A strange question you may think.
Are wildlife gardeners (I'm specifically-talking about Brits who create wildlife habitats in their back gardens) actually very often HARMING this wildlife?
And do they (the "wildlife gardeners") actually, deep down, look to attract wildlife into their gardens for the sake of the wildlife, or for their own sake?
I asked this question on an internet wildlife forum many, many moons ago (before I became seriously disillusioned with it for a number of reasons - and before it folded) and only one "wildlife lover" of hundreds on the website, was prepared to be introspective enough to even consider such a terrible accusation.
I asked then and I ask again now because, if I'm truly honest, yes... I love watching wildlife - I'm endlessly fascinated with it - and even though I've stopped feeding ANY birds in the garden myself, apart from Fieldfares and jays in the winter, I honestly think I possibly (or regularly) do so for reasons that are more selfish than is obvious at first glance.
You see... I take a great deal of pleasure from attracting jays and fieldfares into the garden. The key words there are "I" and "pleasure".
Likewise, I take pleasure from watching the antics of solitary bees in the bee hotels I've bolted to our huge, framed compost heap.
And I take a great deal of pleasure from watching the life cycle of all our frogs in the small pond that I dug into the back garden.
And I LOVE to get photos of these things. Award-winning photos in some cases. (You know which photos I'm talking about I'm sure).
But this really is all about me still, isn't it?
You see, the jays would be fine I'm sure, without me putting out monkey nuts in my self-designed, squirrel-proof jay feeder. They probably become dependant on my monkey nuts and I have had five jays before, tearing strips off each other at one time, in a frantic bid to get all the scran. If I REALLY cared about their long term wellbeing, I'd probably do better to plant an oak tree on the edge of woodland every year. But no - I've not planted one oak tree on the edge of a local woodland (even if I have planted one in our back garden - for the jays of course), let alone one each year. I just force-feed them TESCO monkey nuts all winter and create quite probably a very stressful area of the countryside for them, in a particularly unnatural location with an unnaturally high number of jays in this one, tiny area.
Ditto with the fieldfares. I had thirty or forty in the garden when the "Beast from the East" hit in March this year. Although, I suppose I can console myself somewhat with the fieldfares that they (unlike jays) are known for flocking and being arsey with each other when snow covers their worming fields.
What about the bee hotels? Surely I'm HELPING bees by putting bee hotels up.
Once again, I am creating a HIGHLY unnatural environment for these delightful bees (red mason bees and my favourites, blue mason bees and leafcutters) to breed in. Dozens and dozens of solitary bees become almost social in my bee hotels. I say solitary bees, but a better way to describe them would be "non social". Non-social bees are not meant to nest and breed in great groups of dozens and dozens.
What happens in my bee hotels often is that the red masons emerge and breed first, brick up the nest holes with mud, which is torn apart, often by the leafcutters which emerge in the same hotel later in the year, in order to take the mason bees' holes for themselves.
Then there are the parasites which are attracted en masse to my bee hotels. The beautiful ruby tailed wasps and less-than-beautiful ichneumons. All wanting a piece of my gargantuan platter of bee eggs and or eventual young.
Finally, (regarding the bee hotels still), non-social bees are not generally used to (or designed to if you like) nest and breed in permanent spaces. Generally speaking, these bees will nest in very temporary structures such as dying or dead, hollow branches or stems of plants. Those nests might survive one winter, but generally not more than one. So there will be very little chance of the nesting spot being soaked each winter and overrun with example, bee-killing fungi. But my bee hotels are almost certainly covered in fungus and spores after years of being bolted to my framed compost heap each winter.
The best thing to do for non-social bees, if I REALLY wanted to help them, rather than satisfy my own craving for lots of nice wildlife in my garden, would be to design and build a bee hotel that I could take apart each winter, stow the young bees in a suitable container in the dry (with their pollen stores) ready to emerge after winter, wash and disinfect and dry the disassembled bee hotel and put back up, EMPTY the following spring.
Do I do that?
But I really should you know. And so should YOU. If you really want to impress on anyone (especially me) that it's the wildlife you care about, really.
What of the frogs?
I CAN'T be harming them, can I?
I am very proud of my pond (our boy loves it too), which I fill with rainwater and keep as natural (we'll come back to that) as possible. As well as newts and damselflies, I have about a hundred or so frogs that come back to my pond each February now.
And most of them have ranid herpesvirus.
You see, there's NOTHING natural about a PERMANENT pond.
Nothing at all.
Ponds, other than garden ponds, almost by definition, are in no way, shape or form.... permanent.
And I strongly suspect that I have facilitated the spread of ranid herpesvirus through the local population of frogs with the "rampant success" of my pond.
I'm not as bad as some Disneyfied Brits who would first call themselves as "wildlife lovers", but actually really are killing the wildlife that they attract to their garden to "help them" by....
1 - Creating very unnatural, permanent bird feeding areas with multiple, static feeders in small spaces. Feeders which they never clean properly nor move regularly (or at all) and so act as breeding grounds and vectors for fatal diseases such as Trich. Not to mention the very unnatural and highly-stressful overpopulation of birds in a tiny, permanent area. Near cats. MUCH nearer cats, probably.
2 - Feeding "their" nightly hedgehog a saucer of milk and bread or eggs or all manner or human foodstuff or even worse, mealworms. No... mealworms KILL hedgehogs. (They really do you know... google "mealworms, phosphorus, hedgehogs and metabolic bone disease"if you don't believe me).
3 - Filling their unnatural (see above) garden ponds with tap water and non-native pond plants - no good for our native plants or our native, temporary fresh (not chlorinated tap) water pond dwellers.
Look, grapple fans. I'm not having a crisis here. Don't worry. I may be a little more scientific in my trains of thought than many British "wildlife lovers" and certainly FAR less "Disneyfied". I KNOW I treat wild animals as just that - wild (not pets and not domesticated) animals (not anthropomorphised animals with uniquely human feelings and sometimes even names) - and I KNOW I've been of some real assistance to some wild animals in the past - animals that I have provided shelter/food/habitat/protection for. At the top of that list would be swifts and stag beetles at our current home, along with some jays, red-belted clearwing moths, pipistrelle bats and yeah... all things considered, everything that uses our pond - including frogs.
(Here's the but)…
I'm also very mindful that if I (or YOU) DO take steps to attract wildlife to your garden (be that hedgehogs, foxes (WHY???!!!), squirrels (WWWHHHHHYYYY????!!!!), bees, birds, beetles or bats)… then it is your RESPONSIBILITY to educate yourself to understand what REALLY is in the wildlife's best interest.
And what really IS NOT.
No matter how much it might APPEAR to be.
You could start, you know, by admitting, just a little bit, that your wildlife garden is set up as much for YOU as for the wildlife.
That bird feeder near the window. So you can see it better. You know. From your breakfast table.
The pond that you make FAR more aesthetically-pleasing by removing all that long grass from around its edges.
Those nice pink flowers that seem to flower all year, and the bees love - but have somewhat taken over the bed a little.
That bird box on the garage wall. With the camera in it. Which is infra red. At night. (Think about it....)
Keep trying to help wildlife.
But please also do so with a great big wheelbarrow of sensible, pragmatic, educated responsibility beside you, eh?
And do, please please PLEASE....
LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS.