RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Spotting variety in the garden

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I have recorded the bird population in West Dean Woods on maps for the past 40 years and one of the stalwarts is the great spotted woodpecker which I photographed feasting on a fat ball outside my kitchen window.

The red cap at the back of his head shows him to be a male. He has been drumming away on his three or four sound-posts for the past six weeks hoping to draw in a female. He did have a mate in the autumn but she suddenly became ill and died from unknown causes. I last saw her clinging to an oak trunk outside the kitchen window looking very sorry for herself.

My so-called garden is the centre of bird life in the entire 40 acres of nature reserve. In the half acre around the house I let bramble, ivy, holly, willow, dogwood and oak trees flourish and this provides secure nesting habitat for song thrush, blackbird, robin, hedge sparrow (dunnock), firecrest, goldcrest, wood pigeon, collared dove, pheasant, blue tit, great tit, marsh tit, long-tailed tit, blackcap warbler, chiffchaff, tree creeper, chaffinch, bullfinch, nuthatch, tawny owl, and very nearly buzzard.

I have in the past had spotted flycatcher, starling, green woodpecker and garden warbler rearing young in this tiny wild patch. The rarest bird I hosted was a golden oriole. When I leave you can just imagine the amount of tidying up that will go on as a result of which most of these birds will vanish. It is the same with most gardens and a total waste of wildlife resource in my opinion.

Brambles provide secure nesting sites for birds but also nectar for wild bees and butterflies, sugar for autumn migrants and finally dry seed for bullfinches and hawfinches. This shrub is a much under-rated resource for wildlife, with 90 different species found in Sussex alone.

My rough old lawn is the secret hiding place for the hare, the roe deer, and the slow worm. It grows the fly orchid and moschatel, bluebell and twayblade, falso oxlip and primrose. I daresay that too will be manicured out of existence. I have regularly 26 species of butterfly in the garden including the purple emperor. Not all breed in the garden but fly in from the coppice wood.

But many do, for instance the holly blue butterfly which requires thick ivy and holly for its existence; species which not every gardener likes to see in a tidy garden. Here, untidiness rules, and the wild flowers, birds, and butterflies are my alternative reward.