Unless the weather is particularly harsh, reduce feeding as nesting begins. Hard bread and peanuts are harmful to newly hatched birds, so restrict food supplies to soft fat or grated cheese. Reducing the amount of food supplied will encourage the adults to start feeding on the emerging insects. However, if the ground is frozen, keep up the feeding until the bad weather passes.
Dividing marginal pond and wetland plants
In established ponds, marginal species can outgrow their space in the shallow water around the edge and need to be renewed by division. Spring is the best time to do this, just as the plants are starting their growth.
Dividing clump forming plants – This method applies to marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) and most other moisture loving perennials. Marginal plants that grow in clumps or mounds can be broken up simply with a hand fork. Lift the plant out of the soil or water and using the fork, prise away small clumps from the outside of the main clump. Choose young, healthy looking parts of the plant and discard the interior which may have become exhausted. Replant the new pieces immediately into other parts of the pond. If not needed immediately, they can be grown on in pots of wet compost.
Divide creeping plants – This method applies to flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus), bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliata), bog arum (Calla palustris), water mint (mentha aquatica) and lesser celandine (ranunculus ficaria). The roots of these plants have a scrambling habit and can be increased by dividing the horizontal rootstock into sections. Remove the plant from the water and cut the rootstock into short sections. Each should have a healthy bud or young shoot and preferably a trace of roots attached. On flowering rush, look for a small bulb like formation (the bulbil) at the point where the leaves meet the hard, woody rootstock. Make sure each section includes a bulbil. Plant these sections in trays of wet compost until they root and form healthy young plants.
Clipping flowering heather and lavender
The dead flowerheads of the summer flowering heather (calluna vulgaris) and scented lavender (lavendula) can be clipped now to make way for new growth. Use a pair of garden shears and trim off the straggly dry stems, taking care not to cut into the woody parts. Both plants are valuable for bees, while heather also attracts a range of other insects and provides good cover for birds, insects and reptiles.
Cutting the new flowering meadow
New wildflower lawns or meadows, sown the previous autumn, should have their first cut when the grass reaches a height of 10 cm (4”). This is only applicable to lawns sown with a standard grass and perennial flower mixture and not those containing annual flowers which are cut in late summer.
Before mowing, roll the lawn lightly to make sure the seedlings are securely bedded in the soil. Use a heavy duty rotary mower or motor scythe and cut at a height of 5-8 cm (2-3”). (These machines can be hired by the day). A sharp hand scythe also cuts the grass efficiently but should only be handled by people trained in its use. Leave the cuttings in place for a day or two to allow any creatures to crawl back into the meadow, then rake off and add to the compost heap.
Introducing frogs and toads
If the pond has no amphibians, it is possible to import frog, toad or newt spawn from other ponds. This is the only way to increase the population as it is inadvisable to move tadpoles and quite cruel to move adults from their home pond. Take a bucketful of water, pond weed and spawn from a neighbouring pond. It is best to take more than you need as some batches of spawn will not survive the change of water temperature.