The best way to attract more wildlife to your garden is to provide a habitat complete with food and forage sources, shelter for a wide variety of creatures, and an accessible water source.
We asked some of our favourite wildlife gardeners and bloggers for tips on how to encourage more wildlife into our gardens. Here’s what they said…
How to create habitat for pollinators
When creating a garden, says Jeremy Bartlett, creator of the Let it Grow blog, it’s customary (and sensible) to start with basic structures – fences, paths, patios, sheds, washing lines, lawns, ponds and other hard landscaping features. “However, from the perspective of wildlife, it’s plants that form most of the fabric of a garden and provide shelter and food. For wildlife, it all starts with plants.”
Jeremy goes on to explain:
““Flowers provide food in the form of nectar and pollen and, in return, insect visitors act as pollinators. Recent attention, such as Friends of the Earth’s The Bee Cause campaign has focussed on bees…However, other insects such as flies, beetles and wasps, all play their part.”
Linda Birkin is one of a team of academics from the University of Sussex who got together to create Buzz Club. This is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in helping pollinators to thrive – and with lots of live research projects underway, there are plenty of ways you can get involved. Linda says you can improve habitat for pollinators by making a few easy changes to the way you garden:
- Choose plenty of native flowers.“Native plant species are great because that means that our native insects are more likely to recognise them and be able to get at the resources inside. But don’t dismiss introduced species, as many of those do provide food, and some can fill gaps in our seasons where little native is flowering.”
- Choose early and late-flowering blooms.“Planting early flowering bulbs (like crocus and snowdrops), early crop plants like autumn-sown broad beans, or winter flowering plants like mahonia and winter plum, mean that even if insects are awake at odd times, they still have food.”
- Learn to love your dandelions.“They’re an excellent source of pollen and nectar, flower early in the year and respond very fast to sudden warm spells. Better viewed as a garden support staple rather than a ‘weed’.”
- Cut back or eliminate your use of weedkiller and pesticides.“Encourage natural enemies, use physical controls, change your view of ‘weeds’.”
How to create habitat for invertebrates
Creating a successful ecosystem means building habitat in which creepy crawlies thrive and attract bigger creatures to feast on them. Buglife is the only organisation in Europe dedicated to the conservation of all invertebrates. They’re actively working to save Britain’s rarest little animals – everything from bees to beetles, worms to woodlice and jumping spiders to jellyfish. Spokesperson, Paul Hetherington offers some advice on boosting your garden’s bug population:
- Bugs like scruffy.“Be a little untidy…avoid a mono-culture approach, let your lawn grow. Don’t pave or deck over too much garden and on such areas, position pots of useful plants such as herbs that benefit wildlife and the kitchen table.”
- Allow patches to grow wild.“Leave some bare ground for ground nesting bees and masonry bees to gather mud to seal their nests. Put up and correctly position homes for bugs – create a stumpery. Include a source of water even if it is just a birdbath.”
- Help overwintering bugs.“Leave plenty of places for over winter shelter such as piles of leaves, similarly don’t cut back all the plants until spring as this provides winter habitat.”
How to create habitat for hedgehogs
“Rough estimates put the hedgehog population in England, Wales and Scotland at about one million, compared with 30 million in the 1950s,” says the BBC. If you’d like to do your bit to stem the decline of nature’s greatest slug killer, here’s how to make your garden an attractive refuge for hedgehogs:
- Stop using slug pellets or at the very least, switch to hedgehog-friendly kinds.
- Build or buy a hedgehog house. Welsh wildlife conservationist, ornithologist and TV presenter, Dan Rouse suggests building a hedgehog home to encourage hedgehogs to take up residence in your garden and to ensure they’re not disturbed during the winter.
- Create access points. Make sure hedgehogs have access into and out of your garden. Fence panels should have small holes at the bottom – roughly the size of a CD to allow the animals to pass through them.
- Prevent drowning. Horticulturalist and garden writer Pumpkin Beth advises us to make sure that any ponds and water features are hedgehog friendly. She says: “Check your pond has a gradually sloping entrance into the water to allow frogs, newts, and hedgehogs to easily enter the pond and to leave the water. Sadly, many hedgehogs and other creatures drown in ponds, as they can’t climb out of steep sided water features. If you’re not sure how wildlife-friendly your pond is, add logs, rocks, or gravel, to create a gradual slope into the water.”
- Check before you mow. Check grass and hedges for hedgehogs before you mow or strim.
- Check before you burn. Always check your bonfire for hedgehogs and pets before lighting and if possible, move the pile of leaves and twigs before igniting it to make absolutely sure you’re not incinerating a hibernating hedgehog.
- Feed the hedgehogs. Feed your hedgehogs meaty cat or dog food in the run up to hibernation in around October, and again when they wake up in March. Don’t offer bread or milk because these can make hedgehogs sick.
If you’d like more information on all things hedgehog related, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society is a wonderful source of information and advice.
How to create habitat for birds
Encouraging insects into your patch will help entice birds, but here are a few more ways to turn your garden into a bird-friendly paradise:
- Feed the birds. Kate MacRae – aka Wildlife Kate says: “Feeding the birds is an obvious way to support the avian population. A wide variety of foods fed in different kinds of feeders will attract the most variety of species.”
- Winter feeding. Keep visiting wild birds well-fed during the winter when food is scarce, says Dan Rouse. Her advice? “Add more fat such as suet, fat balls and mealworms for our birds to bulk up during the colder months.”
- Provide water. This is especially important as the weather gets colder, says Kate MacRae, whose site includes incredible footage of the tawny owls visiting her garden: “Keep water free of ice so birds and wildlife can drink and bathe. For birds, it’s essential to keep feathers in tip top condition in cold weather and they will bathe on even the coldest of days!”
Put these tips into action and, in time, you’ll reap the benefits in terms of the variety of wildlife that makes its home in your garden. Wildlife gardening gives so much pleasure, as does the knowledge that you’re doing your bit to protect and nurture some of our most loved wild creatures.
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