Supporting Wildlife in Our Own Gardens

Our gardens make up a living landscape all across the Country and the way we look after them can make a big difference to our wildlife. This page sets out some of the things we can do in our gardens to benefit the biodiversity of the natural world on which we all depend. Working in our gardens can also benefit our own wellbeing, particularly during the current period of lockdown as we spend more time at home.

  • Gardening organically encourages healthy plant growth by improving the soil with organic material including compost and leaf mold, which can be made as shown below, as well as well rotted manure. Mulching flower beds in the Spring with deep layers (5-8cm) of organic material will suppress weeds, retain moisture, and enrich the soil as well as providing a habitat for earthworms and beneficial microorganisms. Many organic ferlilizers including Fish Blood and Bone Meal can be used to further support your plants.
  • Watering our gardens should be done in the evening when it is cooler as this reduces evaporation and the risk of water on plants causing scorching by the sun. Water should be directed at the earth and not the plant so that it reaches the roots. Installing one or more water butts to collect rainwater can help preserve valuable drinking water and also provide a source of water when the use of hose pipes is restricted. Washing up water can be used for plants but should not be used for fruit and vegatables. Hedgehog Spreading compost or leaf mold on your flower beds as descibed below can help retain moisture and reduce the amount of watering required. Water-retaining granules can be added to hanging baskets and containers to help retain water and so reduce the amount of watering needed during hot weather. Lawns do not need to be watered as although brown grass may not be particularly attractive it will quickly revive after rain.
  • Growing a variety of plants and shrubs that flower at different times and provide pollen and nectar from spring to autumn will attract diverse species to your garden and provide food and shelter for both small and larger creatures. Growing plants such as marjoram, pussy willow, crocus, lilac, foxgloves and lavender will attract bees which, like hedgehogs, are under threat. Flat or shallow blossoms, such as daisies, zinnias, asters and Queen Anne's lace, will attract the largest variety of bees including honey bees. Long-tongued bees will be attracted to plants in the mint family, such as nepeta, salvia, oregano, mint and lavender. Single flowers with one ring of petals provide more nectar and pollen than double flowers, in which extra petals have replaced pollen-laden anthers. Double flowers also make it more difficult for bees to reach the inner flower parts. More ways in which we can help bees in our gardens can be found on some of the websites at the foot of this page.
  • A wild area in a secluded part of our gardens which can be left untended can support a variety of wildlife including butterflies and other insects, which in turn benefit insect-eating birds such as robins, wrens, blue tits and thrushes, and mammals such as hedgehogs, shrews, frogs and toads. Long grass attracts butterflies as it provides a habitat for such egg-laying insects as well as shelter for small mammals, however grass needs to be cleared from an area in which wild flower seeds are to be planted as they will not be able to compete with it. Night-scented plants such as buddleia and evening primrose attract moths, and taller flowers also attract dragonflies as well as bees. For more information about creating a wildlife area see the links at the bottom of this page.
  • Making Compost from garden and kitchen waste is an ideal way to use this material to benefit your garden either by digging it into your soil or spreading it on the surface as a mulch to suppress weeds. It will also improve drainage in clay soil and help retain moisture in chalky soil. Plants, shrubs, fruit and vegetable waste and cardboard need to be shredded or cut up and mixed together with grass cuttings and straw to produce a combination of material that will rot down effectively to make Magazine packaging made from potato starch seems to take longer to decompose. Adding rain water collected in a water butt filled from a down pipe from the roof of your house will speed up decomposition, as will using a compost bin with a lid as it retains the heat generated by the plant material as it breaks down. Alternatively you can build a compost heap which although taking longer to decompose provides shelter for many creatures both large and small, including slow-worms that eat slugs. Making your own compost also saves you the cost of having your green waste collected and taken away by the Council.
  • Oak leaves should not be included in the material being composted as the tannin in them is poisonous to plants. However they and other leaves can still benefit the garden as they can be used to make which is produced when they are slowly decomposed by fungi, turning into a dark and soft crumbly substance. Leaf mold can be made by filling a large strong plastic bag with wet shreaded leaves, punching holes in it with a fork to improve air flow and sealing it. Keeping the leaves wet and shaking or turning the bag over every few weeks to get air among the leaves speeds decomposition which should complete after about a year although oak and other tougher leaves will take longer. Although leaf mold is not rich in nutrients it is an excellent soil conditioner as it retains water while maintaining good structure that supports earthworms and beneficial bacteria. It can be spread over flower beds around plants and shrubs where it will supress weeds and enable worms to take it down into the soil.
  • Buying peat-free compost helps preserve the peat bogs that are both habitats for flora and fauna as well as supporting rare species not found anywhere else. Peat bogs are also important for our environment as they lock in large amounts of carbon which is only released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide when peat is extracted. It is becoming ever easier to find and buy peat-free compost as an increasing number of varieties are now being produced following concern about the adverse impact on climate change resulting from losing peat bogs.
  • A wildlife pond will attract wildlife into your garden as it provides food, water and a bath for birds as well as a home for and newts and other amphibians. According to The Royal Horticultural Society, nearly 70 percent of ponds have been lost from the UK countryside during the past century, meaning garden ponds and water features have an increased importance for wildlife. The pond should have sloping sides and be shallow around the edges to enable creatures to climb in and out. It should not contain fish as they will eat the other wildlife. Remove floating weed and algae and leave it on the side overnight so that creatures living it can return to the water.
  • Hedgehogs help protect our plants by eating snails, slugs, beetles and caterpillars but the decline in their population in recent years could endanger their future. Log and leaf piles, wilderness areas or even a box with straw in it in an undisturbed corner of your garden can provide a safe and secure area for them to breed and hibernate, and putting out meaty dog or cat food can help feed them. Adult hedgehogs can travel up to two kilometres in a night and so leaving a gap in your fence or digging a channel beneath it will enable them to travel between gardens and move safely between habitats to find mates and food.
  • Frog on Stone
  • Trees and hedgerows give birds somewhere to nest and provide them with food and shelter as well as being wildlife corridors joining up green spaces for small mammals. Trees with blossom in the spring and fruit in the autumn are particularly good, and wall climbers can provide links between gardens for pollinators. Trellis and evergreens make a calm haven by acting as a windbreak.
  • Putting out water and food such as kitchen scraps, peanuts, sunflower hearts, seeds and seed-heads, fat balls and berries throughout the year will attract and feed a wide range of birds in your garden. Single bird feeders hung around the garden are better than one multiple feeder as it means that shyer species do not need to compete with more aggressive birds for food.
  • A pile of dead wood or leaves and twigs in a secluded and shady corner of the garden provides a perfect habitat for numerous insects, including beetles which are dependent on wood, that in turn attract birds and mammals.
  • Book Cover

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    More things we can do in our gardens to support and care for wildlife can be found on the following websites.

    BBC Springwatch: Helping local wildlife during lockdown
    Gardening for Wildlife with Kate Bradbury
    Brent Lodge Bird & Wildlife Trust
    RSPB: Giving Nature a Home
    The Wildlife Trust: Making space for nature in your garden
    RHS: Encourage wildlife to your garden
    Friends of the Earth: 10 easy ways to help bees in your garden
    'Gardeners' World' videos about creating a wildlife garden
    RHS: Encouraging bees into your garden
    The British Hedgehog Preservation Society
    Making and Using Leaf Mold

    You might also like to read wildlife gardening pioneer Chris Baines book 'How to Make a Wildlife Garden' shown above.

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