out water for birds and mammals to drink - but when temperatures rise, many plants require varying levels of water. Some, such as your veg will need almost double the usual. Others are very drought-tolerant such as sedums, lavender and echeveria. Species like these can be a good choice if you live in an area of low rainfall or have no access to a water butt. 

Speaking of water butts - if you want to succeed as a wildlife gardener, I’d highly recommend purchasing one (if not two!). Not only is the water-free, but the water collected also doesn’t have all the chlorine and nutrients in our tap water and is much better for topping up low ponds and watering sensitive plants. Also, they are easier to install and maintain than you’d think - I keep mine covered to avoid evaporation and stop local mosquitoes from getting in.

dripping water

If the forecast suggests a long period of dry weather, be sparing with the collected rainwater and prioritise the plants that need more such as vegetables, seedlings and newly sowed plants. 

Don't be afraid to embrace the undesirables

You know you do it. We all do. We tend to pick the more flamboyant, colourful plant species for our backyards. But, more often than not it is the less showy plants that bring the most benefit to our wildlife gardens - yup, the ones we consider weeds. 

One of the unsung heroes in my garden is ivy. Ivy can be surprisingly beneficial for wildlife as they flower in late autumn - providing a last meal for many pollinators - and bore berries in winter that provide much-needed nutrition for various animals. 

ivy patch



I have a few patches scattered around the garden including one over my raised pond and another on the side of my coal house which turns an otherwise blank space into a green wall! Despite what most people think, ivy causes no damage to buildings unless there are existing defects and in any case, you can prevent damage from wall-bound ivy with careful pruning. 

In fact, a study by Oxford University showed that ivy can benefit buildings! It can buffer extreme temperatures and humidity as well as reduce damage caused by frost. Ivy was also shown to be an effective trap of fine airborne particulates and reduce the amount of plant pollen reaching the walls. However, covering yourself in ivy will probably not help your hayfever…


ivy pond
ivy wall

Y’know what else most gardeners often loathe? Nettles. Now, I’ll admit I only have a small patch and I manage it from spreading too much. However, even a small rough patch in your garden can do wonders for wildlife. Nettles support over 40 species of insects including Red Admiral, Comma and Peacock butterflies that lay their eggs on the nettles (conveniently keeping them away from the veg patch). Their flowers also provide nectar for insects and birds eat their seeds later in the year.

nettles




Moth Traps 

moth 1

 

Many of us are unaware of what goes on in the garden at night but there’s a whole cast of characters that take centre stage. Moths make up a huge portion - there are almost 3,000 species that live in Britain alone!

If you’re like me, there have been times when you’ve left the kitchen window open late at night with the light on and as the phrase goes - like a moth to a flame (the light is the flame here) - moths of all shapes and sizes find their way in! But there are other ways to intentionally catch and observe moths - a moth trap!

There are a few different ones but I tend to use the skinner trap. It’s essentially a box packed with egg boxes and a black light. Pop this outside and run it all night - the moths fly in and get caught until you open it up in the morning. It's harmless to the moths and allows you to see all sorts of moths including some really big and beautiful ones like Jersey Tigers, Elephant Hawk moths and hundreds of micro-moths. It's best to pick a warm dry night as you don’t want rain on the electrics or bulb. And, if you are in a built-up area maybe warn the neighbours as it can be quite bright!

It’s here where you can make use of your macro lens to capture the incredible detail on their wings. You’ll often get beetles and other mini beasts in there too - which, of course, you should photograph as well.


moth 2




Fox

One species that has fully established itself in urban areas and gardens is the fox. London, Bristol and Manchester all boast great numbers of urban foxes but they’re found in pretty much all urban areas of the UK now. 

fox


This time of year, fox cubs are venturing away from home and starting to feed themselves. This can be a great time to snap some photographs of them in the garden or simply just get a glimpse if you haven’t seen one before. 

The best time to observe them is at dusk and dawn. You can try and attract them but putting out food, but bear in mind that any local cats may get to it first - in which case, peanuts or berries are also a great fox snack that cats won’t eat.

To get the best shots, you’ll want a long lens with a big aperture to gather as much light as possible. Fortunately, if you’re consistent, foxes can become quite used to your presence and if you’re one of those lucky ones, this will allow you to try other photographic techniques and lenses.  


Viper's-bugloss

blue flower

We should be encouraging bees into our gardens as much as we can - among other things, they play a vital role in the pollination of plants and crops. Now, a stunningly beautiful flower that is also a  fan-favourite among bees is the Viper's-bugloss. It has a long stem and grows dozens of small blue flowers that bees absolutely love (as well as Painted Lady butterflies). 

Fun fact - this plant was once thought to be an anti-venom for snake bites! But it doesn’t actually hold any properties and somewhat ironically, can irritate our skin if touched! 

The Viper's-bugloss prefers chalky soil and can handle dry weather well. If planted from seed they won’t flower in the first year, so it’s best to sow them in the autumn. Alternatively, you could buy a plug that will be ready to flower and only needs to be planted in your garden. 

This is definitely a species to document with your macro lens. Set up your tripod and wait for pollinators to arrive. Once they do, you’ll be able to capture some amazingly detailed shots that are rich with colour and contrast.


Hummingbird Hawk-Moth

A sought-after species amongst insect enthusiasts - and one that won’t be attracted by your moth trap - is the Hummingbird Hawk-moth. This fascinating species is a day-flying moth that flutters around perhaps unsurprisingly, like a hummingbird.

They aren’t common in gardens but do turn up from time to time, especially if you have buddleia, honeysuckle or lavender. While they can breed in the UK, most migrate from southern Europe, moving up in the warmer months.

If you’re lucky enough to come across one, you’ll want to snap a photo! Be quick though - leave it a second longer and they’ll disappear. A long lens and a fast shutter speed are essential for an effective shot. 

hawk moth




Bats

Bats! Pipistrelles, Serotines, Noctules, Natterer's bat and 14 other species live in the UK. Many of which will venture into gardens at night to feed - flying overhead to get a meal of midges, small moths, crane flies and other insects. Bats are elusive creatures and are often difficult to see (especially in built-up areas) but you can help them by putting up bat boxes. The best place for these is above the second floor of your house. 

In terms of bat photography - this is a difficult one without a specialised setup. If you’re going to see them, it’ll most likely be at dusk. But most bats wait for the cover of darkness by which point, it’ll be too dark for most cameras. So, my best advice for these is - give it a go but if it doesn’t work out, at least you got to see them!

bat



Conclusion

A garden at this time in the year never sleeps and it’s a great time to reap the rewards of all the hard work leading up to this point. It also allows you to reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t. If you started your wildlife garden in autumn, you’ll be able to see what has taken and whether you need to adapt for next season. 

July is arguably when our gardens will look the most vivid thanks to all the flowers and insects. So, take the time to enjoy what you’ve accomplished, be it the mini marvels in the plants or the sight of a fox snooping through your garden. Life is bursting in our backyards. 

Jack Perks

Jack Perks is a freelance underwater and wildlife cameraman, based in Nottinghamshire. He has written two books on freshwater wildlife, and has worked for multiple wildlife and angling tv programmes, including Springwatch, The One Show, Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing and The Great British Year. He has also presented films for Countryfile. jackperksphotography.com