Looking after both wildlife and the environment is key to helping our eco-system run as efficiently and effectively as possible. However, at the same time we need to ensure we are using sustainable techniques, practices and products to welcome nature into our outdoor spaces. We’ve enlisted the skills of award-winning garden designer Angie Turner to share some helpful tips on how to make your garden a wildlife wonderland.
There are few things in life more relaxing than sitting in your garden on a sunny day watching a peacock butterfly settle on a buddleia, or listening to the song of a blue tit. Making your garden a haven for birds, bugs, butterflies and other wild creatures adds colour, life and movement to your little patch of planet Earth.
Having a garden that is a living, breathing, chirping wildlife haven is beneficial to us, yet also vital to preserving some of the plants and animals that were once common but are now fighting for survival. Gardens – from the smallest postage stamp-sized plot to the sweeping lawns, borders and woodlands of a stately home – are some of the most important habitats for wildlife in our densely populated land.
There are lots of ways to attract wildlife into your garden and all the main conservation charities such as the RSPB and Buglife provide useful advice on how to do it. While the exact recipe for a wildlife-rich garden varies depending on where you are, doing one or more of these things is a great way to start.
Just add water
If you could do just one thing to attract wildlife into your garden, you should consider creating a pond or adding a water feature. Even water left standing in a dustbin lid rapidly attracts creatures such as water boatmen and damselflies. A wildlife pond (with shallow sides so that frogs and toads can climb out) quickly becomes a wildlife haven almost as if by magic.
Given a bit of luck and a few well-chosen pond plants, you’ll see frogs, toads and newts beneath the surface, multi-coloured dragonflies humming around the edges and the occasional spectacular bird visitor such as a grey heron. The Royal Horticultural Society has useful advice on how, when and where to create the perfect pond for wildlife.
Providing birds, bugs and hedgehogs with places to shelter or hibernate needn’t cost a lot – some of the best refuges may already be there. Others can be created at very little cost, like a bug hotel made from a bit of wire, old plastic and fallen leaves, which will keep insects and other wildlife snug and safe over the winter months. Select flowers with open centres so that bees and butterflies can easily feed, the RHS Perfect for Pollinators List is a good place to start.
A bird-table (placed carefully out of the reach of cats) will provide hours of entertainment as well as a welcome feeding station for birds.
Don’t be too tidy
No-one wants nettles and brambles running rampant through their herbaceous borders, but leaving just one area where these useful plants can flourish will provide food for butterflies and other insects, as well as providing useful nesting for all sorts of wildlife.
Give chemicals a miss
There are some wildlife species that it’s hard to like – the slug is one. However, the gardener’s traditional choice of slug pellet weaponry is responsible for killing legions of hedgehogs and song thrushes across the UK. These creatures are capable of munching their way through many times their own bodyweight in slugs and snails, so make your garden work for you by letting nature help you banish pests. Why not create a hedgehog house to help attract a natural slug predator instead?
Compost your waste
Every good garden should have a bin or heap where grass cuttings and other garden waste can rot down into a deep-brown mulch of earthy goodness. Getting in the composting habit will save you money and provide a breeding ground for earwigs, worms, beetles, woodlice and other insects. These will eat the decaying plants then provide food for birds and hedgehogs.
With just a few tweaks to the way you look after your garden, it can provide a refuge for some of the wildlife that would otherwise find it hard to survive in our built-up environment.