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Best gifts for wildlife lovers

David Chapman / 17 December 2019

Wildlife and nature expert David Chapman shares his recommendations for choosing the best birthday or Christmas present for wildlife lovers.

Homemade bee hotels
Thermal blocks, drilled and installed for use as bee hotels

We all know how difficult it can be to think of a suitable Christmas or birthday present for a loved-one, especially someone who ‘has everything’. But if that someone has an interest in wildlife gardening then there are plenty of unusual and fun gift options.

Gifts for attracting garden wildlife

The idea of an insect house has been around for a long time and I’ve tried several but none have given me as much pleasure, nor been as successful in attracting insects, as a simple thermal block. Thermal blocks can be bought from builders’ merchants for just a few pounds each. They can be sawn with a normal wood saw and drilled to provide holes for mason and leaf-cutter bees. I cut mine into a variety of shapes and used small slates to make rooves on them, I then dressed up some with cast iron miniatures to make them more ornate in appearance and screwed them to the wall of an out-building. In spring each year we now have lots of bees coming back and forth with nectar, mud and leaves; last year about forty of the drilled holes were full of bee cells. If your loved-one likes a small project and has a sense of humour just think of how amusing it could be when he/she opens a big heavy present to find a thermal block inside!

Personally I always like the idea of a project for Christmas. I hate sitting around eating and drinking, I’d much rather be doing something. If you think your partner or friend would like a bigger project then consider a pond liner. It probably makes sense to sound them out about this before buying but if they are keen there is no better time to dig a pond than Christmas. Most wildlife starts to become active in ponds in spring so getting it established now is good for amphibians and insects and just think of all the calories you can burn off digging a big hole!

Simpler ideas for attracting wildlife, for the less active people in our lives include:

A bird bath can be both pleasing and productive and is certainly easy to install, we have had a lot of enjoyment from watching birds drinking and bathing close to our house.

Bird-feeders come in a whole range of shapes and sizes, many have stands and are quite attractive.

Wildflower seeds: there can’t be many people who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to plant a wildflower mix even if it is only in a planter (you could buy the planter as well), just think of the beautiful flowers and the insects they would attract, you could set it up at Christmas and enjoy it for most of the year.

Nest boxes: you can get nest boxes for birds, bat boxes, hedgehog houses, purpose-built insect houses.

Gifts for watching wildlife

A trail camera can be great fun. These are the cameras that can be left out in all weathers and they automatically take photos or videos when something walks or flies past in front of them. One of their great strengths is that they work at night so you can record footage of things you cannot see. They can also record the times when the images were captured which allows us to learn more about when wildlife is coming to the garden. Prices vary from £30 to several hundred pounds.

If the person you are buying for already has nest boxes in their garden and enjoys watching the birds coming to and fro you could try buying a nest box with a built-in camera. These can be erected on the outside wall of a house and are usually supplied with a wire to connect to your television inside. This is a small project for anyone who is good at DIY and if the nest box is installed at Christmas it could be in use this spring.

Other gifts to help people watch the wildlife in their garden include:

A moth trap: best used in the summer rather than the winter but moth traps give us an amazing insight into what insects are using our gardens in the hours of darkness.

Binoculars: a small pair of binoculars to leave on the window sill for those occasions when you are looking out and see something but struggle to identify it.

A nature notepad: will encourage someone to get out and make nature notes whether that’s keeping lists of what they see or recording their experiences.

Gifts for learning about wildlife

You may have heard the person in question expressing an interest in a particular aspect of natural history. There are specialist field guides to cover everything including birds, mammals, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, ladybirds, moths, wildflowers, trees, lichens and fungi. Just one of these field guides could spark a life-time interest.

If their interest is more general then a magazine subscription is a lovely idea. It gives them something to read at Christmas and they will be reminded of your kind thought every month through the year. BBC Wildlife magazine has a great mix of articles from the UK and around the world and an amazing standard of photographic images to enjoy.

Going one step further another option is to give the person a membership to a conservation organisation. By doing this your money will support their work and your loved-one will also usually get a magazine, often quarterly as well as other member benefits such as free access to their nature reserves. I can recommend membership of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) because their quarterly magazine is wonderful and their reserves around the country are fantastic. I also recommend membership of your county’s Wildlife Trust because by joining in with their local walks and talks you will learn a lot about wildlife in your area, as well as getting their regular magazine and know that your money is going to a good cause.

Other ideas include:

There are now plenty of books about wildlife, these include the creative nature writing genre as well as the more practical ‘where to watch’ type of book.

Maybe your friend or partner has expressed a love for a particular series of nature programmes on television and it might be possible to buy the box set of DVDs.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.