Gardening: The problems of a pet cat and garden wildlife

George with loud bell - we always know where he is.
George with loud bell - we always know where he is.

Do you, or would you, keep your cat indoors permanently to save garden animals?

According to a wildlife charity, we should be doing so - I’ve a feeling many owners like me don’t want to think about the ‘true’ nature of our pets.

Keep roses blooming by deadheading.

Keep roses blooming by deadheading.

The South Essex Wildlife Hospital posted on Facebook (sic): “Todays hoard of sacrifices to the cat gods. 37 birds didn’t survive, another 22 along with a baby rabbit, a frog 2 slow worms and a lizard are still fighting for their lives.

“Please try and keep you cats in folks this daily slaughter is not only an ecological disaster but the volunteers having to deal with this are also very upset and stressed.”

In an article in August’s Gardeners’ World magazine, the charity’s founder Sue Schwar said: “Our native wildlife hasn’t evolved with them so cats can do a lot of damage by climbing trees and raiding nests.”

Our resident feline George comes and goes as he pleases and doesn’t seem to do much damage, or that’s what I tell myself.

He’s large and ginger with a terrible hunting technique and has the added handicap of wearing a collar with a bell equivalent to a cowbell on a St Bernard.

However, even he has been responsible for the demise of at least two headless field mice and a couple of hedge sparrows. Or does he?

These are only the crimes we have evidence for – although there are probably many skeletons in his cupboard.

I thought he couldn’t get anywhere near the nests of the hedge nesters – sparrows, dunnocks and blackbirds – until I saw the ridiculous sight of his ginger head pop out of the top of the hawthorn, eight feet up!

If you are particularly bothered by the body count in your garden and you have an active hunter, the RSPB has a halfway house suggestion: don’t let cats out at dawn and dusk when wildlife is most active.

Also, put a load bell on to a quick-release safety collar to give small mammals and birds some warning if they are being stalked.

Luckily, feeding birds doesn’t increase the number killed, according to Gardening Which? as the larger numbers are better at spotting cats and raising the alarm.

This is certainly the case with our hedge sparrows, who squawk incessantly when George goes out and even seem to dive bomb him.

The RSPB also has advice on cats and birds, you’ll find more information here – ww2.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/gardening-for-wildlife/.

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JOBS TO DO THIS WEEKEND

Deadhead plants such as Dahlia, roses, Penstemon and bedding to prolong the display colour well into early autumn.

Hardy geraniums can be cut back a little to remove tired leaves and encourage a new flush of growth.

Alpines that have developed bare patches of die-back, or have become weedy, can be tidied up by in-filling the patches with gritty compost.

Prune Wisteria and shrubs such as Pyracantha after flowering.

Many conservatory and greenhouse pests will be active during the summer months. Check plants regularly for signs of glasshouse whitefly, leafhopper, red spider mite, mealybugs and scale insects. Clean up fallen leaves and spilt compost from benches and floors to prevent pests and diseases spreading.

Raise the blades on the mower before cutting fine lawns. This will help reduce drought stress.

Keep an eye on aquatic and marginal plants, removing faded flowers and yellow leaves, and cutting back where necessary.

Water sweetcorn, peppers, cucumbers, aubergines and tomatoes regularly and feed with high-potash food.

Remove lower leaves on cordon tomatoes and pinch out the top of plants to concentrate the growth into the fruit that has formed – 5-6 trusses per plant.

Pinch out the tips of runner bean plants once they reach the top of their support.

Check for cabbage white butterfly eggs under brassica leaves.

Get rid of diseased and dead foliage around your vegetable crops to stop pests and diseases spreading.

Clear weeds, as they compete with crops for nutrients and water.