In our modern age of intensive farming, housing estates, motorways and industry, wildlife often gets forgotten in the drive to develop land and make money. Today, gardens have an increasingly important role to play in wildlife conservation. Planting trees and hedges, digging garden ponds, feeding the birds (year-round), etc. all make a real difference in urban and residential areas that would otherwise be virtual wildlife deserts. Even in countryside, where agriculture is practised all year, gardens can be made into oases of biodiversity; away from the pesticides and intensive methods now employed.
Everyone is familiar with birds visiting their gardens. Black birds, blue tits and robins are common sights across the UK. By making an effort, however, we can all encourage more species, in greater numbers to frequent our gardens all year round. There are a number of simple measures that can be taken to achieve this:
- Put food out in feeders (seeds and nuts), on the ground (mealworms, some leftovers) and hanging from branches (fat balls). Providing a range of food, all the time, will encourage a very wide variety of birds into your garden. There are many companies providing bird food and feeders, as well as advice on what to do (see web links below).
- Nest boxes there are a number of types, for different species, that you can buy or make yourself. Positioning is important: boxes should be off the ground, where predators such as cats cannot reach them, and not face southwards (as the spring and summer sun will make them too warm inside). Nest boxes should be cleaned out early each spring so that they can be used again. See the web links below for advice and contacts.
- Hedges a well-managed native hedge, or just a few bushes, provides shelter, nesting places and food for many different birds and even small mammals. If combined with one or more trees, you will have made your garden very wildlife friendly indeed. Not all exotic shrubs are useless to wildlife, plants such as buddleia are well known as being excellent nectar sources for butterflies. Most nurseries sell small whips and saplings and will give you advice on planting them. The main point to remember is that any trimming should be done during the dormant (winter) season, when the wildlife is much less active and the hedge isnt growing.
- Practices by gardening in a more sensitive manner (using fewer pesticides, planting trees and shrubs, trimming at the right time of year etc.), you will increase the wildlife potential of your garden by encouraging insects that provide food for birds and small mammals. If the thought of a garden crawling with insects fills you with horror, you could just set aside one corner of it for wildlife; it is still worth doing and you will see a difference.
Putting a pond in you garden can make it invaluable for amphibians (frogs, toads and newts). In fact, it is widely recognised that domestic gardens play an important role in supporting their populations. By making it accessible to them, with shallow graded edges, you allow the amphibians to get in and out of the pond easily. Fish are a bad idea since they eat the spawn and tadpoles. Damp, dark places around garden edges are very useful foraging areas for frogs and toads.
Flowering shrubs and herbs will attract insects into your garden. Along with the plants themselves, they provide food for larger animals and birds, as well as pollinating the flowers. Bumblebees are a threatened group of insects and need our help. The above measures, and making bumblebee hibernating boxes, all help to support them. See the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for more information.
As will probably be apparent, if you encourage one type of wildlife into your garden, you will probably find that others take advantage of it as well. By improving gardens as habitats, we make them attractive to wildlife in general. There are numerous gardening books and websites around and many have wildlife sections in them. It is important to note that, by making your garden attractive to birds, amphibians, insects etc. you dont have to make it scruffy and unsightly. Proper planning can mean your garden is a pleasure for you and your flying/crawling/wriggling visitors. And the more people that do it, the more wildlife will be supported.