Whether large or small, every garden is a potential home to wildlife. Gardens are extremely important for wildlife, not only can they provide food and shelter for a huge range of plants and animals, but they can form a natural “bridge” between built up and open areas which allow wildlife to move between them relatively easily. Gardens can also provide particular habitats that may be missing in your local area such as ponds and suitable hibernation or nesting sites.
There are 15 million gardens in the UK and they are estimated to cover about 270,000 hectares, which is more than the area of all the National Nature Reserves in the UK. Each garden on its own may be small, but together they form a mosaic of habitats for wildlife.
Creating a wildlife friendly garden is about making a space that is good for plants and animals but also good for you. You don’t need to have a big garden, dig a pond or sow a wildflower meadow to create a potential haven for a wide range of species. Even small things, like resisting the urge to ‘tidy’ grass, hedges, shrubs, windfall fruit and leaves can have a big impact.
The essentials of wildlife gardening are based on four things: trees, deadwood, water and a variety of planting. Any one of these features will encourage wildlife to your garden or school grounds and help it thrive.
TOP TIPS for WILDLIFE GARDENERS
- Grow a mixture of native and ornamental plants in your garden. Include nectar and pollen-rich plants which flower at different times of the day and year – these will provide food sources for bees and other insects. Fruiting trees and shrubs are also an important winter source of food for birds and mammals – try leaving some fruit on the tree or leave some windfalls to attract winter visitors such as redwings and fieldfares. Cutting back perennials in spring rather than autumn provides seed heads as a further food source for birds, as well as providing a valuable shelter for hibernating insects.
- Think carefully about the garden products that you buy. Cut back on chemical use – why not encourage pests’ natural enemies (such as birds, lacewings and ladybirds) to your garden. Use mulches to reduce weed growth and select disease resistant varieties of plants. Avoid using products from habitats under threat e.g. peat and peat-based composts (from peat bogs) and hardwood products (from tropical rainforests).
- Create a water feature, ideally without fish, and you will encourage amphibians into your garden (which can help you to control slugs and snails). By planting waterside plants you can also provide an important place for dragonflies and damselflies to breed. A water feature will also give birds a place to drink.
- Create additional habitats for wildlife in your garden. Simple measures such as growing climbing plants against bare fences and walls can provide important extra food sources in your garden as well as shelter and places for birds to nest. The greater the range of habitats you can provide in your garden, the more wildlife you will attract.
- Recycle in your garden. Compost plant material and kitchen waste – it provides an excellent soil conditioner for free!. Compost heaps also provide an important habitat for many species, such as slow worms and insects (which in turn provide an important food source for birds such as wrens). Why not install a water-butt to catch rainwater for use in your garden. And re-use materials from your garden – dead wood placed in piles provides a useful habitat for many species, including fungi, insects and reptiles.
There are lots of additional tips available on the following websites:
- Birds and your Garden – leaflet produced by Natural England
- The Royal Horticultural Society – links to useful advice sheets
- An A-Z of garden wildlife from the RSPB
- Wild about gardens – a joint Wildlife Trusts and RHS site which includes an interactive assessment of your garden’s value for biodiversity & tips on changes you can make
- Wildlife Gardening – the BBC help Britain go wild!. Log on to see lots of useful factsheets or join in and get free email updates on how to manage your garden for wildlife season by season
- Wild in Your Garden – information from the BBC on how to attract wildlife to your garden
- Space for Nature – wildlife gardening forum – a really comprehensive site with news, features and lots of links
- Buglife’s Wildlife Gardening pages
- The Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Gardening page – these webpages are updated every month so give you up-to-the-minute information on what you can do or what to avoid doing to help your garden wildlife.
- CCW’s Plant for Wildlife leaflet
For more information on creating wildlife friendly school grounds and gardens click here.
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