In the night garden: enjoy the twilight zone

Friday 11th July 2014

Enter the night garden cpt Jack Perks (images on this page: Jack Perks) Tawny owls cpt Wildstock

As sunset gives way to twilight, dusk and then night, our gardens become hunting and feeding grounds for the shy, secretive and specialised

Grab a torch, stay up late and explore the mysteries of the night time - it's a pretty exciting world to discover as it gets cooler. All manner of animals go on the prowl from beetles to badgers - the night time is the right time!

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.

The Wildlife Trusts’ Garden Wildlife Weekend (12–13 July 2014) celebrates the twilit world in our backyards this summer.  

First, create the right backdrop.  Then wrap up, sit still and wait... or take part, reach for a torch and go looking.

Naturalist and broadcaster Nick Baker, also Vice President of The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“I bet you don't know your garden as well as you think.  Grab a torch and stay up late and explore the mysteries of the night time - it's a pretty exciting world to discover, as it gets cooler, all manner of animals go on the prowl from beetles to badgers - the night time is the right time!

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

Create the theatre

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 nectar.

Pale flowers shine 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.

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 the opportunity 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.

Nick Baker adds:

"How well do you think you know your own garden?  It's the summer time so it gets dark late.  How about getting special permission (it's not a school night after all) to stay up after dark and go exploring, you'll be really surprised at what you'll find: maybe a Hedgehog on the lawn, several different kinds of snail on the prowl, hungry ground beetles and stunningly beautiful moths sipping nectar from the flowers.

"Have a peer in the pond, it's the best time to see into the depths to find what is lurking, but be careful where you tread; summer time is froglet time - don't forget to share with us your adventures and tell us the stories of what you got up to."

Audience participation

Experiment with different styles of moth trap and be amazed at the hidden beauties that shelter in your garden.  Once marvelled at they can be released 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 check out the top summer garden moths to attrct to your garden here.

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 a kids’ After Dark spotter guide.

See our website for tips on creating a bat border, footage of one family testing out a home-made moth trap plus guest blog from Emma Robertshaw.

Tagged with: Wildlife gardening