Tips for making a wildlife-friendly garden
17th July 2023
Many people love seeing wildlife visit their gardens, and having regular wildlife visitors enables you to learn more about their behaviour and witness the trials and tribulations of their daily lives.
Making a wildlife-friendly garden is becoming increasingly important as the growing infrastructure of the UK and the modern world has made it harder for some wildlife to survive. Hedgehogs, for example, were recently added to the Red List for British Mammals, which means they are vulnerable to extinction.
Cal Stewart, gardener at the National Trust’s Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire, which has been gardened organically, and with sensitivity to wildlife for over 20 years, talks about the importance of creating a wildlife-friendly garden:
“The total area of gardens in the UK is estimated to be 433,000 hectares, that’s about three times the size of Greater London. It is estimated that around 87% of households in the UK have some form of garden. If every one of those gardens grew a patch of wildflowers, put up bird boxes and avoided using garden chemicals, our native wildlife – including threatened species – would stand a far better chance to thrive. There would be huge benefits for our wellbeing, too.”
Even if you have limited mobility and need to use aids such as stairlifts or other equipment to get around more easily, making your garden attractive to birds, mammals, and invertebrates needn't involve much work. This guide looks at some easy tips you can follow to make your garden wildlife friendly.
Tips to make a wildlife-friendly garden
- Relax your lawn care and mow your lawn less
- Grow plants for pollinators
- Create a compost heap
- Put bird feeders in your garden
- Help creatures of the night and remove artificial lighting
- Create a woodpile
- Add a birdbath
- Use environmentally friendly snail and slug control
Relax your lawn care and mow your lawn less
Some UK homeowners like to keep a perfectly trim and tidy lawn, but letting your grass - or a small portion of it - grow longer can make a huge difference to nature and can help create a more sustainable garden ecosystem.
Creating a mini jungle in the corner of your lawn allows beetles and other small creatures to wander, will let wildflowers already in your lawn bloom and will give small birds a space to come and feed.
In fact, an annual campaign across the UK called ‘No Mow May’ encourages all garden owners and green space managers not to mow during May – liberating your lawns and providing a space for nature.
National Trust gardener, Cal Stewart, talks a bit about the initiative and when to cut grass for wildlife: “In keeping with Plantlife’s No Mow May initiative, rather than meticulously managing a lawn for the perfect stripe and shade of green, start to appreciate the natural grasses and wildflowers. You could create a wildlife meadow. Try not to think of plants like daisies, dandelion and clover as ‘weeds’ but rather the beginnings of a rich and versatile habitat that will support bees, butterflies and birds. Experiment with shapes and designs - you could still mow in a formal frame that contains a tapestry of flowers inside.”
This is something that The Wildlife Trusts agrees with, and they explain how your garden being slightly messy is a good thing for wildlife.
James Byrne, landscapes recovery programme manager for The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Gardens can be vital havens for wildlife and have the potential to play a key role in nature’s recovery. Letting the grass grow long, using only peat-free compost, planting nectar-rich wildflowers, and ditching chemicals are all steps people can take to make their outside spaces better for nature.
“Birds, bees and butterflies need gardens with plenty of habitats such as small hedges, garden shrubs or even a patch of nettles. Smaller trees like hawthorn and rowan are great nesting places for goldfinches and thrushes, primrose and hollyhock do wonders for pollinators, and climbing plants like honeysuckle and clematis are brilliant for insects.
“It’s all about making sure you have enough variety. A bit of messiness is good for wildlife too, and means you’ll have more time to enjoy nature in your garden.”
In fact, The Wildlife Trusts charity and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) run an annual Wild About Gardens campaign that encourages people to use their gardens to support nature.
Grow plants for pollinators
Having a range of nectar-rich plants in your garden will attract pollinators and make your garden more wildlife-friendly. Pollinators such as adult butterflies and moths, for example, will feed on almost any flower's nectar.
Whilst growing pollinator-friendly plants will naturally help, it is worth considering and researching what butterfly and moth species are active in your area. Caterpillars can be choosy and may only live on one or two plant species, like brimstone butterflies, only feeding and laying their eggs on buckthorn bushes.
Something that Alexandra, the writer behind The Middle-Sized Garden blog, recommends is planting an array of plant species that flower at different stages of the year, as this will maximise the chances of pollinators visiting your gardens.
“One of the main things you can do to make your garden wildlife-friendly is to have something in flower every month of the year.
“Most companies today will label plants 'pollinator friendly' or 'bee friendly' when you buy them, but the general rule is to avoid elaborate double flowers, which are difficult for pollinators to access.
“The reason why it's important to be wildlife-friendly is that worms and insects are at the bottom of the food chain. And we are at the top! Without pollinators to pollinate our food crops, then food shortages are more likely. And worms and micro-organisms keep our soil healthy - without healthy soil, food crops will fail.
“The more greenery and the less hard landscaping you have, the better it is for wildlife. Grow as much as you can in your garden or on your windowsill - and enjoy the flowers and the sound of the birds!”
The Butterfly Conservation talks specifically about how you can adapt your garden to attract butterflies. They said: “Butterflies will visit any garden, however small, if they can feed on nectar plants. A well-thought-out garden can attract more than 20 species of butterfly. If you manage your patch to create a breeding habitat, you may see even more. We have downloadable resources to help you create a butterfly haven.”
ALSO READ: Top 5 plants to plant this summer
Create a compost heap
There are multiple benefits to creating a compost heap as not only are you reducing the amount of kitchen waste that goes to landfill, but you are creating a haven for insects in the area.
A compost heap is a great habitat for small invertebrates such as millipedes, woodlice and spiders, whilst worms, slugs, and snails will also be attracted to the compost heap. Worms, in particular, improve soil drainage and can transfer important nutrients to the surface, therefore making your garden healthier.
You can use a compost bin if that is something you would prefer, but if you decide to create a compost heap, then you should avoid moving it during the winter months as it is a popular place for animals such as hedgehogs to hibernate.
The RSPB shares some tips for anyone thinking of creating a compost heap:
- Make sure your compost bin has no base and sits on the soil. This allows worms, insects and other creatures to get in and out.
- Try not to add a large amount of any one material to your compost heap.
- Add a thin layer of waste at a time and intersperse soft, leafy material with twiggy prunings.
Put bird feeders in your garden
One quick and simple way that will help you create a wildlife-friendly garden is to put up a seed feeder, as this will attract a variety of birds. You can buy a seed feeder from your local garden centre, but if you fancy a project, you could try some DIY and make a bird feeder out of a reused plastic bottle or pinecone.
If you want to feed the birds in your area, then it might be worth purchasing bird feeders for small birds and checking that they are squirrel-proof feeders, as these only allow smaller birds to access the food.
If you are looking to attract certain types of garden birds, then it is important that you choose the type of food in the feeders that they like. Goldfinches love to eat niger seeds, while Robins are partial to mealworms. In fact, for Robins, as they are natural ground feeders, it might be best to put feeding trays in your garden as they are a better option for them.
Mike King, who is the blogger behind The Gloster Birder, said: “If you are going to feed your garden birds, it is important to feed the birds year-round. Don’t just do it during the winter; local birds come to rely on a dependable food source. Always provide drinking water and, if possible, a birdbath too.
“Try and keep bird food elevated and out of reach of cats, sometimes a seemingly impossible task. A bird table with a smooth pole that can’t be climbed or leapt upon from a nearby shed roof or tree is ideal.”
- It is important to clean bird feeders regularly, to keep them clear of bacteria and fungal spores. Here are some steps to clean your bird feeder:Wear rubber gloves, and then empty the feeder of its contents and dispose of them in a bin.
- Fill a bucket with hot, soapy water, and thoroughly clean the feeder with a brush, scrubbing off any residual food and droppings.
- It is important to then rinse the bird feeder with cold water, and leave the feeder to stand, allowing it to dry completely.
- You are recommended to then spray the feeder with a veterinary disinfectant, which should kill any remaining infectious agents, and then rinse the feeder again and allow it to dry completely, before refilling.
ALSO READ: An in-depth guide to garden birds
Help creatures of the night and remove artificial lighting
Gardens often come alive at night with wildlife such as bats, hedgehogs and night-flying insects all common visitors to gardens across the UK.
There are ways you can create a wildlife-friendly garden for these nocturnal animals, and this includes reducing or removing artificial lighting from around your property. Artificial lighting can stop bats from seeing objects in their path, and having these lights up will increase the likelihood of bats flying into things and injuring themselves.
According to the Bat Conservation Trust, bats are using our gardens more: “These small and fascinating creatures often live in close proximity to us, using our gardens as an important source of food, water and shelter. As their natural habitats become scarcer, our gardens are playing a more important role in securing a future for bats.”
The Bat Conservation Trust explains what you can do to make your garden bat-friendly:
- Plant night-scented flowers
- Build a pond
- Let your garden go a little wild
- Put up a bat box
- Create linear features, i.e. hedgerows/treelines
- Reduce or remove artificial lighting
- Keep cats indoors at night
Hedgehogs are another common night-time visitor to our gardens, and they also keep the ecosystem in balance, so it’s important to try and attract these popular animals.
There are some simple changes people can make to attract hedgehogs to their gardens, and one of the best things people can do is to give hedgehogs access to their gardens through small (around 13cm x 13cm) gaps in fences, which are known as hedgehog highways. Other ways to attract hedgehogs to your garden include leaving out food and water, including wild areas in your garden and removing obstacles such as netting. If you are leaving food out, then water and cat food are ideal, but milk should not be left out for hedgehogs as they are lactose intolerant and will get sick if they consume it.
Create a woodpile
Animals and insects like hedgehogs, butterflies and wasps like to hibernate through the colder months, and a great way to help them is to stack up a woodpile, as this will give them a place to hide during the cold snaps. Woodpiles such as this can also become the home for newts, frogs, toads and slow worms.
Some older people that suffer from a mobility restriction may struggle to lift larger logs, so if you are considering creating a woodpile, then it is worth asking a close relative to help you with creating one.
If you are looking at creating a pile of logs for hibernation, then it is advised that you pick an area of your gardens that is neither constantly sunny nor always in the shade and that you use larger logs with the bark still on them as they work best.
ALSO READ: How to prepare your garden for autumn
Add a bird bath
By adding a bird bath to your garden, you are supporting your local wild birds as it encourages them to pay a visit.
Bird baths are not only an important feature for the warmer months of the year when birds need to cool down and drink more, but they are vital during the winter months as water can easily freeze, making it harder for birds to drink.
If you have limited mobility, then the other great thing about installing a bird bath in your garden is that it doesn’t involve a huge amount of work to look after. You need to make sure the water is topped up and clean it out if it gets dirty.
Common wildlife you can find in your garden?
If you follow the aforementioned steps, then you will hopefully attract lots of wildlife to your garden. Below is some common wildlife that can be found in gardens across the UK.
These are just some of the tips you can follow to create a wildlife-friendly garden and some of the animals you may attract.
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