A CLIMBING frame we bought for our children several years ago has been a godsend now that we are in lockdown. And not just because my two daughters love playing on it, but also since so too do the wild birds and animals that live in my garden.

Stoats were the first species to show a liking for it. I noticed that once my girls went inside, the kits would venture out to play amongst the discarded toys.

Their favourite was the trampoline. They seemed to love its springy surface and I would catch them pulling themselves along the stretched-out fabric on their bellies.

Bandita, the name I gave to the stoat kit’s mother, took them to play each dawn and dusk. It was so funny to see them running along the path at top speed, just like my two girls.

Stoat mothers change nest sites frequently and it wasn’t long before Bandita moved her family underneath the decking.

Once the kits lived “on site” the place seemed to explode with stoats. You could see them ricocheting off the vertical walls, tussling among footballs or rolling under the deck playing hide and seek. After most sessions they ended writhing around in a heap on the trampoline.

After the stoat family moved out, a hedgehog mother moved in. Spotting her and her four hoglets, cute as buttons as they filed behind her in a neat line, I decided to fit cameras and lighting to the climbing frame.

It wasn’t until I reviewed the footage that I realised just how many animals and birds were enjoying this space.

In fact, the films played out like a real-life version of the 2016 John Lewis Christmas advert, where a family wakes up on Christmas morning to discover badgers, foxes and more bouncing on their new gift.

Admittedly my garden spans three acres and is surrounded by open countryside so barn owls, tawny owls, kestrels and badgers are regular visitors.

But I seem to have more passing wildlife than I realised. There was a young vixen; there a female roe doe prancing past on long slender legs. At night, barn owls and tawny owls flitted overhead.

Later, these owls’ brought their young to the climbing frame to teach them to hunt, using the high towers as vantage points.

A camera overlooking the paddling pool revealed another surprise: this was now a convenient drinking and bathing point.

The stoat kits seemed to like it the most. They would balance on the slippery inflatable rim and dip their noses into the water.

Then one would take the plunge, belly flopping in with a great splash, before swimming round in laps. I had heard that stoats can swim for distances up to 5km, and here was proof.

At night the pool was most popular with owls, particularly a tawny owl that used it as a bath, or “hoot tub”, if you will.

To encourage more wildlife and to test the ones that already visited, I left food out. For the stoats, I put some food on top of the seven foot high climbing wall. But they scaled this in just a few bounds. I tried to make it harder by placing a high wire overhead. But they were too nimble and easily scampered over this.

A badger didn’t fare so well. My cameras filmed it attempting the climbing wall, balancing on one hind leg, its front paws clumsily wrapped around either side of the frame, and swaying precariously.

One of my favourite visitors to the climbing frame was a wild male weasel. This weasel would let me get within a few feet to film him as he darted amongst the discarded footballs and children’s toy saucepans.

I noticed that he always had an escape plan – using vole and mole tunnels at one side of the decking. I named him “Vin Weasel” after the American actor, Vin Diesel.

To test Vin I placed a large plastic toy shoe my children had long since stopped playing with on the decking. It was in pristine condition and my mother-in-law grumbled that it was much too good for a weasel.

The shoe had a miniature door, which on opening set off loud tinkling sounds, and its tongue formed a sort of slide. I hid a dead mouse inside and within days “Vin” was in. I filmed him opening the door, lights flashing, and emerging at the top of the tongue to slide away with the mouse gripped firmly in his mouth.

The climbing frame has given me, my girls and a host of wild species so much pleasure and I expect it will continue to do so for years to come. I’ve yet to see an animal find a use for its slide, but you never know.