Chris Packham and a team of wildlife experts follow five suburban gardens over a year, uncovering hidden wildlife dramas, and a vast cast of creatures battling for survival.
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The British back garden -
a familiar place we too often take for granted...
..because underneath the peonies and petunias
lies a wild, hidden world...
A vast cast of creatures battling for survival
in a miniature Serengeti.
To reveal this drama on your doorstep, we're going to follow
five gardens in an ordinary suburban street for an entire year.
With the help of some of Britain's top scientists and wildlife experts,
we'll find out how many different species live here...
-Yes, it is.
-It's a cub!
-Yes, it is.
Tiny little tail.
..and answer key questions about how these creatures survive and thrive
through all four seasons.
We'll find out how much birds rely on our feeders...
..how snails navigate their way around the garden...
..and how bees find the right flowers to pollinate.
You may never look at your garden in the same way again.
We're going to try and answer a fundamental question -
just how many creatures can live in your back yard?
Just how good is the great British garden when it comes to wildlife?
The residents of this street are about to embark
upon a unique experiment.
You see, never before will a series of back gardens be so intensively
studied over the course of an entire year.
In truth, you know, we probably know more about the ecology of
tropical rainforests than we do our own back yards.
So, I'm going to be very interested to see what we find out.
I just hope the residents know what they've let themselves in for.
-Hello, how are you, all right?
OK, thank you.
'Like many residents of Welwyn Garden City,
'Jen and Bruce are keen gardeners.'
It's quite a smart garden.
A smarter garden than mine, I've got to tell you.
-Yeah. And lots of blooms.
-Lots of flowers.
-Yeah, flowers are my department.
-Oh, are they?
Each garden reflects their owners in different ways.
Jen and Bruce's garden is filled with large grasses and flowers
that dieback in winter.
Just down the road,
Karlis and Rasma have a less manicured garden
with wilder sections, fruit trees and lots of blossom.
The Wadley family have a low-maintenance, kid-friendly garden
with a large lawn and fewer flowers.
And the Williams have created a beautiful formal garden
with ornamental trees, shrubs and a wildlife pond.
The most individual garden on the street is a few doors down.
It's owned by Denise Thomas,
who likes things a little more on the wild side.
-It's wonderful, isn't it?
-I think it is.
I think it is.
I like your garden very much.
-I'd love to be rummaging around in here.
Well, you can rummage around as much as you like.
I'm going to do a bit of rummaging, but we've got a great team
of rummagers that are going to come with me to explore the life here.
I see. Well, mind the brambles,
cos you'll get caught up in them, you know.
You're probably going to have the richest garden in...
Sorry, I'll keep my voice down.
WHISPERS: You're probably going to have the richest garden
-in the neighbourhood...
-..through doing very little.
I'm a fan of your garden, Denise, I have to say.
I like it.
-Would you like to do some gardening here?
-No, no! I like it as it is.
I like it as it is.
The street is a perfect cross-section
of British garden styles.
How much wildlife they support is a vital question
in an increasingly suburban nation.
But animals in these gardens are highly seasonal, so it's going to
take a whole year to find out how wildlife prospers
in these five very different gardens.
It's summer and this place is quite literally alive.
You see, there are 16 hours of daylight, which means all of these
plants are growing very rapidly
and producing vast quantities of pollen and nectar.
This energy-rich fuel feeds a huge variety of flying insects called
pollinators, which in turn feed animals further up the food chain,
so for all our wildlife, it's a time of abundance.
For this season,
we're going to focus on two gardening environments -
this, the flower bed, to see if the pollinators enjoy these blooms
as much as some of our gardeners do,
and secondly, this, the lawn,
and we aim to find out what comes to play on these lawns when
our residents are fast asleep.
Now, a lot of the wildlife in our gardens is small,
things like insects, bugs and other creepy crawlies...
..so each season, a crack team from London's Natural History Museum
will conduct a BioBlitz -
that's a full audit of our smallest garden residents.
First, team leader Steph West installs large traps
in several gardens.
This garden is very, very wild.
It should be absolutely teeming with insects,
so really excited about what we might get
in the next couple of days.
But for flying insects, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned net.
Techniques differ, from elegant...
and downright aggressive.
But they're the best way to capture the more unusual species,
plus, anyone can have a go.
You want to go quite quickly with the net, quite gently to start with
and then suddenly try and swoop on him.
That's it. OK. So, he's still in the pot, and there we've got him.
Can you see? OK, so this is a little picture wing fly.
-Can you see him down there?
-I can see his big, green eyes.
While the rest of the BioBlitz team hunt insects,
ecologist Dave Hodgson heads to the fruit garden.
He's here to investigate a creature that gardeners love to hate
and definitely don't want in their flower borders.
Are you ready for the great snail hunt?
-First of all,
I want you, in teams, to find as many snails as you possibly can
in this garden. The second thing is
we're going to collect them all up into these four buckets.
This experiment will tell us how many different species
and the total number of snails in this garden.
It will also answer a more fundamental question about animals
we normally think of as being pretty stupid.
Are snails smart enough to find their way to and from a home patch?
Do snails have a homing instinct?
Size doesn't matter when you're hunting snails.
It's quality, not quantity.
This is Cornu aspersum, the common garden snail.
Now, it's a mollusc,
so it's not like the insects and other arthropods in your garden,
it's more closely related to octopuses and squids,
limpets and bivalves.
Up close, the humble snail is extraordinary.
At the front end of its single giant foot are rasping mouthparts.
It's these that tear at plant tissue.
It has two pairs of tentacles.
The uppermost hold the eyes...
..whilst the lower pair deliver the other senses -
taste, smell and touch.
They are the enemy of many gardeners, I guess,
simply because they eat their plants
and they're almost indiscriminate in the plants that they eat.
our families have collected a serious number of snails.
The kids are great at this
and I think it's partly because they are at ground level.
Obviously, their eyesight may be slightly better
than the older ones. You know, they're trying.
My wife is still going strong down there.
She's always been the hard worker in the family.
In total, 65 snails of four different species
live in the fruit garden.
For the next part of the experiment, they all get a snazzy paint job,
with nontoxic paint, of course.
The colours correspond to which of the four corners of the garden
each snail came from.
And they will now glow brightly under ultraviolet light.
We've introduced a fifth colour
to the experiment because we need a control.
All scientists need a control for their experiment.
The green ones have travelled all the way from Cornwall
and they're here to find out if there's a kind of a tendency
for all the snails to move in one direction.
We want to see whether the home snails move slightly differently
from a stranger snail.
And fingers crossed, we go blue, red, orange, pink and green.
Before long, a veritable snail disco is underway.
There's a reason they don't move very fast -
leaving a thick trail of slime everywhere you go
is an astonishingly inefficient way to get around.
But even so, they can travel up to 25 metres in 24 hours.
The question is, do they know where they're going?
The following night, and Dave easily spots where the snails have ended up
thanks to their day-glo paint job.
Interestingly, and I don't know whether I believe this at all,
but the Cornish ones are heading due west.
Extraordinarily, in the right direction to get home.
After a few hours' hunting,
Dave's found almost all of the snails and recorded their location.
This is the blue corner, where I'm standing now,
and almost all of the snails that I've found in this corner
were blue snails.
Now, the red corner,
almost all of the red snails found their way back to the red corner.
The orange corner is over there - most of them were orange.
And finally pink - almost all of them were back in the pink corner.
Now, this needs some analysis,
but as far as I'm concerned, this is quite spectacular evidence for
homing instinct in the garden snail.
And it's so much better than I ever could have wished.
Whether covered in snails or magnificently manicured,
short grass forms the main part of many back yards.
In our gardens, as with much of the UK, lawns are a bit of an obsession.
I mow it every week.
If I can get some good mown stripes in it, even better.
So, are lawns any good for wildlife
and would they be better if we let the grass grow a little bit longer?
To find out, Steph has brought along a special vacuum that sucks up
any insects living in the grass.
First off, she samples a square
of the modern garden's immaculately mown lawn.
Then she samples a patch that we persuaded Bruce to leave
a few inches longer.
And finally, the same area of really long grass in the wild garden.
The question is, are longer lawns better?
In here, we've got the three samples
that we've taken from our vacuum sampling.
That's the short, regularly mown grasslands,
not an awful lot of diversity going on in there.
That's the one from the short mown lawn that's been left to grow
a little bit longer.
-And that one, that is absolutely full...
Look at the contrast between
your manicured lawn and your unkempt lawn here.
So, you can see we've got a lot of, particularly in there,
a lot of grass flowers, as well.
And within that, as well, we've got species coming through like weevils,
a lot more beetles, smaller wasps tucked away
in the grass seed heads, as well.
The wild garden's lawn contains three times as many insects overall
and many more species.
But even letting our lawns grow an extra few inches helps.
If every garden in Britain had a patch of long grass,
wildlife would get a huge boost.
I've asked one of our entomologists, Karim Vahed,
to take a closer look at the long grass in the wild garden
to see if it's home to one of the UK's most charismatic insects.
Now, what have we got here? Ah-ha!
Now, this is nice. This is the lesser marsh grasshopper.
Which is great to find. I wasn't expecting to find it here.
They're often found on the coast.
They like long, damp grass.
So, I suppose the grass here is very lush,
so it's obviously a great habitat for this,
and I can see other species of grasshopper, as well.
Oh. Where's that one gone?
Grasshoppers and crickets are more often found in meadows
and grassland, so it's great to find them thriving here in suburbia.
As their names suggest, they eat grass,
although crickets sometimes snack on small insects.
Ah-ha. Now, this is another species.
Ah, now, here we have one of my favourites,
the Roesel's bush-cricket.
People sometimes ask, what's the difference between
a grasshopper and a cricket?
Well, one of the most obvious differences
between bush-crickets and grasshoppers
is the length of the feelers or antennae.
On this beautiful little Roesel's bush-cricket,
you can see that the antennae are very long and threadlike.
They're usually longer than the body.
In this grasshopper, though... Oh, look,
I've got another Roesel's bush-cricket on me,
crawled up from the vegetation.
So, you can see the beautiful, long antennae.
Whereas in this grasshopper, you can see the antennae are shorter
than the body, quite stubby.
Summer's a good time of year to be a bush-cricket.
The grass is long, the sun is warm,
and so, naturally, their minds turn to mating.
First, the males attract a female by rubbing their wings together.
But after that, things start getting a bit weird.
The male moves beneath the female
and clings onto a hook at the end of her abdomen.
He places a small package of sperm inside an opening
in the female's body.
But the sperm is packed with nutrients
and might tempt his partner to eat it.
So, the male cricket covers that sperm with a large blob
of protein-rich jelly called a nuptial gift.
And this sticky snack distracts the female long enough for the sperm
to reach its destination.
I suppose it takes the idea of a romantic dinner
to a whole new level.
Strange goings-on aren't limited to the smaller animals on our lawns.
We've installed fixed motion-sensitive cameras
in all of the gardens.
The animal that shows up most is also one of the most divisive.
For the residents, foxes are a bit of a mixed blessing.
We do hear the foxes,
usually in the middle of the night, and they make some very sort of
strong, loud sort of barking, howling noises.
It sounds quite vicious.
A few doors down,
retired couple Bill and Jean enjoy seeing foxes in their garden -
most of the time.
-We don't mind them coming in at all, really, you know.
The cubs, when you see them, are lovely, though, aren't they?
-Yeah, they hop about.
-They play around in the garden
-and you can just watch them for ages.
And you come out here some days
and they've thrown all of the plant pots around
-the garden, and it's the babies, I should imagine...
Picking it up and, yeah, running around with them.
I don't like the smell.
But there you go.
Our residents have seen foxes in every garden on the street.
But exactly how many there are and what they get up to at night
is still a mystery.
By looking at markings on their faces,
mammal expert Dawn Scott can tell individual foxes apart.
And she's discovered that our gardens are home to a large
and rather unusual fox family.
So, we've seen four cubs and one adult so far.
-This is the adult here.
He's quite distinctive.
-I'm saying he, cos we thought it was a female.
-We thought it was a mother and cubs.
-But actually, it's a dog fox.
And his tail is quite distinctive, quite narrow,
-and he's also got a little black mark on his lip.
So I've called him Tache.
And you can see one, two, three, four cubs.
So that's your four. That's the four cubs.
Dawn, what do you think has happened to the female fox here?
I think quite recently, the female's been run over.
And the cubs are weaned and their dad has had to step in as a single
dad and look after those cubs at this stage.
And is that typical of foxes, they'll do that?
It's quite unusual, actually.
It's been known, but it's not common.
Make or break for those cubs, basically.
-So he's playing the role of a good single parent.
Fox cubs have a very high mortality rate,
so it's doubly impressive that dad Tache
has kept his young family going.
We'll be following our foxes all year to see how they cope
with each of the four seasons.
At our HQ in the pond garden, the BioBlitz team are slaving over
hot microscopes, trying to identify as many insects as they can.
It's a tough job.
The only way to tell some species apart are tiny variations
in leg length, wing shape, or even genitalia.
What's clear is that in summer, our gardens are full of pollinators,
attracted by the huge number of flowers.
We plant flowers because of the way that they look.
But they're not really for us.
No, they've co-evolved with insects and other pollinators
for millions of years.
The plants provide sugary nectar and in return, the insects transport
pollen from flower to flower, fertilising them.
It's how flowering plants have sex.
But this doesn't happen by accident.
Flowers use secret signals to tell pollinators where to go...
..and these are normally invisible.
But photographer and scientist Jolyan Troscianko
has a special camera that can show us
how pollinators see where to land.
Now, Jolyan, I'm immediately taken by your gadget,
because I'm admiring the precision. JOLYAN LAUGHS
-Precision is one thing, what's the purpose?
What this does is it allows you to see invisible light and UV light
There's a mirror here that reflects the ultraviolet light up into this
camera but lets the visible light straight through into this camera.
We can't normally see ultraviolet light, but pollinators can.
Jolyan uses custom software to combine the normal colour image
with the ultraviolet one...
..to give us a bee's eye view.
In the ultraviolet world, the foliage really absorbs
the ultraviolet powerfully, so the petals stand out very strongly
against the background there.
This contrast works like landing lights,
guiding the bees to the flowers.
On their final approach,
a hidden ultraviolet bull's-eye highlights the exact location
of the nectar.
The camera shows our borders...
..in a whole new light.
Well, it doesn't only look good,
it's good at proving its purpose, as well.
But flowers and pollinators don't always work together.
Beneath the border in the pond garden,
some insects are carrying out daylight robbery.
Bumblebees cannot reach the nectar
inside these exotic penstemon flowers.
Their tongues are simply too short.
So, instead, they bite a hole at the base...
..then, using their hairy tongues, they gorge themselves on nectar,
but without picking up any pollen.
It's called nectar robbing.
The bees get a free meal without fertilising the flower.
This burglary in the border is more common than you might think.
Dusk in the gardens.
And in the flower borders, there's a changing of the guard.
Day flyers retire and out come the creatures of the night.
Many moths feed on nectar, just like bees,
and they're important pollinators.
Some of our most common garden plants take advantage of this.
Evening primrose flowers unfurl only at dusk
and stay open all night long.
We want to find out how many different kinds of moth
live in the gardens.
In the modern garden,
moth specialist Zoe Randle has brought a trap
to help us do just that.
Moths aren't killed by these moth traps,
they're just attracted to the light and they spend the night
in amongst the egg boxes.
Before long, the bright light is luring moths from miles around.
Moth numbers are declining in the UK,
but there are over 30 times as many species of moth as there are
butterfly, which means they come in an amazing array
of shapes and sizes.
See that one? That big one bashing around,
-that was a large yellow underwing.
-Yeah, I saw the yellow triangle.
Yeah. He's gone into the undergrowth there.
And then this one here's a poplar grey.
-And this one here is a riband wave.
It's morning and Zoe's back to check her results.
We got 48 species in total,
which isn't bad at all for an urban back garden.
There's hedgerows, there's undergrowth, there's trees
and there's shrubs, so it's absolutely perfect.
You know, it's a fabulous oasis for our declining moths.
Our gardens are home to a fabulous diversity of moths,
if you know how to find them.
But with the season coming to an end, I want to know how much other
wildlife we've seen so far.
How's the team doing?
In terms of biodiversity, range of different species of pollinators,
-what do we think?
-Yeah, so, we're getting about 20 species per garden,
across the three types that we're focusing on.
So that's across the flies, the wasps
and the beetles, as well, showing different...
-We're talking hundreds of species in this small number of gardens.
Yes, which is really interesting, to get that many.
Well, I think many people will be surprised,
they will have probably seen the bumblebees and the honeybees,
and maybe some butterflies,
and presumed that was their pollinator set.
But there are hundreds of other organisms out there doing
-There are. Yes, absolutely.
Along with our pollinators, we found ten species of mammal, our moths,
snails and crickets.
So already, this shows us the richness of the wildlife
in our gardens.
But as the seasons change, our gardens transform...
..and that means our wildlife must change, too.
The year has turned.
The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler
and there's a real whiff of autumn in the air.
But thankfully, throughout the summer, the pollinators were doing
their duty, because now there's an enormous quantity of berries, nuts
and fruit available.
And this season, we're going to be looking at how the creatures in our
gardens use these resources to prepare for hard times ahead.
Our BioBlitz team is back,
hunting for more species of insect and other creepy-crawlies.
And our cameras are capturing how our larger animals cope
with this critical time...
..a time of death and decay,
but also a time of plenty.
At this time of year, many animals prepare for the hard winter ahead
by eating as much as possible and storing the excess as fat.
So, if you're out and about, you might spot some plump pigeons,
some stout squirrels, or some very fat pheasants.
But there is one creature that increases so much in size,
it's as if it's appeared from nowhere.
This is the time of the spider.
in mid autumn, our garden's suddenly become festooned with silk.
But the spider season isn't always popular with our residents.
They move in a very suspicious way, particularly inside, so,
they scuttle round with their legs and crawl up walls,
which is quite unnatural, really, to a human,
so I think that's the bit that's quite scary.
The spiders in that shed.
Oh, I mean, sometimes they'll make ME jump when I see them.
Cor, they are big, aren't they?
Size of your hand, almost, like that, you know?
Yet spiders are a vital part of any garden ecosystem.
Entomologist Karim Vahed is scouring their favourite haunts
to find as many different species as he possibly can.
He thinks we should all be welcoming them with open arms.
Spiders are definitely the gardener's friend.
They consume a huge amount
of potentially nuisance insects and pests.
In fact, this spider here has recently fed
on a nice, big, fat, juicy greenfly.
This is a beautiful garden cross spider.
The classic garden spider.
We start to see them towards the end of the summer and the autumn,
because the females have been growing
all through the summer
and they finally reach adulthood at this time of year.
They spin these beautiful orb webs.
And I'm going to see if I can tempt this spider out of its little lair.
Spiders pounce at the slightest sign of vibration.
There she is.
Around 100 different species commonly live in our gardens.
And beneath the late-season blooms lurks one of the most distinctive...
the crab spider.
With her venomous bite,
this female will kill flies
and even larger insects, like bees.
She doesn't weave a web,
she simply sets trip lines and then lies in wait.
When your prey has a deadly sting, it pays to be cautious.
But the crab spider has a secret stealth weapon.
Incredibly, she can change colour to match the flower she's on.
It's not just the spiders that are fattening up for winter.
Our fox cubs are exploring our gardens more and more,
getting ready to leave home.
Like all teenagers, they're constantly hungry.
Thankfully, this rabbit didn't end up as dinner.
Our cameras also show smaller mammals all over the gardens
hunting for food.
We want to find out which species they are,
so mammal expert Dawn Scott
has filled the gardens with humane non-lethal traps.
The wild garden is ideal small-mammal habitat.
If the trap doors are down, it's a good sign.
-Ooh. Doors shut.
-We love door down.
Do you want to keep hold of that?
I can't smell it.
Come on... Yay!
-Oh, a mouse.
Not the biggest wood mouse I've seen in my life.
So with a wood mouse you've got this really white tummy.
In a house mouse that would be grey.
And so sensitive, as well.
They detect their surroundings by that and navigate.
And they're extremely agile with that long tail for balance,
because these things will climb right up into the trees, won't they?
Here he comes, here he comes, here he comes.
Along with our wood mice,
shrews and voles are also common garden residents.
But apparently not here.
Perhaps there are too many cats.
As well as the mice,
our cameras have picked up animals our residents haven't seen here for
..hedgehogs - our gardens are full of them.
Their population is in freefall across the UK,
so as part of our species count, Dawn wants to check whether they're
in good condition.
To do that, she has to catch a hedgehog and weigh it.
Easier said than done.
If you go round the edges slowly, listening really carefully,
you can hear little grunting noises,
those noises that give the hedgehog its name, a little hog-like grunt.
So, snuffling grunts.
So, if we listen very carefully and search around the edges, we might
come across a hedgehog.
After a long hunt, Dawn finally spots something
right in the middle of the lawn.
Let's get the weight on it.
This young hedgehog is well underweight and unlikely to survive
the winter if it stays that way.
But it's still got a fighting chance.
You see, at this time of year it can put on weight very quickly,
as long as it has a reliable supply of food.
In the pond garden,
ex-engineer Steve volunteers to lend a hand by constructing a hedgehog
And it's not long before our hog is taking full advantage.
Hedgehogs will eat fallen fruit, as well as worms, small insects,
slugs and snails...
..so they're not just cute, they're a true gardener's friend.
And hopefully our street will still be full of hedgehogs come spring.
It's not just the animals that are stocking up for winter,
the plants are making preparation for the hard times ahead, as well.
And there's no more obvious and spectacular example than this,
the leaves changing colour on the trees,
something that we've caught in spectacular style with our cameras.
But the reason it happens is actually quite mysterious.
A tree's leaves are its power source,
turning sunlight into energy.
But large leaves make a tree far more likely to be blown over
in winter storms.
First the tree breaks down the green pigment, chlorophyll.
This reveals yellows and browns.
But some trees also manufacture a special pigment in autumn that turns
their leaves a glorious red.
We're not sure why they do this, but it could be a form of sunscreen,
protecting the leaves as they decay.
Whatever the reason, for gardeners the end result is the same...
..lots and lots of dead leaves.
Most end up on compost heaps.
At this time of year they're absolutely overflowing...
..and the pond garden has a particularly fine-looking heap.
This is an extraordinarily rich environment.
Not just all of the material that's here,
but all of the life that's here.
Having taken the side off of this particular compost heap, we can look
at the strata of decay,
because the material down at the bottom here has obviously been in
here the longest
and it's pretty much broken down into this fine soil.
At the top, there are larger pieces here.
Look at these leaves, nothing's started munching them yet.
So what we've got here is a little ecosystem.
In amongst it we've got detritivores,
things that are breaking down the dead material.
But then, of course, we've got the things that eat THEM.
So it may look lifeless on the surface of things,
but I've got to tell you that this is an extremely dynamic part
of any garden.
To us, these huge heaps of decaying matter are simply waste.
But for many insects, they're food mountains.
This dead vegetation attracts vast numbers of hungry creatures.
We've combed every compost bin on the street
and scoured the leaf litter, too.
And we're starting to get a picture of the weird and wonderful creatures
that live here.
We've got a very high number of millipedes and centipedes.
That's one of our flat-bodied millipedes there.
Flat-bodied millipede. Look at that, they're fantastic.
In terms of body shape, we can contrast...
Look at that, that is a remarkable organism, isn't it?
-It's at least six centimetres long.
-A single species of centipede.
I used to find these as a kid in the garden under stones.
If you want a truly dramatic example...
Oh, yeah, that's much larger.
I mean, that is, that's a tiger, isn't it?
The equivalent of a Siberian tiger in the leaf litter.
-A ferocious predator.
And, of course, you'd need to be a ferocious predator if you're going
to attack things like woodlice,
Armour plating is common in the compost heap
because it's chock-full of predators.
This pocket-weight powerhouse is a pseudoscorpion.
At just a few millimetres long,
it's a perfect replica of a scorpion, minus the tail.
And it's rarely seen, let alone filmed.
For sheer weirdness nothing beats the harvestman.
It hovers above the compost heap like an alien spaceship.
But the king of the compost heap
has to be the ground beetle.
Armed with powerful jaws,
this jet-black assassin is fast and ferocious.
Altogether, we found an impressive variety of species
in our compost heaps,
some in huge numbers.
But autumn leaves aren't just important for the animals in our
compost heap, they're food for the humblest creatures, too.
And in autumn they're at their most active.
The Natural History Museum's curator of worms, Emma Sherlock,
has come to the kids' garden to find out what kind of worms live here.
Thank you very much for helping out doing a worm survey today. So...
Emma's got an unusual trick to charm worms up out of their burrows -
a mixture of mustard powder and water.
The water then goes down into their burrows and just irritates them a
little bit. It doesn't do anything really nasty,
just kind of slightly annoys them.
Oh, look, there's a big one over there just come up.
Ah, thank you. That's brilliant.
-Ah-ha. Brilliant, thank you.
-That one's probably an Enchytraeid.
Ooh. Yeah, nice.
But, yes, we can see just from looking at these that we've got
about four different species.
It's a good start but to do a proper worm survey the families must leave
no stone unturned.
Shall we have a look? See what we can find?
-A really big, fat one.
Worms perform fantastic feats in our gardens.
As they burrow through the earth they create air channels,
improving the soil's health.
As well as eating decaying matter,
they use tiny stones in their stomach to
grind up and digest the soil itself.
And they excrete up to their own weight in nutrient rich worm cast
every single day.
Worms really are the gardener's best friend.
But they don't have it easy.
It's a really tough life being an earthworm.
For one, we don't appreciate earthworms enough,
but also they are right at the bottom of the food chain.
Everything eats earthworms.
Even other worms actually eat earthworms.
Flat worms, leeches, even ants, things like that, eat earthworms.
But then you go further up the food chain to birds,
to moles, to badgers, to foxes.
In fact, in South America there's even human tribes
that eat earthworms.
A garden like this can contain over 170,000 worms,
but how many different species have our families unearthed?
I'm pretty certain we've got about nine different species,
which is fantastic for a garden like this.
Our BioBlitz team have done well this season.
Thanks to our spiders, worms,
dozens of compost-heap insects and a few extra mammals, our species list
is going up.
But the seasons are changing once again, and so too are our gardens.
For our wildlife, the time of plenty is at an end.
It's winter. And it's cold
and the nights are long and colder still.
So for the animals in the garden, this time of year can be deadly.
There are slim pickings for our wildlife in this weather.
Fewer flowers and leaves mean fewer insects.
And that means less food for everything else higher up
the food chain...
..which is why at this time of year many of us lend a helping hand.
Even when it's cold and raining,
there's always somewhere in the garden where there's plenty of food,
the bird feeder.
In this season we're going to be looking at how our generosity
positively affects our feathered friends, our birds.
We are monitoring the feeders with our cameras to record how many
different species visit.
Many, such as these long-tailed tits, are pretty common.
But you don't often see pheasants in suburbia.
Amateur ornithologists Pat and Steve have been helping with our big bird
count and thoroughly enjoying the show.
The interesting thing is all the birds that you're getting in your
garden are essentially woodland species.
-The tits are woodland species, your treecreeper, your nuthatch,
too, your woodpigeon that you've mentioned.
And this is because gardens offer a sort of... Well,
they're a marginal habitat but they're pretty much a replica of,
you know, a little woodland clearing.
Many garden birds are seasonal commuters,
living in the countryside during the summer and coming to our gardens in
winter when food is scarce.
It's easy to see why.
In Britain, bird feeding is a national obsession.
Guess how much the Brits spend on bird food every winter.
I wouldn't like to hazard a guess.
-No, go on. No, go on. Stick your neck out.
-Come on, millions.
It's in excess of £200 million every winter
-that we spend in the UK.
And as a nation we spend more per person than anywhere else on earth.
Altogether, we record 38 different species of bird on our feeders
and in our gardens.
But we also want to find out how many times a day individual birds
are visiting our feeders.
In other words, how much they rely on the food that we are leaving out.
To do this, we need to be able to tell one bird from another
of the same species.
This isn't possible by eye,
but it is possible using some clever technology.
But first we've got to catch some birds.
Peter Delaloye and Steven Laing
have over 60 years of experience between them.
-Which one do you want to get out first?
I'll take the bluetit, you have the blackbird.
Bird-ringing schemes are run all over the country
to research bird behaviour.
They don't harm the birds in any way.
But this is a highly skilled and highly regulated job,
requiring several years of training and experience.
We are ringing and measuring all the birds we catch.
But we're putting special electronic tags on our bluetits.
These use a wireless technology to record when each tagged bird
lands on a special feeder.
For our residents, this is a rare opportunity to get close to these
They're very, very special.
Look at that. Look at that. It is really, really beautiful.
Over a two-week period, our electronically tagged bluetits
visit the feeders up to 12 times a day...
..which means that feeders provide
a large proportion of their daily food.
But even so, with a hard winter, over half of the adult birds
won't survive into the following year.
One of the birds we most associate with winter is the robin.
On our street, there's a resident in the pond garden.
But these gardener's friends have a dark side.
If another robin steps into its territory,
it had better be ready for a fight.
To see this in action,
ornithologist Kate Risely has brought along an intruder,
a creepily lifelike stuffed robin.
Homeowner Steve is keen to watch this experiment for himself.
He's in the tree behind the sheds, with the mossy trunk.
On the apple tree.
Our resident robin tries to show the intruder who's boss by making an
aggressive staccato call called ticking.
It's kind of a sign of aggression, territorial sign.
-It is a kind of alarm call.
Would that be a warning, as well?
Yes, saying that, "I'm here," to the other bird.
He's a little bit het up, I would say.
You can really see that movement he's making, very sharp, very short.
and he's really drawing attention to himself and obviously to
-his red breast.
-That's the bit that he's trying to show.
We're used to seeing a robin's redbreast on Christmas cards,
but it's actually war paint, a signal
telling rival robins to back off.
If the posturing doesn't work,
they've been known to fight to the death.
Of course, we remove our intruder long before they come to blows
and our resident robin can go back to posing for Christmas cards.
Winter can be quite a good time to look for birds and mammals in your
garden. Things are tough, they're hungry, and if you're providing
food, they'll come for it and you'll get to see them.
But winter, well, it's not the best time of year to be an insect, is it?
Not the best time of year to go looking for insects.
Unless you know where they're hiding out.
Even in this cold weather, our team are scouring the street,
trying to answer our central question -
how much wildlife lives in these back gardens?
They're not finding many insects in the gardens themselves,
but entomologist Karim Vahed is having better luck hunting
through sheds and garages.
So, Karim, you're having a good rummage around this, erm, well,
pretty untidy old garage, what have you found?
Quite a few things that in nature would hibernate in caves
or even in hollow trees find sheds like this or garages an ideal
substitute. So, one thing that I've found is really nice,
-it's the herald moth, which overwinters as an adult.
And in fact, just over here...
-I can see it.
-..above your head there is a very nice herald moth.
-In fact, there are about five in this garage in various places.
Most insects die off in autumn,
leaving eggs or larvae to overwinter and then emerge again in spring.
But the hardiest simply find a safe spot and become dormant.
Sat motionless, they expend very little energy
and should survive until spring without food or water.
Many can even survive a hard frost.
Quite a few insects can actually withstand
temperatures below freezing.
They actually produce an antifreeze in their blood,
so they can actually withstand having ice around them.
With insects thin on the ground,
our BioBlitz team are taking advantage of
the bare trees in the fruit garden to investigate one of the strangest
life forms on the street.
Lichens are hybrids,
made up of three very different kinds of organism -
part plant, part fungus and part bacteria.
Even today we've managed to find the three common species,
which are these three that we've got down here.
And a really nice range of different lichen forms.
They're really beautiful and really fascinating species group.
You see, the thing is, it's fair to say, isn't it, that mosses,
liverworts, lichens, are very often overlooked,
and yet we're talking about diversities here of 40 species
-in a garden.
So these are obviously very significant in the garden community.
Mosses and lichens grow wild in our gardens without us planting them.
Under a microscope, they're stunning miniature forests.
And they come in an astonishing number of different forms.
So it's one pot which might have had a geranium.
-I don't know what it's had in it.
-Maybe. Don't know.
Could be anything.
But at this time of year, on the surface of this pot, ten species.
Yes. Ten species of moss just in one little plant pot that we found just
tucked inside on the patio.
Overlooked little plant pot, but fascinating diversity.
Ten species of moss.
Honestly. There's so many riches in the garden, isn't there,
if you know how to and take the trouble to look.
Unusually for this far south there has been snow this winter.
It makes the gardens a joy to look at but I want to find out how our
family of foxes are coping with the cold.
What we thought was the dad, the male, called Tache is still about.
-And he's still with a young female.
And that is Tache. We can see that's very clearly Tache, that's the male.
All the cubs from summer have now moved off
to find their own territory.
Apart from one,
the young female, Smudge.
At nine months old, she's now ready to bear cubs of her own.
The group has split up,
but we are seeing the dog fox following the female.
-And this is because this is a breeding time of the year.
Her posture, her position, with her head down, moving away,
she keeps trying to get away from him.
But what I think will happen is that another dog fox will come in
and breed with her and actually displace Tache.
He's getting a bit old now, I can see he's got a bit of a limp.
He's still holding on to his territory.
I was just thinking how handsome,
a very handsome, mature fox, I thought.
With food scarce, the foxes are also taking an interest in our hedgehog
feeding station in the pond garden.
So, that is Smudge, and you can see she really is getting into that,
sort of, shelter for hedgehogs.
And she's nearly completely submerged into that.
-Look at that.
-And in here is the hedgehog food.
You can see it's going in for the food.
That's great, isn't it?
So, foxes, one of the reasons why they can survive in winter is
because they are so adaptable at finding different types of food
-She comes out and licks her lips!
So she's definitely getting the hedgehog food,
there's no doubt about it. Well, she's had it all, she's off.
That's brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
When resident Steve noticed the foxes stealing the hedgehogs' food,
he made a few modifications.
And it is really interesting to see how they deal with that.
So, this is Smudge coming in.
She can't get in. He's put it at an angle now,
so she can't get her head round like she did before.
And then she tries to go from above, digging it out.
And take off the paving slab, which is very heavy.
She can't get in. And then she tries to go underneath.
This just shows you what's going on in that fox's brain,
how intelligent they are at being able to know there's food
hidden, is quite remarkable.
Even human babies can't do that up until the age of one.
So it knows it's hidden
and it's trying to solve a way to get into that.
It's incredible behaviour.
And then obviously she finally scent-marks it.
And what happened? Did she ever get in?
She didn't get in. No, absolutely flummoxed the fox.
Winter is at an end
and the gardens begin to burst into new life.
For our wildlife, good times are just around the corner.
After the cold, dark winter, the weather is warming,
the sap's rising and the trees are covered in blossom.
Our gardens are in the throes of a radical transformation.
Our BioBlitz team is back again in a final push to see how many
different species we can find.
And our fixed cameras are recording the comings and goings.
It's a critical time of year for the wildlife in our gardens,
when a few weeks' head start can make all the difference.
We're going to investigate how animals wake up from their winter
slumber and take advantage of all the fresh new growth.
We're also going to be delving deep into our pond.
We often say that putting a pond in your garden is the best way to
attract wildlife and I want to find out whether that's true.
Throughout the year the pond has changed dramatically...
..from lush growth last summer...
..to leaf fall in autumn...
..freezing over in winter...
..and finally bursting back into life in spring.
The pond is a popular destination for our larger wildlife.
Once again, Dawn has been monitoring the footage.
One of my favourite videos is this one.
And you can see how wildlife utilise the pond not just for drinking,
but for other sources, as well.
That's great. That's the best visitor of all.
Unfortunately many people complain about herons coming to their garden
pond. I suppose if they're fond of the fish they've stocked it with and
they're losing them all to a heron, I can understand their frustration.
Although I do always point out that there are more fish down
the pet shop and a hungry heron should be satisfied.
That's a great visitor to a garden.
And can you see what it's taken?
-It's got a frog.
-Oh, has it?
A massive big frog.
Look at that, so it has.
Giving it a clean.
That's a great piece of biology in action, isn't it?
It really is.
It's obviously had lots of birds visit,
but I was mainly interested in the mammals.
Foxes, hedgehogs and squirrels use the pond all year round.
But spring has brought a more unusual visitor.
Now, is that the first badger we've seen?
Yeah, that's the first badger we've seen.
We have got footage of it in another garden.
And it looks quite an old badger
and it looks like it's injured, as well.
So it might be a sort of roaming individual that's been ousted
from its clan.
But, yes, we can see that the badger is drinking from the pond, as well.
So all the mammals are utilising the pond
as well as that diversity of birds.
Now, the pond is obviously a great resource for animals who live on
dry land, but in spring the real action is under the water.
In early March, our cameras pick up something extraordinary...
..frogs, and dozens of them.
For a few days in spring,
huge gangs of males return to the pond where they spawned.
And they've only got one thing on their minds.
Mating is a pretty public affair if you're a frog.
This male has latched onto a female
using special sticky pads on his front feet.
Now he must hold on tight until she starts laying eggs.
Only then can he fertilise them with his sperm.
And the female can keep him waiting for up to a day.
Competition is fierce.
In a hormone-driven frenzy, other males try to mate with pretty much
anything that moves.
But our male lasts the distance.
A few weeks later, the pond is alive
with hundreds and hundreds of tadpoles.
There's a reason that frogs lay so many eggs.
If you're a tadpole living in this pond,
then beneath the surface, terror lurks.
Pond life is every bit as cut-throat and alien as life in a deep ocean.
This dragonfly larva is fast and deadly.
It can live in the pond for up to three years,
feasting on tadpoles and other pond life,
before climbing out and emerging as an adult dragonfly.
But newts are the dragons of the deep.
Lithe, active hunters,
at this time of year the tadpole-filled pond
is their version of paradise...
..where dinner almost swims right into your mouth.
We're doing a full audit of the life in our pond to see just how many
different animals live here.
We've got plenty of tadpoles in here,
frogs. But what about other amphibians?
So, we have three species of newts that are native to the UK.
In this pond we've got the smooth newt, which is our commonest newt.
But they are absolutely stunning to look at, nevertheless.
The male there, he's dressed up like a little dragon
-at this time of year.
-He is, yeah.
Steph, this pond, this tiny, little pond, and it is modest,
but well-sculpted, we have to say.
-Well, it's packed full of life, isn't it?
The pond provides rich pickings.
Along with newts, we find a wealth of other creatures,
from aquatic snails,
to water fleas and water boatmen.
Back on dry land the gardens are coming alive, too.
As the weather warms, trees burst into leaf.
The fresh new shoots are tender.
They become a vital food source for many insects.
We want to find out exactly how many new leaves
a single garden produces in spring.
Counting them manually would take remote sensing expert Mat Disney
so he's using a very sophisticated laser scanner to help him.
What we end up with when this thing scans round in a full circle
is we end up with a hemispherical picture in three dimensions
of exactly where everything is in a garden, so every branch,
every leaf, every twig,
all the shrubs and so on,
and so we can build up this really, really detailed,
kind of millimetre-level detail picture
in three dimensions of what is in the garden here at the moment.
Mat normally uses this technology to study tropical rainforests.
Here, it tells us that our garden contains over 15,000 leaves,
covering a total area of greater than two tennis courts.
It's a vast amount of potential food.
One major group of garden insects takes full advantage
of these tender, new leaves.
Huge numbers appear in spring,
munching their way through a vast amount of fresh growth.
And Karim Vahed has tracked some down.
These insects aren't at all popular with gardeners,
but I think they have a fascinating life cycle.
They're aphids, or greenfly.
Our gardens are full of masses of these tiny creatures
almost before spring has begun.
That's because at this time of year
they don't need to have sex to produce young.
Aphids overwinter as eggs,
but the individuals that hatch from those eggs actually give birth
to live young and they do this without the need for mating.
They do it asexually.
The live young themselves are actually already pregnant
with the next generation,
so the aphids can reproduce at a phenomenal rate.
An adult aphid can give birth like this five times a day
seven days a week.
In perfect conditions,
a single aphid can produce 600 billion descendants
in just one season.
That's 120 tonnes of aphids.
But, thankfully, that rarely happens.
One of the reasons why we're not knee-deep in aphids
is because so many other insects like to eat them.
And we've got an example here.
This is the larva of a ladybird,
and the adult ladybirds eat greenfly
and so do the larvae.
If you're the size of an aphid, this is the stuff of nightmares.
This ladybird larva can devour up to 100 aphids a day.
But there is an even more brutal aphid hunter...
..the hoverfly larva.
It snares several aphids at a time using sticky slime...
..and then feasts on them at its leisure.
It can't digest the aphids' tough exoskeleton,
so it simply sucks their internal juices dry.
It even shows the ladybird larva who's boss.
All over the gardens, our larger wildlife is waking up
and is on the move.
Dawn has been following our foxes.
In the fruit garden,
our cameras have picked up signs that the family is growing.
This is Smudge.
As she turns around, you'll be able to see her face.
-Oh, yes, there we are.
-And coming in the background is our dominant male,
and he's Tache.
And then as Smudge turns around, you'll be able to see here,
there's nipples there, so it looks like she's lactating.
Yeah, she's got young somewhere.
But, does that mean, then, that he, who is her father,
has fathered his own daughter's offspring?
Foxes will breed with lots of different males,
so it's unlikely that he's the father.
Litters can have up to five different parents, males,
so it's unlikely to be his cubs.
The prospect of seeing young cubs has tempted some garden owners
to put out food and Smudge has been loving it.
So, over the last few weeks,
we've seen her starting to collect food to take back to that den.
We don't know where that den is but it must be close.
If she's collecting food and taking food back,
it's got to be very, very close.
She's heading out behind the shed here,
so if we have a look through there,
we might be able to see where she's going.
You can see a trail there
and what we really need to do is to be able to get round into
the other gardens and go exploring
and see if we can find out where the den is.
A tip from a helpful resident leads us to a large section of decking,
just behind the modern garden.
Last year and the year before, they have had cubs under a decking.
A little peek in here.
-We can quietly see if we can see anything
or smell or hear anything.
I would've thought if they're in there, you'd get a really
-No, I can't smell anything,
but we can see all the way through.
There's another hole on the other side
where they're scrambling under.
The only way to be sure whether this den is active
is with our camera traps.
To our surprise, the footage looks promising.
So, it looks like there is the earth where
she's possibly coming and going.
-There's an animal there.
-SHE GASPS Is that a cub?
-Is it a cub?
-It's a cub.
-Yes, it is.
-It's a cub!
-Yes, it is.
Yeah, it just jumped up, a tiny little tail.
This is so exciting!
-I mean, that was from last night.
We put that camera up last night and there is a cub that's come out
from that decking and jumped on the decking.
And it's not very strong on its feet, either, is it?
When you see it hopping up there.
I wonder how many there are.
We've found where Smudge's den is.
We're within metres of those little cubs, sleeping under the den.
Amazing. Absolutely amazing!
Yeah. Beautiful, aren't they, foxes?
Who needs tigers when you've got foxes?
Seriously, they're very, very beautiful animals.
When we first met Smudge last summer, she was just a cub herself.
Now her young are growing up fast.
Our foxes aren't just surviving in our back gardens, they're thriving.
Spring is drawing to a close.
We've followed the life in our gardens throughout all four seasons.
Finally, we're able to say how many different creatures live here
and whether our gardens are really any good for wildlife.
Thanks to the tremendous hard work of our scientists,
and particularly our team from the Natural History Museum,
we've come up with some totals,
the totals of the number of different species we've found during
the course of this year in our gardens.
Here is how it stands -
42 species of birds, 13 species of mammal, 3 species of amphibians,
no less than 48 species of moths, 43 species of lichen,
44 of moss and liverwort,
and 490 species of insects and other invertebrates,
bringing us to a grand total
of 683 different species living in these gardens.
And that's fantastic.
Our gardens are absolutely humming with life.
In total, Britain's 23 million back gardens cover an area
as large as the Norfolk broads, Dartmoor and the Lake District
They're a huge and underappreciated reservoir of wildlife.
But what I am keen to find out is which of our gardens has attracted
the most wildlife.
Surprisingly, it's the slightly less manicured fruit garden.
Steph, if I'd have been a betting man,
I'd have had my money on the garden at the far end of the street,
the overgrown garden, as being the most biodiverse,
-but I'd have lost everything.
-You would, I'm afraid.
-It's actually come out with the lowest number of species.
Which a lot of people will go, "OK, well, that's the wild garden,
"it should be brimming full of wildlife."
But actually it's this garden,
which is a beautiful flourish of flowering plants,
which has actually come out on top.
There's a reason this garden supports so much wildlife.
Trees and hedges provide shelter and somewhere to live on...
..year-round flowers provide plenty of fuel for insects...
..and, crucially, it's not too tidy,
there are wilder patches -
all easy things to apply to any garden.
But how do Rasma and Karlis feel about their success?
Your garden has come top!
More species of plant and animal living in your garden, or using it,
than any of the others in the street.
-Is that good?
-I'd say it was absolutely brilliant!
I expect celebrations here this evening.
The pop of champagne corks.
We'll do something like that to celebrate.
The sheer number of different species in these gardens
has surprised some of our other residents, too.
How weird, how strange.
I love having wildlife in the garden.
The more of it there is, the better.
It is incredible to see such a large animal living in the garden
and thriving and bringing up families,
you know, in a suburban area,
so that's quite incredible that they can do that.
This year-long experiment has shown that all of these gardens,
whether they're neat, tidy, manicured, unkempt
or completely overgrown,
all support a remarkable abundance of wildlife.
But you know what I am going to say - we could always do more,
we could always do a little bit better.
And that's why it's important to find out how we can help
the wildlife that lives around us,
because if we do, we can enjoy our gardens,
we can relax here and take recreation
and take pride in their appearance, but the wildlife can prosper, too.
The British back garden is a familiar setting, but underneath the peonies and petunias is a much wilder hidden world, a miniature Serengeti, with beauty and brutality in equal measure. In this documentary, Chris Packham and a team of wildlife experts spend an entire year exploring every inch of a series of interlinked back gardens in Welwyn Garden City. They want to answer a fundamental question: how much wildlife lives beyond our back doors? How good for wildlife is the great British garden?
Through all four seasons, Chris reveals a stranger side to some of our more familiar garden residents. In summer he meets a very modern family of foxes - with a single dad in charge - and finds that a single fox litter can have up to five different fathers. In winter he shows that a robin's red breast is actually war paint. And finally, in spring he finds a boiling ball of frisky frogs in a once-in-a-year mating frenzy.
The secret lives of the gardens' smallest residents are even weirder. The team finds male crickets that bribe females with food during sex, spiders that change colour to help catch prey, and life-and-death battles going on under our noses in the compost heap.
So how many different species call our gardens home? How well do our gardens support wildlife? By the end of the year, with the help of a crack team from London's Natural History Museum and some of the country's top naturalists, Chris will find out. He'll also discover which type of garden attracts the most wildlife. The results are not what you might expect... You'll never look at your garden in quite the same way again.