Our small wildlife garden attracts insects wherever possible, and we hope that some of what we have learned about these creatures will encourage you to choose insect-friendly plants and avoid pesticides.

UK biodiversity has changed with the passage of time. As the human population expands and its needs are catered for, numbers of native bees and other pollinators have greatly declined. Their importance to us, to our own food and the food chain, is greater than most of us realise.

Row 1 No 1 - Bumblebee on Knapweed 29 July 2014Row 1 No 2 - Mint Moth, Jun 2014Row 1 No 3 - Forest Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes) on blue table, 3rd Sep 2012Row 1 No 4 - Ladybird larva on GeumRow 1 No 5 - Mystery caterpillar

Shared Planet, a BBC Radio4 series on sustainability presented by journalist/author Monty Don (the nation’s most famous organic gardener) looked at the crunch point between human population and the natural world and found this crunch point happening all over the planet. The problem is not only the UK’s.

Listen to programmes from the Shared Planet series on BBC iPlayer.

Row 2 No 2 - Golden bugRow 2 No 3 - Marmalade Hoverfly on Purple LoosestrifeRow 2 No 4 - Ladybird dragon on Himalayan knotweed.JPGRow 2 No 5 - Mystery moths togetherWoundwort Shieldbug Instar


Comma (Polygonia c-album) on garden chair Jun 20 2014

When we are outdoors, we may be aware of only a blur of wings as something whizzes by. Some of these insects are tiny; we may find ourselves staring at a creature we have never seen before, wondering what it is.


One way to discover an insect’s identity is to turn to the Internet. The Open University‘s website ISPOT is worth a look. Browse through the photo galleries and you may recognise a creature you’ve seen in your area, or one that has piqued your curiosity.

ISPOT is free to join. If you have a camera or phonecam, by agreeing to share your wildlife photos and the location in which you took them, you will be adding to the overall picture of how the species is doing across the country. If you use a digital camera, the date of your photo will be automatically recorded along with other photo data.

Insect - Arsenal Elephant Hawkmoth2

Elephant Hawkmoth, saved from Arsenal Underground Station


This large, iridescent creature was being blown along the floor into the tunnel of Arsenal Underground Station. I picked it up and carried it carefully back to our garden. Soon it was revived by the warmth of the sun and flew away. The internet showed it to be an Elephant Hawkmoth.

After signing up with Open University ISPOT, I typed in the Hawkmoth’s details and downloaded its photo. A Google map is part of the ISPOT procedure. When the Arsenal Underground came up on the map as the rescue scene, it was clear how close it is to our local nature reserve, Gillespie Park. Elsewhere on the internet, “Elephant Hawkmoth foodplants” brought up Rosebay Willowherb, a tall magenta wildflower that grows in Lupin Meadow, on the lower level of Gillespie Park.

web - tidied interior mural - rosebay willowherb closeup

Rosebay Willowherb on mural, Islington Ecology Centre

The sequence of events became obvious : the Hawkmoth had hatched in Lupin Meadow, fed on Rosebay Willowherb till it was an adult, and taken to the air. It would have flown south over gardens and houses on Gillespie, over the Arsenal Underground entrance.

Trains coming into or leaving the station pull air into the pedestrian walkway with such force it becomes a wind tunnel, and the Hawkmoth would have been sucked down into it. If humans have to brace themselves to stay upright, what chance did a Hawkmoth have?





 See the  Living With London Wildlife and What You Can Do For pages. Our ground-based creatures –  slugs and snails – get a mention on The Garden Adapts page.

the ISPOT category which includes insects calls them invertebrates. Here, in photos taken in our garden, are our invertebrates: creatures who flew here or grew from eggs laid by those who flew into the garden. They must be typical of North London, though most go unnoticed. Any number of them must have come from Gillespie Park.

Row 3 No 1 - Tiger CraneflyRow 3 No 2 - Hawthorn Shieldbug from Gillespie pavementRow 3 No 3 - Snout MothRow 3 No 4 - Ladybird BeetleSAMSUNG

Hedge Woundwort instar on gdn hose

Hedge Woundwort instar on garden hose



Row 4 No 1 - Bumblebee on ScabiousRow 4 No 2 - Mystery MothRow 4 No 3 - Spotty bug on ButtercupRow 4 No 4 - Ladybird dragonRow 4 No 5 - Mint Moth on Hardy G 'Wargrave Pink'

Row 5 No 1 - Mystery bugRow 5 No 2 - Copper UnderwingRow 5 No 3 - Honeybees on Knapweed, 29 July 2014Row 5 No 4 - Female Orange Tip ButterflySAMSUNG

Hoverfly /Episyrphus balteatus

Insect -Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, on Gaillardia, 27th Aug 2012

Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, on Gaillardia

It nectars on flat-topped flowers and rests on vegetation. There is often an influx of them from the continent, and at such times large gatherings may form.,aspx
(A to Z of a Wildlife Garden)



Row 6 No 1 - Mint Moth on Rose stemRow 6 No 2 - Eryngium and bumblebeeRow 6 No 3 - Hedge Woundwort instarsRow 6 No 4 - Bumblebee on Hardy GeraniumRow 6 No 5 - Masonry or Mining Bee on Ivy

Row 7 No 1 - Mystery bugRow 7 No 2 - Vine WeevilRow 7 No 3 - Speckled Bush CricketRow 7 No 4 - Hedge Woundwort instar on garden hose



2014 - Bumblebee on Hedge Woundwort2014 - Comma Butterfly on Nettle2014 - Common White Wave Moth2014 - Honeybee on Knapweed2014 - Mystery Bug on Creeping Buttercup2014 - Mystery bug on St Johns Wort2014 - Mystery Caterpillar on Nettle leaf2014 - Mystery caterpillar2014 - Speckled Wood Butterfly2014 Bumblebee on Alkanet2014 Ladybird Beetle2014 Row 1 No 1 - Mystery bug on window2014 Row 1 No 2 - Bumblebee on Sweet2014 Unfurling Moth, Beetle, Ladybird

BUMBLEBEE ON purple loosestrife 29 july 2014

Bumblebee on Purple Loosestrife


Morning caterpillarWaspish Bee cropMystery bug on Wild Cherry leaf cropRed Admiral Butterfly on BuddleiaTiger Cranefly on Ice Plant leaf

mystery bug on helenium el dorado leafwhite butterfly on buddleiaMint Moth on grapevine leaf cropHolly Blue Butterfly on Sumac colourBush Cricket in recycle bag 2

Small Magpie Moth on Ivy leaf 14 July 2015Marmalade Hoverfly on Purple LoosestrifeMarmalade Hoverfly on Meadowsweet leafMystery bug on Potentilla flowerHedge Woundwort instar on Alkanet leaf (underside)



hoverfly on ice plant floretsGreen beetle on Lamium Maculatum leafLadybirds 2015Beige Moth crop P1040294


red admiralCaterpillarGreen caterpillar on Alkanet leaf.JPGSpeckled Wood on Nasturtium leafladybird on rose leaf, vernon sq churchMint Moth on Tibetan KnotweedInsect clings to underside of NasturtiumPug Moth in cloche sharpened

Possible Hoverfly on Ice Plant floretsMystery bug on Monarda leaf, September 2016




No-1-Plume-MothNo 2 Plume Moths matingNo 3 Plume MothNo 4 Plume Moth

These little insects have always lived in the garden. Their many thin wings tuck neatly under outer wings when they are at rest, with the insect forming a ‘T’. We had been calling them ‘T Bugs’. In flight, some look like a fan or a flamenco dancer’s skirt. They’ve not been easy to photograph – these four best digital photos from 2014 follow years of blurred snaps. When the hulking giant with the camera approaches, the tiny moths take evasive action. They fly to a leaf, roll over in midair and land upside down on its underside. Their flight is quirky: they may swirl about, zigzag, fly in tight corkscrews or do barrel rolls. At rest on twig or leaf they are camouflaged, looking like a bit of dried straw.

I described them to Richard Meyers, Conservation Ranger at the Ecology Centre, asking him what they might be. ‘Look on the Internet, under PLUME Moths’, he said. I did. Theirs is an international family, and some are pests.

Plume moth on fern 2015

In our North London garden we have had white Plume Moths, one species with pointy wingtips and another whose wingtips look like swirly sand sculptures. Our most plentiful Plume Moth, seen in the above photos, looks to be covered in a stencil pattern. Its name is Amblyptilia acanthadactyla.

 Website moths.htm says its foodplants include Herb Robert, Hedge Woundwort and Mints. No wonder they come to us. We offer food and a home. They feed on wildflowers and we have never found them making pests of themselves on other flowers. As we use no chemicals, they have been able to raise their tiny families. They overwinter as adults; our garden walls of evergreen Ivy provide winter homes for them.

* There are a number of Plume Moth websites on the Internet, with many photos; specify UK Plume Moths to see which of them live here.


Biodiversity includes spiders; they are part of the food chain. Some birds use spiderwebs as nesting material, while others eat the spiders. They are rich in amino acids and greatly favoured by Wrens and Great Tits.

SPIDERWEB on teasel two 985

Even the smallest flying creature is welcome here. They bring movement to the garden. On a calm, cold day in winter there may be a mid-air performance of figure-8’s by tiny wisps just hatched from eggs laid somewhere in the Ivy…

Insects pollinate flowers and fruit, and we need to encourage them. House Sparrows and other birds need the protein provided by insects to feed their fledgelings. There is no shortage of spiders to match the decline in bird or bee numbers, and they are relocated wherever possible.

Spiderweb on foggy morning


There are humans who like spiders. One day, as we sawed tree stumps behind the main pond in Gillespie Park, a young volunteer shouted ‘Stop! Spider!’ Everyone stopped work as the lucky spider was plucked from the danger zone and moved to a place of safety by its protector.

My housemates, and their guests, also like spiders. “I like the way they set up their stall, without knowing what might drop into it…” But we have no balance of nature in our tiny Highbury garden. If spiders want to take it over, they will succeed unless someone intervenes. There were days when I came out to water RF’s garden and found it decked with spiderwebs; husks of sucked victims hung in the webs like so many Christmas ornaments.

Arachnids of Highbury

* Our smallest spiders are dots the size of a grain of sand. They blow into the garden on the breeze, trailing a single strand of web behind them.

Insect - Cross Spider

Cross or Garden Spider


* Our largest spider, also found in many local front gardens in autumn, is the GARDEN or CROSS SPIDER (Araneus diadematus). Its elegant web hangs vertically, with its creator often dangling in the centre like a large patterned jewel. Every few days it devours its old web, along with the husks of its victims, and spins a new one. The web’s strands are strong: I have found bumblebees, honeybees, and a butterfly caught in the Cross Spiders’ web. They set up shop along our sunny southern border, stretching their webs between Meadowsweet, Clematis and Rose stems.




I’ve evolved a small ritual to persuade Cross Spiders to move to the concrete garden next door. It is unused by humans and visited chiefly by cats. When a web appears with its spider in residence, I bring the tip of a garden cane up and under it. If the spider grasps the cane, it can be carried over to the brick wall. There the cane is held over the wall and rapped on it smartly, just above my hand. The cane tip flexes and the spider drops into a new home. It can conduct its business there, or climb back up the wall, as it chooses. But it is now away from the sunny side of our garden. And a bird may spy it and have it for dinner.

Some spiders resist the move. As we walk, the spider on the cane tip will attach a strand of web to it and abseil down, letting out more web as it goes… When it nears the ground, it rushes back up its abseil line to the cane tip. It will do this once or perhaps twice before making its choice: remain on the cane and accept its new home, or drop to the ground and hide in the vegetation.

After moving a spider, I twirl the tip of the cane round the vacated web, picking up every sticky strand I can see. Any of it can trap a passing insect, even when the web’s designer has been moved elsewhere.

* Also in residence here are small grey MONEY SPIDERS (from the Linyphiidae family). They like to put their triangular webs high up in the ivy, where they look like soft grey trampolines. The little spiders hang beneath them, waiting for an unsuspecting winged creature to land. Money Spiders drop down into the undergrowth when they see the cane approaching; they wait till I’ve gone to climb back and spin another one.


* CRAB SPIDERS (Misumena) look like little white crabs. They spin no webs, but sit on flowerheads waiting to pounce on a victim. The unsuspecting bee or hoverfly comes to the flower, only seeing the predator when it is too late. I saw a crab spider about to pounce on a ladybird larva – it recognised its intended victim just in time, pulled back and scampered away.

* The longest legs belong to the HARVESTMAN (Phalangium opilio), who looks like an orange lentil with legs of starched black sewing thread and is not really a spider. They have no fangs with which to bite, but rather stink glands on either side of their eyes.

HARVESTMEN FR on Himalayan Knotweed leaf

Harvestmen live among the Mints and Hardy Geraniums, only breaking cover when I deadhead the flowers or deploy the watering can. I try to avoid those impossibly fragile-looking legs. The photos, of two Harvestmen on a leaf of Himalayan Knotweed, were taken at what seemed a rather private moment, with one tickling the other. I left them to it.


BUMBLEBEE CONSERVATION TRUST * Find out more on What Can You Do For Your Garden page

The Pollinator Garden – WWW.FOXLEAS.COM – website for Marc Carlton, wildlife gardener. Click on Marc Carlton’s name to reach a number of related sites for tips, lists, downloads

Illustrations of UK Shieldbugs and their instars by Ashley Wood, available from: