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Helping Wildlife

Helping Wildlife

Can we really make a difference to the UK's Wildlife population?

It is a well-known fact that much of Britain’s wildlife – from hedgehogs to bullfinches – is suffering an alarming decline in numbers, and as gardeners we have to take some of the responsibility. Despite our best intentions, we green-fingered types are in danger of harming the natural environment by creating ‘manicured’ gardens rather than ‘wild’ ones. In many cases we aspire to smooth stripy lawns, which we water and spray with chemicals that have long been banned in the agricultural world. We plant double begonias, which may look wonderful but provide no nectar for bugs and butterflies, and we bound our properties with larch lap fences instead of wildlife friendly hedges. As 12.5% of available land in the UK is made up of gardens, you can start to realise what a fantastic contribution we can make as individual gardeners to that wider environment. A natural garden is important if you care about the future of our country’s wildlife population. All manner of creatures will buzz, beetle and scamper into your garden if it provides food, shelter and nesting sites. Not only will insects, birds and mammals benefit if you create a wildlife-friendly environment, you will benefit too: you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you are doing your bit to boost the numbers of native creatures and you’ll also get enjoyment from watching many and varied species feed and nest in your garden.

Supplying ready made homes...

Often if you can provide a ready made home for your wildlife it can have a beneficial impact on the survival rates. By providing ready made shelters it saves the bug or bee or bat or bird from having to find and make their own... This saves lots of time and energy and therefore enables them to get on with other important tasks such as feeding and breeding.

Garden Organically if you can.

Firstly, it’s important to embrace the idea of gardening in harmony with nature. That means turning your back on artificial fertilisers and feeding the soil with compost. Healthy soil means healthy plants, which are more able to resist disease. Dispensing with chemical pesticides allows nature to deal with infestations of aphids or slugs. These creatures provide food for other wildlife, such as blue tits, song thrushes and hedgehogs, and the more of these beneficial creatures you have in the garden, the fewer problems you will get from pests and diseases. Once you stop using chemicals, a harmonious, natural balance evolves and, of course, you will automatically have more bees, ladybirds and butterflies, because pesticides kill the ‘nice’ insects as well as the ‘nasty’ ones.

Providing Natural Habitats for Wildlife

Deciding what to plant is also crucial. Teasel is one of the best wildlife plants to add to any garden because its flowers and seeds attract so many different creatures – the likes of bees and beetles in summer and goldfinches in autumn. Other ‘must have’ flora includes sunflowers, lavender and wild carrot.

Ponds, orchards and hedges are great ways to enhance a garden’s ‘wildness’. Even if your garden is tiny or you don’t want the expense and maintenance responsibility of building a sizeable pond, a wooden half-barrel or similar waterproof container, sunk into the ground, can be planted with some of the less invasive wetland wildflowers such as lesser spearwort, fringed water lily and brooklime in pots. Add a handful of oxygenators and a sprinkle of duckweed to create some shade on the water surface. Some of the smaller damselfly species could well breed in your mini-pond. If your plant pots are close to the barrel edge, frogs and common newts will have access to the water and birds will sit on the edge to drink. Do be careful, however, to arrange for an escape route for hedgehogs that fall in.

Trees and shrubs in a garden, especially native species, are a magnet for wildlife of all kinds as they provide food, shelter, nesting sites and song posts. Hedges form corridors where wildlife can move from one habitat to another in safety, finding food along the way. The best way to create a natural looking native hedge is by planting bare rooted whips – small shrubs just two or three years old. These plants (choose a variety from the likes of beech, dogwood, hazel and blackthorn) are lifted straight from their nursery beds and planted as soon as possible in their permanent places.

Long grass somewhere in a wildlife garden is an absolute must, even if it’s just a scruffy bit under a hedge. It provides excellent shelter as well as food for many creatures – from small frogs hiding from predators to voles searching for seeds. A much prettier option is to plant a meadow. If properly managed, it won’t make your garden look unkempt and you’ll have something just as colourful and more dramatic than a neatly mown green lawn.

However, even a small meadow is a commitment if you want to maintain its flowery nature, so a cornfield area might be more practical as it almost takes care of itself. It differs from a meadow in that the plants are all annuals (unlike the perennials of a true meadow) and there is no grass. It is simply a sea of blooms – poppies, cornflowers, corn marigold, and heartsease – any of the annual cornfield “weeds” that once graced our arable fields.

Wildlife gardening is all about making choices – choosing to provide a safe, chemical free habitat for your local wildlife, especially if you live in an urban area where such havens are becoming scarce and impoverished. In my view, sharing your plot with wildlife is the only way to garden.

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