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Making wildlife welcome in your garden...

Making wildlife welcome in your garden

The dramatic decline of many of our best loved species of birds, insects and animals such as the hedgehog, is something we need to address urgently. Gardens cover more land in the UK than our National Parks and have an important role to play in wildlife conservation.

To make a garden more hospitable for birds, bees and other beneficial insects, butterflies, invertebrates and amphibians just takes a few small changes. No outdoor space is too small to help and we can all do our bit. Not only will we be helping to preserve many species for future generations, it is fascinating and rewarding to see what a range of wildlife can be supported in our own back gardens.

There are three key things that all wildlife need -  food, water and shelter and we can provide this in a number of ways:

Food

Having a diverse range of plants to supply nectar for bees and other insects is the basis for a good wildlife ecosystem. It is important to try to provide a food source for as long a period of time as possible, so when you are thinking about planting your spring bulbs it’s a good idea to plant some which will supply nectar for bees and other insects when they come out of hibernation. Native bluebells (hyacynthoides non-scripta), crocus, winter aconite, single flowered snowdrops and native wild narcissi are good choices.

Choose shrubs and perennials for each season to provide food for a wide range of pollinators and butterflies, as well as making your garden more colourful and interesting throughout the year. 

Even putting a few in pots will help if you don’t have a garden. The RHS website (www.rhs.org) has a list of plants suitable for bees and pollinating insects (Perfect for pollinators) as well as one for plants that attract and provide a food source for butterflies. There are also many plants that you can grow from seed if you are on a tighter budget, such as Sarah Raven’s Bees and Butterflies range.

If you are supplying supplementary food for birds and hedgehogs, make sure it is of a good quality and suitable. Hedgehogs will eat dog food or special hedgehog food and bread should not be given to either birds or hedgehogs. Only give birds good brands of specialised food to avoid problems with toxins (eg from peanuts) and avoid those that bulk up with cheaper ingredients.

Water

Ponds and water features are not only attractive additions to the garden, they provide a useful source of water for insects, amphibians and birds. Birds need water to drink and bathe in, so even if you haven’t got the space for a pond, a bird bath is a great addition to help garden birds.

If you would like a pond but haven’t got the space you can install a mini water feature quickly, easily and inexpensively by using a water tight oak barrel or, even more cost-effectively, a black smithy patio tub. Either of these can be wholly or partly sunk in or just used as they are. Site any water feature away from trees that shed leaves and ensure that there is sufficient light but not too hot. If you are using an oak barrel and it’s dry, soak it overnight so that the wood swells and becomes watertight. If you have trouble preventing leaks, line the tub with a piece of butyl liner, stapling it to the wood just below the top. Place some bricks in the bottom at different heights, just like the varying shelves in a pond. Add a layer of gravel around 5cm deep on the bottom. Ideally, let the water feature fill up naturally or fill with rainwater. If you use tap water let it stand for a couple of days to let the chlorine evaporate. The pond can be planted up with four or five dwarf pond plants – eg a waterlily at the deepest part and water iris, marsh marigold and water violet plus an oxygenator.

It’s important that wildlife can get in and out easily so make ramps/step with stones or bricks and/or have planted pots at different heights near the pond.

Shelter

If you can have one or two small trees in your garden this will provide shelter as well as a potential food source for birds or pollinators, depending upon what you have.

Climbers such as honeysuckle are also useful as shelter and food sources.

Having an uncut area of grass provides shelter for insects and small animals like grasshoppers, beetles and young amphibians and provides cover for small mammals foraging at night. Grasses are also important food sources for the caterpillars of some butterflies.

Having an area of native wildflowers will increase diversity and there are various seed mixtures available.

Nest boxes for birds will not only help them raise their chicks but can provide useful shelter over the winter. They are best put in place in the autumn but they can still be sited in early spring. Ideally, have a variety of nest boxes with different sized holes to suit a range of different birds. A position facing somewhere between north and east is best so that they don’t get too hot or too wet. Have a clear flight path to the nest boxes. As well as different sized entrance holes, different birds like different height of box. Tits and sparrows prefer higher sites (2-3 metres high) whereas Robins like lower placed nest boxes (just under 2m) Sparrows will nest in loose colonies and you can site several boxes near to each other, but they should be away from where house martins are known to nest.

Having a log pile and/or siting bug boxes will provide shelter for overwintering insects and bees and hibernating hedgehogs. You can also buy hedgehog houses, but it is important to ensure that hedgehogs can access gardens by having hedgehog sized holes in fences and wooden gates. Hedgehogs like one side of the hedgehog house to be along an ‘edge,’ so alongside a wall or fence is ideal as long as they can gain access into the garden. Try to encourage your neighbours to make their gardens hedgehog friendly too. There has been an alarming decrease in the number of hedgehogs. There are estimated to be fewer than one million hedgehogs left in the UK, compared with around 36 million in the 1950s!

Good wildlife all-rounders

Sunflowers (seeds for birds, good pollinators), thyme (bees, beetles and other invertebrates), Lavender (bees, butterflies), honeysuckle (many insects and the thrush family love the berries), rowan (a great small tree for a wildlife garden), sedum spectabile (late season nectar for hoverflies, bees, butterflies), pyracantha (nectar for butterflies and moths, shelter for caterpillars) and ivy (shelter for overwintering butterflies and insects, shelter for birds, nesting site in spring, flowers and berries for many birds and insects)


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