Gardener's Notebook: Encouraging Kingfishers

Gardener's Notebook: Encouraging Kingfishers

Darren Venables, Head Gardener at Chewton Glen, clears the banks of a stream to encourage kingfishers to flourish.

"We are now well underway with preparations for summer but I wanted to sneak one last ‘winter’ project in before the weather really changes and we are totally committed to summer’s routine of mowing, planting, harvesting and watering.

For many years, walking along the Chewton Bunny stream, you have been able to see kingfishers. These rare birds are not easy to spot - you tend to see a glint of blue out of the corner of your eye as one flies past. Until you see one you do not appreciate just how small these stunning birds are.

The important thing to bear in mind with these beautiful birds is they need a good food source which we have in the stream. There are many small wild trout in the Chewton Bunny, which you can see in the shallow sections of the stream, where the water is clear and fast-moving, and easy to catch for these excellent fisherman.

The next thing is you need to give them is suitable areas to nest. Kingfishers like clear banks of the river they can burrow into and quietly bring up their young. Some of the sections of the Chewton Bunny are sadly quite overgrown, with laurel and Rhododendron ponticum smothering the banks and the stream. With this in mind I decided to clear a large section of the stream to open it up. This will give the kingfishers a much larger habitat to allow them to breed more easily and increase their numbers. The project will be completed in two phases with clearing this year and, next year, installing footpaths and bridges to allow guests to walk along the stream as they make their way around the grounds, allowing them to see some of the most naturally and prettiest parts of the estate.

The laurel and Rhododendron were between 15-20 feet high in places and needed to be removed in sections as they were so intergrown. The important thing about removing any kind of dense habitat this time of year is to get it completed before the birds start to nest. Luckily this spring was quite cold and so the birds were a bit behind in making nests, so we had a two-week window to get this work done before they started making nests.

It is not just laurel we were removing along the stream bank, but masses of nettles and brambles were cut down with brush cutters and scrub cutters to reduce them in height. There are patches which were nearly five-feet high and so clearing them was a priority if we are to build walkways along the stream bank. The difference this initial clearing work has made has been amazing and the area we have created is extremely tranquil and calm.All you can hear is the birds singing and the water flowing.