If you’re reading this then you’ve no doubt heard about the alarming decline in wildlife in the UK over the last 50 years.
You may be wondering what you as an individual can do about it and the solution is very simple. As the expansion of urban centres continues, land that was once a haven for all sorts of creatures now finds itself turned over to housing. Most houses, however, come with a garden and it is thus down to homeowners and tenants to return this space to the wildlife that once inhabited it.
Too many of us cover our gardens in fence-to-fence lawn, patios and decked areas, and unwelcoming gravel. Given the ever increasing importance of our gardens to wildlife, we need to have a rethink about garden design and put nature at the forefront of our plans.
From Simple Beginnings Good Things Grow
Now I realise that changing your garden is not something that will happen overnight so we’ll begin with some of the easier things that you can do to support wildlife in your garden.
Supplementary food – as the fashion for simple and easy to care for gardens has taken hold, bugs and insects have been left with fewer homes. This has had a knock on effect on birds who rely on these critters for food so the first thing you can do is to put a bird feeder or bird table in your garden.
Bird feed is exceptionally cheap and can be bought from all garden centres and most good pet shops.
The time and money requirements for this are very low but the difference made is substantial, particularly during the winter months.
Living/breeding habitats – while food is one essential component of a wildlife garden, so is providing somewhere to live.
You will have to deploy different approaches depending on the type of wildlife you primarily want to attract. If you want to encourage the essential beetle life in your garden then leaving some rotting wood in one corner is a great idea while those concerned about the decline in bees might consider buying a man-made hotel for solitary and bumble bee species.
Bird and bat boxes are relatively cheap but again can have a big impact on your local wildlife. Even leaving a pile of leaves in your garden in autumn can provide shelter for hibernating hedgehogs.
Let’s Take The Next Step
If you’re prepared to invest a little more time and potentially money into providing the ideal habitats for wildlife then here are a few things you can do:
Variety in planting is key – different creatures require different types of plant and flower so one of the essential things to bear in mind is the need to diversify your efforts.
This can mean more planning on your part and more hard graft to turn what might be quite barren areas of your garden into useful wildlife sanctuaries.
You also have to think about variety in terms of when things flower, seed or bear fruit. Insects, birds and animals all rely on different food sources throughout the year and a good wildlife garden will take this into account when it comes to the types of plants and flowers that are included.
Dealing with patios – you might be asking what you can do if your garden has large concrete patios or decked areas. Well, rather than incur the expense of ripping them out, you can simply buy a number of planters in which to grow flowers and small shrubs.
Decomposing delights – we seem to be obsessed with keeping a pristine looking garden and this leads many to throw leftover bits of plant either into a green recycling bin, into landfill or on a fire.
This is ludicrous given the amount of fertiliser we then buy in order to return nutrients to our gardens. You’d be much better off either composting this waste or simply leaving it to rot on your flowerbeds.
Leaves seem to be especially irritating to many who insist on raking them up into a bag or blowing them half way down the street for someone else to deal with. You might instead try placing them on your flower beds to provide much needed nutrients for next year’s plants and to provide a great habitat for insects that then attract many birds who feed on them.
Going The Whole Hog
There are a couple of things that you could do that would dramatically improve the ability for wildlife to thrive in your garden. These might not be cheap or easy to do but the impact of doing them is huge:
Build a pond – it’s a simple, universally known fact that water is essential for life (or life as we know it at least) and there is almost nothing that you can do that will benefit native wildlife in your garden more than building a pond.
Not only will birds drink from it, but insects and invertebrates will thrive in and around it (think dragonflies, water boatman and snails) and of course amphibians such as frogs, newts and
toads will be very thankful for such a water source to live and breed in.
Now I’m not saying that a pond is right for every garden but you also shouldn’t be afraid of them. You also don’t need to make a great big pond to attract wildlife; any size will do really.
Make Nature Your #1 Priority – while every little helps when it comes to providing suitable habitats for wildlife, if you really want to do your bit for your local environment then you should consider turning your whole garden over to wildlife in one form or another.
This really just builds on the advice above but goes further in terms of the variety you include, the extent to which you go and the determination and effort that is required.
Planting new trees might be a good idea, ripping up that patio or decking would open up a whole new space and leaving portions of your garden completely wild can be a great boon for creatures great and small.
Wildlife gardening is a huge topic and one that is far too big for a single article. Indeed there are whole websites dedicated to it but the easiest thing to do would be to buy a book. I can’t say I have read it but based on its reviews and the fact that it is written by the RSPB, “Gardening for Wildlife: A Complete Guide to Nature-friendly Gardening” seems like a good choice to get started.
A Couple Of Other Tips For Eco Friendly Gardens
I couldn’t talk about gardens without making a couple of important points. These will help you to make yours as environmentally friendly as possible.
Firstly, do not use pesticides of any sort regardless of how tempting it may be. I’ve written about the problems associated with widespread pesticide use in agriculture but it’s really no different in gardens.
There are almost always natural ways to control pests and creating a wildlife friendly garden is the main one – birds, small mammals, and predatory insects and invertebrates will do a better job at keeping the pests away and in fact it is hard to attract these unless they have something to feed on. So using pesticides may actually deter wildlife from your garden.
Secondly, choosing where you buy garden supplies from can make a difference out in the wider world. You need to think about supply chains and where plants have come from. This ideally means buying organic seeds, seedlings and plants because even if you have an organic garden, if your suppliers use pesticides then harm is still being done to wildlife.
When it comes to garden construction materials and furniture you should also be wary about the original source. Always look for a retailer who has clear policies about only using wood from sustainable forests (preferably British as wood is a heavy product that will incur sizeable emissions during transportation). This holds whether you are choosing a fencing supplier or buying a bench from which to enjoy all the new wildlife in your garden. After all, sustainability requires a holistic approach!
This article was first published on Green Steve