The last fifty years have seen a spectacular loss of wildlife habitat in the British countryside. By contrast, wildlife is thriving in our towns and cities, and the wonderful mosaic of parks, neglected wild space and domestic gardens has arguably become the most successful ‘nature reserve’ in the country.
We have over one million acres of land in private gardens. Working with nature to make our gardens wildlife-friendly is an effective way for each of us to make a positive contribution. It’s also the best way for most of us to have the daily pleasure of close contact with wild animals and plants.
Keep out the Chemicals
Begin by making your garden a ‘pesticide free zone’. If your garden is a healthy habitat for the tiniest forms of life, then everything else will benefit.
Organic gardening is the modern day model for us to follow and the key principal is very simple: encourage a natural balance and the predators will keep the pests in check.
A Load of Rot
Another key ingredient for any healthy wildlife habitat is natural decay. Try to keep all the dead plant material within your garden. Spread leaves and chipped waste wood as a mulch amongst the shrubs, or compost it and use it to enrich the soil. A garden rich in deadwood and decay will be alive with insects. They in turn attract the birds and other wild creatures.
Splash out with a Pond
A pond is the best addition you can make to your garden to make it even more attractive to the local wildlife. It can provide top quality habitat for a range of our most interesting and attractive plants and animals, but the water also attracts a wide range of passing wildlife, from foxes and hedgehogs in need of a drink to bats which feed on rising insects, and a host of different birds that need fresh water for bathing or drinking, or mud to build or line their nests.
Turf out the Lawn
Most British gardeners have lawns and some close-mown turf is good for birds and other creatures such as foxes and badgers which can feed on worms that come up to the surface. However, if there is space it is a great idea to manage some of the lawn as a meadow. One cut each year in August or September keeps the meadow under control, but also allows for wildflowers such as cowslips, moon daisies, scabious and knapweed to be planted and to seed themselves.
A mini-meadow is an ideal habitat for butterflies and bees and the mice and voles that live there may attract such predators as kestrels, owls and weasels into your garden.
Shades of Woodland
Many of our garden birds prefer to nest in holes in hollow trees, feed on nuts and berries, or scratch around in leaf litter for food.
Very few of us have gardens big enough to include whole a woodland, but many of us have room for individual trees or a stretch of hedgerow in our gardens. Native trees and shrubs are best for wildlife since they offer food to native insects, but there is a bonus if a native tree has fruit or nuts to feed the birds. Among the best small native trees are crab-apple, rowan, alder and birch.
If space is limited, then growing shrubs and climbing plants over fences or walls, or up support frames fixed to the house, is a good way to offer a taste of woodland habitat.
Add in the Extras
Finally, there are extra ingredients that can make your garden even more successful as a home for wildlife. Heaps of logs, and drystone walls with open joints, provide a range of hiding places for all kinds of creatures. Nest boxes act as substitutes for natural nesting sites, and by using the house and boundary walls and fences as supports, it is possible to cram lots of breeding territories into a relatively small area. Add a bird feeding station and a regular supply of varied, high quality food.
Place the key points of interest – nest boxes, bird feeders, pond – within easy view of your windows, and the wildlife will reward you with constant captivating activity throughout the year.