Make your garden more wildlife welcoming
Attract birds, bees and butterflies with some small but impactful changes to your outside space
Last year, the UK missed almost all the 2020 nature targets that it signed up to 10 years ago. Many of these targets are vital for the protection and management of our natural spaces. Yet, with rapid urbanisation, population increase, agricultural pollution and low public awareness, wild areas and habitats are being destroyed (in the UK and around the world), with disastrous effects on non-human animals (as well as the survival of the planet!).
But there are plenty of small actions we can all take to protect wildlife, especially when it comes to our gardens. According to The Wildlife Trusts, 87 per cent of households in the UK have a garden, and these cover a larger area than all our nature reserves combined (wildlifetrusts.org). But more and more garden spaces are being lost to AstroTurf, patios and other hard surfacing - and because of this, the wild creatures that would usually visit them are struggling.
Here are seven easy ways to make your garden more welcoming to wildlife. If you don't have much space, get creative and try to apply the following where you can, but make sure to pass on these tips to anyone you know that does have a garden.
1. Create a wilderness area
Whilst a neatly trimmed lawn with some perfectly potted plants might look pretty, it won't attract or sustain wildlife. Funnily, the best places that allow wildlife to thrive, are those that are somewhat wild. Since the 1950s, the UK has lost 97 per cent of its species-rich meadows (theguardian.com), leaving many small animals and insects without a home. But by opting for a 'wild' garden or allowing a space within your garden to grow wild, you can offer wildlife a habitat and important resources. A beautiful way to 're-wild' your garden is to scatter wildflower seeds over a patch of unused lawn. This will create a pollen-rich haven for bees, butterflies and other insects. When it comes to weeds, don't pick them - plants like buttercups, daisies, dandelions and nettles are important food sources for critters.
Help birds by growing climbers such as ivy, passion fruit and roses, and don't trim them - let things grow a little bushy, as this will provide our flying friends with cover and nesting areas.
Make sure to leave parts of your lawn unmown. Longer grass allows flowers to bloom (great for bees!) and provides places for insects to reside and for creatures like butterflies, to lay their eggs. Longer grass also creates shelter, forming microclimates under the stalks, enabling different species to thrive. However, do mow some areas of lawn, as this is helpful for wildlife that feed on earthworms, such as robins and blackbirds.
2. Get composting
By using kitchen and green waste to build up your own compost heap, you create a wonderful home and source of food for minibeasts like snails, millipedes, worms and woodlice, and even larger wildlife such as grass snakes, hedgehogs and toads.
Ideally, if composting in a bin, use one made from sustainable slatted wood that will allow critters to climb in and out as they please. If you prefer a compost heap as opposed to a bin, remember that small animals, like hedgehogs, are likely to climb into the warm spot to hibernate. So, avoid moving compost heaps about the during winter months.
Gardening experts, The Greenhouse People, recommend regularly adding alternating layers of green (nitrogen-rich) materials like grass cuttings, weeds and uncooked vegetable peelings and brown (carbon-rich) materials like leaves, wood chippings, shredded paper and cardboard and sticks (greenhousepeople.co.uk).
3. Create a hedgehog hub
Hedgehogs are on the decline in the UK after losing so much of their habitat, but it's easy to help these cute creatures out.
You can encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden by leaving out a shallow bowl of water, together with specialist food from wildlife food suppliers.
If you have a companion animal, hedgehogs are also quite partial to tinned cat or dog food, so save a tin or two. Many people leave out fish-based cat food and dairy milk for the spiky critters, but both these substances are, in fact, extremely harmful to hedgehogs.
Fenced-off gardens mean that hedgehogs can't move around to different areas in search of food and shelter, so get your neighbours involved and link up your backyards. You can do this by making small holes in fences at ground level, which give hedgehogs an easy path through.
Offer areas of shelter for breeding and hibernating, in the form of log piles or hedgehogs houses - these are available at most garden centres, but you can easily make your own from bricks, logs or an old wooden wine box, combined with dry leaves and straw.
4. Install a wildlife water feature
Rainwater-filling features like bird baths are a brilliant low maintenance way of attracting wildlife and supporting a diverse ecosystem in your garden.
Likewise, adding a small pond is another great way to attract animals and keep regular visitors happy. Newts, common frogs and toads are some of the six amphibians that are native to the UK and are likely to be enticed by the introduction of a good water feature. Water gathering insects will also be popular with bats, bringing this nocturnal predator into your garden.
Just make sure to place your bird bath or pond in the shade so that it doesn't dry out during hot summer days and to slow the growth of algae.
5. Attract nocturnal hunters
Did you know that we have 18 different species of bat in the UK? Worldwide, there are more than 1,400 species! Making them the second largest order of mammals (batcon.org). But sadly, many are now endangered due to habitat loss. A lot of people do not know that outside of the UK, bats are also seed dispersers and pollinators - in fact, 500 plant species rely on nectar-drinking bats to pollinate their flowers - fruits like mango, durian and banana.
In the UK, bats are solely insectivores, making them a vital predator within the country's ecosystem - these bats feed on bugs such as mosquitos, moths, mayflies and even some beetles.
Bats are also important fertilisers - their excrement is a long-lasting and natural soil improver that is much better than chemical-based products.
To attract bats, reduce artificial garden lighting and plant night-scented flowers that release their fragrances after dark, like honeysuckle and evening primrose - you could also put up a bat box to encourage them to roost.
6. Create a woodpile and leave leaves alone
Many small animals and insects, including butterflies, wasps, frogs, toads, slow worms and hedgehogs use woodpiles as places to hide throughout the year and hibernate in winter.
The best logs to use are those that are larger in size and still have bark attached. Place log piles in an area that's neither constantly sunny nor always in the shade. Don't have many logs? Even one partially buried provides a good habitat.
Similarly, critters love leaf mounds, so don't get rid of fallen leaves. Instead, rake them into a pile (check for animals first) in a damp, shaded corner of your garden and allow it to become a habitat and feeding place for toads, newts and frogs.
They also make superb day-time resting places for hedgehogs!
7. Opt for a hedge
Why would you want a wall or a fence, when you could have a beautiful living thing surrounding your garden?
A fence offers nothing to wildlife, if only a small slither of space for birds to rest.
In contrast, hedges can attract huge numbers of small animals and insects. Not only do they provide brilliant places for hibernating, nesting and breeding, but those that produces berries also offer a food source for small mammals and birds!