Gardens, even small ones or indeed any greenery, can provide a much appreciated habitat for wildlife, particularly in our increasingly urbanised living spaces. Whatever planting you have is likely to harbour some of the creatures with which we share our planet. However, there are a number of initiatives that can be applied in outdoor spaces which can really enhance the environment and attract a wide range of wildlife to the doorstep of our homes. This blog provides an overview of 10 ideas for supporting wildlife in gardens and other outdoor spaces.
1. Feed the Birds
A quick and easy way to attract wildlife which requires very little space is to provide food for birds in your garden. There are a wide variety of bird feeders available ranging from small, inexpensive seed dispensers through to more elaborate feeding stations and bird tables. Even scattering some bird food on the floor could provide a tasty meal for a few feathered friends. Equally there is a wide range of bird food available which can attract different types of birds or provide the appropriate diet at different times of the year and the RSPB has guidance on what to choose.
2. Plant for Pollinators
It is now well documented that bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are suffering significant drops in number due to the use of insecticides, loss of habitat, and disease. Gardens can provide a great source of sustenance for pollinators, but it is important to include plants which provide the nectar insects need. Some plants which have been bred to have elaborate flowers may look pretty but actually provide little interest for bees and the like. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has produced guidance on planting to attract pollinators and many garden centres and nurseries now stock plants marked with the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ logo to help people choose the appropriate plants for this purpose. Planning planting with the aim of having plants in flower throughout the year also supports insects seeking food supplies as well as enhancing interest for the garden user.
3. Mind the Gap
The Hedgehog is another species which is under threat due to loss of habitat and use of pesticides. They like to roam in search of food and nesting sites and can cover 1-2km per night. However, with the contemporary tendency to enclose garden boundaries with walls and fences, rather than hedges, it often impossible for hedgehogs to move between different gardens. One way then to support these little creatures is to ensure that there is a small gap through or under a garden fence or wall to create a ‘Hedgehog Highway’. An excellent guidance sheet on this, feeding hedgehogs and what you can do to support them in urban areas has been produced by the Wildlife Trusts in conjunction with the RHS and Hedgehog Street.
4. Pond in a Pot
Ponds are often recommended as a good way of attracting wildlife as they provide a source of water for birds and animals and a habitat for insects and amphibians. You may think that ponds are the sole province of large gardens but it is possible to create a mini-pond in a pot or other container and plant this up with a few aquatic plants adding a different dimension to the outdoor space.
5. Cut the Chemicals
As already mentioned the use of chemical controls for pests, diseases and weeds has had a detrimental effect on wildlife, contributing to declines in the population of insects, birds and mammals. So reducing or eradicating entirely the use of pesticides and herbicides in our gardens would go a long way to protecting our remaining wildlife populations. While accepting that damage to plants from pests such as slugs and aphids can be highly annoying, remember that they are also the foodstuffs of other more desirable creatures such as birds and hedgehogs. Instead of reaching for chemical sprays consider alternatives such as:
- Biological controls like nematodes which act as ‘natural’ predators to garden pests
- Cultural controls such as placing copper tape around containers to deter slugs
- Gardening good practice such as mulching and removing weeds by hand before they set seed
- Focussing on plant health by choosing disease resistant cultivars, situating plants in appropriate conditions (‘right plant, right place’) and ensuring they have sufficient water and nutrients, so that they are able to withstand pests and diseases
6. Embrace ‘Disorder’
For many years the idea of maintaining a tidy garden by cutting back plants once they have flowered, sweeping up fallen leaves in the Autumn and keeping lawns in immaculate weed-free condition, has dominated our idea that good gardening is humans imposing order on nature. However, this approach is decidedly unhelpful to our wildlife, and contemporary garden design has focussed ever more on ideas of mimicking rather than controlling nature. So if you wish to support wildlife consider taking a more relaxed approach by:
- Leaving flower seed heads in place until late winter to provide seeds for birds, a place for insects to overwinter, and a source of winter interest to the garden user
- Allowing fallen leaves to remain on garden borders and naturally breakdown into the soil
- Leaving dead wood from fallen branches in place or piled up in a corner to create a habitat for hibernating insects
- Allowing part of a lawn to grow long and adding wildflower seeds to create a meadow area
- Delaying the cutting back of hedges and trees in order to avoid disturbing nesting birds
7. Make a Bug Hotel
Leaving natural habitats undisturbed is one option for attracting insects but if you want to create more of a feature you could build a bug hotel. This is essentially building an area filled with bamboo, bits of timber cut off, twigs, and even pieces of rock and brick to create lots of little crevices where insects can set up home. Bug hotels are also available to buy the advantage of making your own is you can customise it to the space available and recycle and bits and pieces you may have lying around.
8. Install a Bird or Bat Box
In a similar vein if there is a suitable location for a bird or bat box, either on a tree in the garden or on the side of the house, this can provide an inviting nesting site in an area where they may be hard to come by. For birds the location will depend on which species you are hoping to attract. For bats locating the box close to the eaves of the house would be appropriate.
9. Look after the Soil
If there is open ground in your garden then it is important to look after the soil both from the perspective of providing good growing conditions for plants and for maintaining biodiversity. Perhaps earthworms, slugs and beetles are not the sort of wildlife people are keen to attract but as previously mentioned these are all food sources for the more glamorous birds and mammals. So for the sake of both plants and animals alike adding organic matter such as spent compost, leafmould or bark chippings, as a mulch will go a long way keeping soil healthy: supporting macro-organisms, maintaining soil structure, improving drainage, and minimising the leaching of moisture and nutrients.
10. Plant a Tree
Trees are ace! They not only look fabulous, providing structure to a garden, and depending on the species, flowers, interesting foliage, colourful bark and bright little jewels of berries, but they are also an all round habitat and food source for birds and insects. There are many diminutive trees which are suitable for small gardens or if there is no open ground available or space is really at premium some can even be accommodated in a large container creating a perfect focal point. Everyone’s a winner!