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A wild year at Highdown

Highdown Gardens - CharlotteHi, I’m Charlotte and I’ve worked at Highdown Gardens for a couple of years now.

One of the most enjoyable parts of working here is the wildlife I’ve seen during this time! Every day I’ll have a robin or two following me as I work, spotting grubs in the disturbed ground.

Early last year we were closed to the public due to renovation work which gave the plants and animals some breathing space.

There were pheasants running all over the garden in packs of five or six, I’d not seen so many together before! Interestingly, the collective noun for pheasants is a bouquet , a covey or a nide. They can be troublesome in gardens, scraping the ground and digging up plants to find food. At Highdown they tucked into a large number of our newly planted crocus bulbs, what a feast!

Pheasant (Pexels - nestor-montagu - 6572914)

Woodpeckers can often be heard hammering away and even seen far up in the trees. Last year a hole appeared in the Acer davidii near the visitor centre, about five foot up the trunk. This was quite puzzling until we saw a woodpecker pair coming and going. Not wanting to scare them away, we gave them plenty of space and were soon rewarded with hearing the chicks chirping away! The hole to the empty nest remains so see if you can find it on your next visit.

Great spotted woodpecker (Pixabay - 6552939)

Not just birds, we’ve got mammals too. One morning I came into sight of a fox and three cubs playing in the sensory garden. This garden’s an ideal place for them as there are plenty of rabbits about. Obviously rabbits are a gardener’s nightmare, which is why you’ll see certain plants surrounded by a low chicken-wire barrier to deter rabbits from eating them. Despite this I love to see their little cute tails hopping about.

Fox (Pixabay - 5042210)

One time I was weeding through the borders and noticed a tiny hole next to me and saw rustling in the leaves nearby. A minute later a little furry blur ran out and then, changing his mind when he saw me, quickly retreated back into the foliage. I kept really still and the creature tried a few more times, each time coming a little bit closer to me and I saw it was a vole. Eventually he got the courage to and ran out all the way and scampered straight down the hole next to my boot.

We have smaller critters of note in the garden. Everyone is curious about the Euonymus grandiflorus in spring time when it gets completely covered in the web of the spindle moth caterpillars, from which caterpillars hang dangling in the air from long threads. The photo below shows them pupating in webs near the trunk before they become tiny white moths with black dots.

The web of the spindle moth caterpillars

One thing I’d never seen before coming to Highdown are stag beetles, of which I’ve now seen a couple over the summer. They like living in leaf litter, dead wood and shady spaces. I think the picture may be a lesser stag beetle as it doesn’t have the large jaws.

Lesser stag beetle

Why not come, look and listen for wildlife at Highdown? Just remember to be respectful of creatures in their habitat, not disturbing just quietly observing.