Tips for making a wildlife-friendly garden
21st May 2021
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 that 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 20 years, talks about why it is important that people try to make their garden wildlife-friendly.
“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 suffer from mobility problems that mean you need aids such as a stair lift or a Zimmer frame to get around, making changes to your garden to make it attractive to birds, mammals and invertebrates needn't involve a lot of work. To link in with Garden Wildlife Week 2021, which is running from the 31st of May till the 6th of June, this guide takes a look at some easy tips you can follow to make your garden a wildlife haven.
The best wildlife garden ideas
•Relax your lawn care and mowing
•Help pollinators by growing pollinator-friendly plants
•Put bird feeders in your garden
•Help creatures of the night and remove artificial lighting
•Create a woodpile
•Use environmentally friendly snail and slug control
Relax your lawn care and mowing
UK homeowners often go for paved patios, fake grass and over-manicured lawns in their garden, but mowing your lawn less and letting parts of it grow longer will not only save you time, but also helps give nature a home.
By creating a mini jungle in a corner of your lawn it 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.
National Trust gardener, Cal Stewart, adds: “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) runs an annual campaign that encourages people to use their gardens to support nature. This year the charities are calling on the nation to help Bring back our beetles. To find out how you can help beetles, you can visit the website here.
Help pollinators by growing pollinator-friendly plants
Having a range of nectar-rich plants in your garden will attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees. 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.”
READ MORE: Top 5 plants to plant this summer
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 just want to feed the birds in your area, then it might be worth purchasing a squirrel-proof feeder 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.”
READ MORE: 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 more scarce, 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 garden and one of the best things people can do is to give hedgehogs access to your 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.
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 issue 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.
READ MORE: How to prepare your garden for autumn
Use environmentally friendly snail and slug control
While snail and slug pellets are popular choices for many gardeners as they are effective at protecting plants from being eaten by them, there are many methods you can try which are environmentally friendly and just as effective.
There are slug killers based on aluminium sulphate that kill slugs and snails on contact and are environmentally friendly as they have minimal risk to other wildlife or pets.
Protective barriers are another option that many gardeners use with disposable plastic drinks bottles acting as protective cloches for young transplants. You just need to cut the bottom of the bottle off and remove the lid and place it over your plant.
Other materials such as lime, forest bark, crushed eggshells, wood ash, human hair and soot are believed to make effective slug barriers. You just need to sprinkle these on the ground around the plant you are protecting.
There are even slug and snail tapes that work as protective barriers and can be purchased from garden centres. These repel slugs as there is a small electric charge that is naturally contained in the copper face of these tapes and they are easy to fix onto pots and seed trays.
Slug traps are another alternative and are available in garden stores, but you can easily make these yourself by using plastic yoghurt pots. All you need to do is bury the plastic pots to half their depth in the soil and fill them with beer or milk and water and this kills the slugs.
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 and below are 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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