In the night garden

Bat detecting (Image: Emma Robertshaw)

Enjoy the twilight zone and a close encounter with night-time wildlife!

This summer we celebrate the twilight world in our backyards

As sunset gives way to twilight, dusk and then night, our gardens become hunting and feeding grounds for the shy, secretive and specialised.  Nocturnal wildlife comes armed with swashbuckling skills or simply a nose for danger and opportunism.  Humans need to be equally ingenious to create a stage for this nightlife and also to see the performance.  Enjoying our gardens after dark brings different senses into play - this monochrome world can hold hidden pleasures in delicious fragrances and the anticipation of seeing unusual creatures.

This summer we celebrate the twilit world in our backyards.  First, create the right backdrop.  Then wrap up, sit still and wait... or take part, reach for a torch and go looking.

Here are some top tips for making the most of your garden at night:

Create the theatre

Read how Emma Robertshaw encountered amazing moths bearing lyrical names evocative of another era

Set out to attract prey!  If you have moths and other insects you’ll attract bats; if you have small mammals then owls may visit...

First dig your pond – always a must for attracting wildlife and this is no less true of nocturnal than day time species.  The insects it encourages will provide the lure you need for bats and other animals.  There’s the added bonus of amphibians which can be spotted at night.

Plant night-scented flowers which you can enjoy and moths can benefit from too.  Evening primrose, tobacco plant and honeysuckle are often regarded as the best.  They have long, tubular flowers that moths with long tongues can reach into to sip up nectar.  

Read about Emma Robertshaw's encounter with amazing moths bearing lyrical names evocative of another era here.  Check out the mixture of moths you can look out for in our guide to top summer garden moths for beginners.

 

Pale flowers are easier for insects to see once the sun has set and so will attract night-time insects.  These insects will, in turn, attract bats.

Native trees and hedging are also important for moths; long grass, wildflowers or single flowers are all good for insects and, therefore, bats.

Wildlife friendly gardening helps both day and night wildlife – providing cover from predators by planting shrubs and bushes will attract small mammals.  Read Steve Ashton's fantastic tips for planting a bat border here.

If you live in the countryside and have large old trees you may be lucky enough to attract tawny owls – leave rotten trees or those with holes standing; consider putting up an owl box.

Put up several bat boxes in different positions to provide roosting places for these fascinating creatures.  If you’ve got the opportunity to include ‘bat bricks’ in a new build or renovation build – these provide great roosting sites for bats.

Put some food out, if you do this regularly then mammals including hedgehogs, foxes and badgers will get used to the food source (if they are in the area) and begin to visit your garden – be careful though, these are wild creatures and should not start to depend on your food supply.  Food enjoyed by these larger mammals include cat and dog food.

Avoid installing an outdoor automatic security light – sudden bright lights scare animals away; however they get used to low level lighting, so watch from a low lit room inside.

Small mammals enjoy wild bird seed and peanuts so you could try laying these out at ground level, however they will need protection from cats – so creating some sort of enclosure where they are out of the reach of predators will help encourage them in.

Audience participation

Experiment with different styles of moth trap and be amazed at the hidden beauties that shelter in your garden.  Then release them into the night... you don’t need fancy equipment, just a white sheet and a torch – moths will be attracted in as you shine the light onto the sheet ready for you to identify (just make sure other lights are turned off nearby).

See our downloads: How to watch moths on a sheet and How to attract moths to a wine rope and become a night-time moth detective.  For the more adventurous, have a try at luring in moths with sweet, sugary smelling syrup.  Emma Websdale offers her short film and step-by-step guide on making a wine rope moth trap.

Invest in a bat detector – there are some cheap ones out there. Consult the Bat Conservation Trust guide here.

Set up a camera trap!  Cameras equipped with infrared triggers, called camera traps, are a great way to see who’s prowling around your garden at night.  

Take inspiration from this footage of the badgers in Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s Darwin garden here.

Children can make their own guides on our Wildlife Watch website. Here's an After Dark spotter guide for youngsters.   

Creating a wildlife garden

Gardens can provide vital refuges and valuable havens for wildlife, and we can all nurture nature.  Creating a more wildlife-friendly garden isn’t difficult. More than 80% of UK households have access to a garden and, no matter how tiny, any garden can be made to support some wildlife.

Visit our wildlife gardening pages, and be inspired by our 'How to get started' factsheets – they cover everything from creating a miniature meadow and creature features, to making birdboxes and butterfly gardening.  There's expert wildlife gardening advice, community projects, gardens to visit and events too.

In the meantime, here are six suggestions of simple things you can do:

  1. Please the pollinators! Plants such as viper’s bugloss, comfrey and bird’s foot trefoil are beloved by bees.
  2. Say goodbye to slug pellets, and say hello to garden-friendly hedgehogs, frogs and birds that will eat slugs and snails for you. An area of long grasses and a pile of logs will give your new friends a refuge too.
  3. Install a bird box or a bat box. Or better still, both!
  4. Create a pond to make your own mini-wetland: quite apart from the creatures that may come to live in it, others may find it to feed, drink, bathe and breed.
  5. Add wildflowers for wildlife: scatter native wildflower seeds for an easy burst of colour and a great way to attract new species to your garden.
  6. Start a compost heap. Compost is good for your garden, reduces landfill and makes it easy to dispose of your kitchen and garden waste. But a compost heap will also attract worms, insects, birds and other insect and slug predators such as hedgehogs. You might even find a common newt sheltering there.