Mabled White Butterfly
Twenty-three million households have access to a garden in the UK, covering around 433,000 hectares. It is estimated that one quarter of the area of the average British city consists of private back gardens. The recent dramatic declines of many of our native wildlife species are largely a result of loss of habitat such as ponds, hedgerows and Ancient woodland. If just a small proportion of UK gardeners could garden in a wildlife-friendly way it would help to compensate for these losses, as well as providing enjoyment of all the wildlife that arrives as well as the plants themselves.
Here are a few simple steps to follow to help you create your wildlife-friendly garden. There are also downloads at the bottom of the page with more detailed information about particular aspects of wildlife gardening, such as how to create a wildlife pond or build a hedgehog home.
- Look at what grows locally in the wild or what thrives in other gardens without the use of intensive gardening techniques. Moisture-loving plants cannot be expected to thrive in a free-draining gravel bed, or plants that have adapted to survive in arid conditions to survive in a bog garden. Select plants appropriate to your soil-type and the amount of sun, wind and rain each area of the garden receives.
- Do not use slug pellets, even so-called organic ones. It is not certain that they have contributed to the 25% decline in hedgehog numbers over the last 10 years but they are implicated. Similarly do not use insecticides: These kill not only ‘pest’ species but also beneficial species. If you can attract more birds, bats and hedgehogs into your garden they will do a pretty good job of eating the insects.
- Don’t use any peat products in your garden. Peat is used in many multi-purpose composts and this is contributing to the destruction of the UK’s natural peatlands. Peatland take around 10,000 years to form, is able to store four times as much carbon as forests and supports many rare plant and animal species. There are many suitable alternatives around but do read the packaging carefully.
- Don't cut everything down in autumn. Just cut away dead stems that block paths, and remove slippery piles of leaves from lawns and paths. Leave everything else until mid-March, by which time half of it will have merged with the soil anyway. This is because many beneficial insects overwinter in dead stems or seed heads, or among leaf litter on the ground, and wild birds find food there.
- Plant some wildflowers in your garden. This will benefit invertebrates and other wildlife that is associated with native wildflowers. Concentrate on 'single' flowers rather than complicated 'double' flowers when buying from the garden centre. Single flowers tend to attract more insects and thereby more birds, or moths and bats if they are night-scented! There is more advice on plants to attract wildlife in the downloads.
- Find room for some native hedgerow shrubs such as hawthorn, spindle, wild honeysuckle, wild roses and guelder rose. They provide shelter, berries and nest sites for birds; food for moth and butterfly larvae; nectar for adult insects, and can be cut back to the ground every 5-7 years if they get too big.
- Make a wildlife pond. Even a small amount of water in a garden makes a huge difference to the amount of wildlife that will visit, but if you can accommodate a proper wildlife pond with gently sloping sides, planted with wild flowers, you will attract birds, dragonflies, frogs, toads, newts and mammals.
- Put up a nest box for bats or birds, a log pile or wildlife stack. Don’t forget to feed the birds all year round but keep the bird table clean, to avoid the spread of disease.
Ackowledgements: Marc Carlton, Bat Conservation Trust, Natural England, Kent Bat Group, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Buglife, RSPB, Ryton Organic Gardens, Butterfly Conservation, BBC Breathing Places.