Not since the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign during the Second World War have our gardens been sp important. Our 16 million gardens are a haven for wildlife, which is seriously under threat from climate change, intensive farming and the increasing destruction of our beautiful countryside for more and more housing.
There is a misconception that wildlife gardening means doing nothing and just leaving the garden to do its own thing. Nothing could be further from the truth: keep on gardening as usual, but by making some simple changes, everyone can make their gardens more wildlife friendly.
Creating a ‘wild corner’ is one of the best ways to encourage wildlife into the garden. This should develop as an overgrown space which remains undisturbed and attracts all sorts of creatures to a variety of different habitats.
Creating a home for a range of invertebrates will encourage other wildlife looking for food. A log pile is a fantastic place for beetles and their larvae, wood lice, centipedes and slugs and snails – a ready meal for hedgehogs, toads, newts and some birds. Remember to have a gap in your fence where hedgehogs and frogs can gain access.
Piles of stones and rocks where they receive the warmth of the sun are a haven for slow worms and lizards, a place which is dry and warm beneath the stones, and safe from predators.
Some of the taller grasses are a great introduction to the wild corner, providing seeds for the birds and shelter to beetles and ladybirds, so important in the vegetable patch.
Shrews could set up home here, devourers of slugs and other garden nasties. Voles, small frogs and toads, and even the occasional grass-snake would be attracted here.
Provide water for birds and hedgehogs
A source of water is an important way to attract aquatic creatures, as well as hedgehogs and foxes looking for water and birds wanting to bathe.
A pond is a superb addition to the garden, but any sort of sunken vessel will help. In my own garden, I have a resident grass-snake who ate all the goldfish in my pond and sometimes appears in my compost heap, but we have learnt to tolerate each other!
Slow worms are often seen in the compost heap as well, useful predators of slugs and well worth encouraging.
Some of the best plants for the wild corner are nettles (for butterflies, ladybirds, aphids and some birds), teasel (bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies), brambles (bees and nesting birds), and thistles. Try to avoid all pesticides and weed killers.
Of course, most gardens are quite small and unable to accommodate a ‘wild corner’. Nevertheless, there are many easy ways to encourage wildlife.
Don’t be too tidy and allow some of the grass to grow long. Our bee population has declined enormously in recent years, so choose plants which are particularly beneficial to bees and other insects.
Among the best are lavender, dahlias, wallflowers, borage, foxgloves, cosmos, scabious, verbena bonariensis, marigolds and marjoram. Buddleias are particularly attractive to butterflies.
Put out bird food and put up nesting boxes to attract wild birds.
A ‘bug hotel’ made up of piles of twigs, straw, dry grass and hollow plant stems in autumn will provide shelter over the winter for all sorts of creatures, including hedgehogs, toads, solitary bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, ladybirds and woodlice.
Ivy is an amazing source of food and shelter for birds, insects and bats and should not be removed from trees, which it doesn’t harm.
Bees, hoverflies and common wasps feed on the nectar and pollen, whilst the nutritious berries are eaten by a range of bird species.
Not everyone enjoys gardening, but by taking a few steps to promote wildlife in this age of ecological meltdown, has to be worthy of consideration by all who care.
Getting children actively involved has to be the key to the future of our planet, seriously compromised by the failure of humankind to tackle these essential issues.