Wildlife Gardening and Photography | September

Wildlife Gardening and Photography | September

September is a time of change and a sign of what’s to come later on in the year. As autumn draws near, the colours in our gardens become muted - leaves show shades of reds and browns, and most other plants will have dried out or wilted. Summer’s warm grip begins to loosen, nights become cooler and this signals to many birds, such as warblers and swallows, that it’s time to head south. And yet, this is also the time of the great harvest with seeds, nuts and berries in full swing - feasting time for the remaining wildlife (and myself).

But for your humble wildlife gardener, this is a reflective milestone. Again, most plants will have dried out or wilted, and flowers will have been and gone. This is really a time to tidy up and plan for what lies ahead next year as well as prepare for winter. 

So, let’s get started!

Meadow - finito!

cutting a meadow with garden sheers

Any meadow or meadow section you have will most likely have gone past its best by now, so it's time to get chopping! But, before you do this, there’s one other task. Continuing the theme of constant planning and thinking ahead - before I get to choppin’ I go on the hunt for any seeds I want to collect to sow later in the year. I keep them in different bags so I know what’s what (a bag for poppy seeds, one for wild carrots etc.). Furthermore, part of being a wildlife gardener is sharing that passion with others and these little seed bags (of pots of seedlings) make a perfect little gift for friends and family - in the hope, that they catch the gardening bug, of course.

Photo of garden sheers cutting down a meadow

I start by using some sheers and chopping as low to the ground as possible. Depending on the size of your green-waste bin, you may need to do this over a few weeks or visit a local waste disposal site. If you have plant species with large seed heads like teasel, sunflowers or hazel it might be worth leaving them a bit longer as the birds will appreciate their seeds when it turns colder.

Once that’s cleared, I use a strimmer and sheer right to the ground. After months of lush meadow, it can look a bit drastic but it's important to remove as much plant material as possible. This is to avoid releasing too many nutrients back into the soil and open up the soil to sun, water and frost for the seeds to germinate later in the year.


a photo of a hibernaculum

Many of us know about and may even have hedgehog houses in our gardens - but what about the more slimy, scaley critters that want to live in our backyards? They need a home too! If you have seen signs of frogs, newts or slow worms in your garden, all three will benefit from a hibernaculum which can become a safe place over winter. You may well have an open compost bin, log pile or rockery that these species use - but if you want to boost numbers and really help them out them, a hibernaculum is what you need. 

Simply dig a hole at least 30cm deep and line with dead leaves, straw or compost and then place lots of rocks, dead wood and plant material on top making sure there are some gaps for them to creep into. It’s as simple as that!

a home made hibernaculum

I tend to put old grass toppings on top but you could use compost or dead leaves. As well as old grass cuttings, I’ll also use a reptile sheet. These are normally used to survey reptiles but make a good lid for a small hibernaculum. Mine is near the pond but doesn’t have to be and there’s no reason to limit yourself to one. As with many as[ects of wildlife gardening and as I have mentioned before - build them and they will come!

Embrace the fruit! 

A photo of a bramble bush with blackberries

September is traditionally when the harvest begins with seeds, nuts and berries out in full swing - especially blackberries (although I was getting blackberries in July this year). Brambles, or blackberry bushes, can be a bit of a bully in the garden but if kept in check, they are not only valuable to wildlife but also provide us with some free fruit!

I have a couple of bramble patches in the garden. One is behind my raised pond, strategically placed to stop the cats from getting at my fish. And another is below my buddleia, which gives nesting birds some protection. 

A photo of blackberries on a bramble bush

Now, if given a chance, brambles can take over. So, I routinely prune parts of them, pulling out shoots in areas I don’t want them. That being said, I still like to have some in my garden as they attract lots of wildlife with many insects eating the leaves, birds nest in it and of course, the fruit is a lure of all sorts of creatures!

Fun fact: A blackberry is not a single fruit - it's an aggregate composed of many individual berries. Each 'bobble' in the blackberry bears one seed and is termed a ‘drupe'.

One for sorrow, two for joy…

A magpie sitting on a branch

Frankly, this unloved bird is, in my eyes, one of the most interesting visitors to our gardens. Quite aptly name, a group of magpies is known as a “mischief” and this is possibly/probably due to their clicking call, theft of bits of bobs for their nests and gobbling up bird food that’s intended for smaller species!

When it comes to photography, however, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a decent shot out there. You’re more likely to see an image of a kingfisher, puffin or barn owl than a magpie. Perhaps this is that they’re not as glitzy or mainstream as other species but if you look closely, they’re a stunningly beautiful bird with their stark colours and iridescent feathers - and they’re common across most of the UK, so nothing is stopping you snapping a shot!

Like many garden birds, I’d suggest setting up a larger bird feeding station like a table rather than a dedicated bird feeder for these monochrome birds. A long lens is a must and although it might sound excessive and perhaps not possible for everyone, a bird hide! Magpies are very wary and will often fly away if they see a suspicious person or feel something isn’t right.


a common red ladybird on a bright yellow petal

We’ve talked ladybirds before and sure enough, these little critters are here to help yet again. Many plants are starting to die off or retreat and this means they can be susceptible to garden pests like aphids a.k.a. ladybird’s dinner.  

There are more than 40 species of ladybird in the UK, one of the most common being the 7-spot ladybird (or, Coccinella septempunctata, for the nerds like myself). They make a fantastic photographic subject with most species being bright and colourful and generally slow-moving - a good species to practice on. In the autumn many gather under bits of treebank, log piles and if you have them, bug hotels - so, it’s a great idea to get one set up if you haven’t already!


When you’re clearing, tidying and whatnot, think about clovers. This tiny plant is often ignored but this is something that needs changing. It grows an amazing flower that pops up over our lawns, pavements and forgotten parts of the garden. It has a long flowering period so even when it's getting late in the year, it will become a vital resource for many insects - in particular, bees. 

Bees absolutely love this flower and we need to do everything we can to help our buzzy friends. So, it's well worth leaving some on the lawn! In fact, I’m planning to try and add more of it to my lawn to add some more colour and nectar for the bees!

And hey - you might even find a lucky four-leaf clover?!

The Common Toad

a shallow depth of field photo of a small common toad

With most of the adult toads having left the ponds months ago you should now be seeing the last of the toadlets leaving the pond and wandering the garden. On a wet night, the lawn can be covered with these tiny amphibians, exploring a world full of strange sounds and smells. Sadly, most won’t make it. But the ones that do will hide under rocks and logs, ready for next year.

These amphibians can live up to 50 years (crazy, right?) and are very specific on where they breed, often returning to the same pond each spring to spawn. Adult toads can be difficult to find during the day so worth looking around and under plant pots or any rubble in the garden where they might be hiding. The toadlets can be seen during the day, but if you fancy taking a photograph, you’ll need a long macro lens as they are tiny. 

A close up photo of a toad with a bright orange eye


It may seem like a recurring theme - and that’s because it is - September is a busy time for the garden. You need to be smart and move your leafed chess pieces around to get them ready for the oncoming winter and spring. 

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