What you can do to make your garden more wildlife friendly
One simple way you can do your bit to encourage and support your local wildlife is to make small changes in what you do in your garden.
Even in rural areas gardens can provide rich habitats for wildlife - this is because they provide lots of places and surfaces for animals to feed on, places to hide away, places to lay eggs and build nests. Particularly in towns, gardens and parks are vital for all types of wildlife. When planning a garden, please remember your garden is a resource where lots of different types of wildlife find something to eat, somewhere to hide and somewhere to reproduce. Make sure that your garden is a source of all these things, and not just somewhere that some animals find useful for a small part of their daily lives. Your garden should have value for wildlife throughout the year, not just in the spring and summer.
Consider leaving part of your lawn uncut for most of year. Perhaps cut it just once in the autumn and once in the early spring . Long grass is an excellent habitat for grasshoppers, beetles and young amphibians. Long grass also provides roosts for insects such as damselflies and food plants for the larvae of some butterflies. However, some short grass is also useful for many birds when they forage for soil insects, so a mixture of long and short grass is ideal. Grasses and nettles are also important food sources for the caterpillars of some butterflies.
Dead wood is a valuable habitat, especially if it is allowed to rot. It will support a wide range of fungi, invertebrates and mammals. Birds such as wrens or robins will use a woodpile as a nest site. Dead wood can be used to create a simple wood pile or interesting sculptural feature and is best left undisturbed for a number of years.
Birds can be provided with supplementary food, either bought seed or food scraps, throughout the year. But in the breeding season they all want lots of insects and soil invertebrates for feeding their young so encourage scruffy corners where these will be found. Remember your food is only ever a supplement for the birds they must get most of their food from natural sources.
Help hedgehogs by supplementing their natural food, particularly during dry or cold periods when insects and earthworms are scarce. A particular favourite is dog or cat food (non fish), but you can also try small amounts of cake, biscuits and peanuts as well as fresh and dried fruits. NEVER feed them bread and milk. Another way to encourage hedgehogs to spend more time in your garden is to provide them with a home. The box should be sited out of direct sunlight with the entrance facing away from prevailing winds, in or under thick vegetation or behind or under a shed.
Create a water feature in your garden. A pond, without fish, will enable amphibians and dragonflies to breed. If a pond is not practical, a simple bird bath or pebble fountain will provide a place for animals to drink. Also consider creating a bog or permanently wet area in your garden next to the pond. Perhaps bury some plastic sheeting about 30 cm below the surface to impede drainage, and keep the soil moist by directing rainwater to it from the roof of the house, shed or garage.
Grow a mixture of native and non-native plants to provide nectar and pollen for bees and other insects. Choose plants that flower at different times of year to ensure that pollen and nectar are available over a long period. Select trees and shrubs with autumn berries for birds and other animals. Encourage ivy to grow up a fence or over an outbuilding. Once ivy gets high is produces a lot of flowers and berries in late winter and early spring and these are very valuable for early insects and many birds.
Think carefully about the origin of anything you buy for your garden. Ensure that plants come from cultivated stock and have not been taken from the wild. Think also about the origin of any material, such as potting compost: where has the compost come from? has its extraction put a wild habitat elsewhere under threat, whether in the UK or abroad? Peat free products are now freely available. Always avoid using peat.
Tidiness is the enemy of wildlife. Make your garden attractive but not excessively neat. Leave deadheads on flowers in the autumn, only cut back your shrubs lightly, do not sweep up every fallen leaf. Do not have an intensive garden tidy and clearance in the spring, that is when the vital insects and other invertebrates are starting to reproduce and will soon provide the food for young birds. If your garden is diverse in both plant types and structure it will be a haven for wildlife.
Berberis, hawthorn, ivy and holly make good informal hedges for birds to shelter.
Pyracanhta produces lots of berries which birds love in autumn.
Sunflowers (the seeds once they have flowered) are a great treat for birds.
Herbs such as rosemary and thyme are great for butterflies.
Fruit trees provide blossom rich in nectar for insects in the spring, and then fruit to feed a variety of animals in the aumumn.
Flowering bulbs in the spring support bees emerging from dormancy.
The problem with slug pellets
A hedgehog dying through slug pellet poisoning is extremely distressing to see. Garden chemicals and modern garden practices take their toll on all wildlife, so please consider gardening organically. A sprinkle of sand or crushed egg shells around precious plants is effective for keeping slug damage down and is harmless to other wildlife. The use of any toxic chemicals in your gardens can have nasty effects on all sorts of wildlife, so please think twice before using weedkiller and pesticides. If you have to get rid of the weeds then pull them out or dig them up whenever possible. The same is true for wood preservatives on sheds and fences, please use a non toxic brand and do not spill it on the soil.
Bonfires and strimmers
We have had quite a few hedgehogs brought in that have been ‘strimmed’, and other garden creatures such as frogs, toads and grass snakes very often get sliced up by strimmers. A few recover from their strimmer injuries but sadly, those that have lost limbs have to be put to sleep. So, before starting any land clearing work, please check thick undergrowth for inhabitants! And be particularly careful with bonfires as many creatures will make their homes in them if you pile up rubbish over several weeks. If you have to burn your garden rubbish rather than using it for mulch or compost, burn it in a fire basket or incinerator which you feed gradually and so let any animals escape as you go.
For more information:
http://www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk/ - a website produced by the Royal Horticulatural Society and the Wildlife Trusts in partnership about all things to do with wildlife gardening.
http://www.bigwildlifegarden.org.uk/ - a project set up by the above Trusts for people to submit their ideas and successes with wildlife gardening.
Home for wildlife - RSPB project - a website from the RSPB with useful tips and an opportunity to tell them what you are doing for wildlife.
http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlifegardening - a wealth of handy tips from the Wildlife Trusts.
http://www.joyofplants.com/wildlife - information about which plants are best for attracting wildlife to your garden.
Other ways to use your garden to help the environment
Have a compost bin - not only will less waste go to landfill, but you will have free top quality compost to use in your garden.
Fit a water butt - then you can use rainwater to water the garden, even more important when we have drought warnings.
Use your washing line - drying clothes outdoors will save on electricity - the Energy Saving Trust has calculated that line drying just 4 loads of washing per week in the sunnniest months of the year can save £17 from electricity bills - and your laundry will smell fresher too!
Grow your own - you don't need a large garden to enjoy home grown produce, you can even grow a few salad leaves on a window sill, or tomatoes in a hanging basket. This will not only give you delicious home grown veg, but also reduce food miles and packaging.
Leave a lawn - Opt for lawn or soft landscaping such as gravel or bark chippings to let the rainwater through to the water table. Concrete and decking can prevent this, leading to both flooding and droughts.
buy only forest friendly wood products - such as garden furniture, fencing, sheds and charcoal, to do your bit to protect the world's forests.