There are plenty of myths about gardening for wildlife: it’s complicated, untidy and means filling your garden with weeds and brambles. Well – no. You don’t have to turn your garden into a wilderness to encourage wildlife. There are a few easy things we can do, and still have beautiful gardens.
But first, why should we help wildlife in our gardens?
In the UK, gardens cover nearly four times the total area of land owned by the RSPB. Gardens are increasingly important for wildlife: from insects and amphibians, through to birds and hedgehogs. If all of us with gardens followed just one of the tips suggested below, think what a difference we’d make!
What’s more, a wildlife-friendly garden has fewer problems with pests and diseases because it’s a more balanced ecosystem. There are plenty of creatures to eat your garden pests and you’ll have healthier soil and healthier plants.
Adrian Thomas is the RSPB’s Wildlife Gardening Expert. He spoke recently at a Sussex Wildlife Trust event and here are his seven top tips for a wildlife-friendly garden.
1. Plant Plants!
A common myth is that only native plants are wildlife-friendly. The truth is more complicated, but the main thing is to have plenty of different sorts of plants. Choose whatever you like and don’t worry whether they’re native or non-native (although some native species make lovely garden plants). Single-flowered species are best. Grow some flowers which bloom early and late in the year when food for pollinating insects is scarcer.
2. A load of old rot
Dead wood is incredibly valuable to wildlife. It provides food and shelter for insects, which in turn, are eaten by birds and mammals. A pile of sticks can also shelter hedgehogs or slow worms over winter. You can use anything: old logs, sticks or pruning trimmings. You could try tucking a pile of sticks behind your shrubs (where they’ll also help keep down the weeds) or growing some ferns amongst a pile of logs.
3. Water, water everywhere…
A pond is a great way to help wildlife in your garden. Once established, a wildlife pond maintains a natural balance and requires little maintenance. If you don’t have room for a pond, a birdbath is the next best thing. Sometimes, birdbaths are too deep and a bit scary for little birds – birdbaths should be no more than 5cm deep, with sloping sides.
4. Build a home
Fewer trees and modern building regulations means it’s difficult for birds to find somewhere to nest. Putting up a nest box is a great way to help – but do your research and put the right box in the right place. The birds most in need of boxes right now are starlings.
5. Little handouts
Just like teenagers, birds like food which is easy to grab and go. So they prefer suet pellets to fatballs and sunflower hearts to sunflower seeds. Disinfect feeders regularly and remove mouldy food to avoid spreading diseases.
6. Chemical curfew
Avoid pesticides, herbicides and peat compost. There’s no point helping the wildlife in your garden if the materials you’re using damage the environment and destroy wildlife habitats!
7. Do it everywhere
Rather than having a ‘wildlife area’, think about small steps to help wildlife throughout your garden. Wildlife gardening simply means creating a welcoming home for the amazing creatures with whom we share our beautiful gardens.
Find out more: I’d highly recommend Adrian’s book: Gardening for Wildlife – by Adrian Thomas. You can find more information on the RSPB’s website: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/. To find out more about Sussex Wildlife Trust events: https://sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/whats-onPhoto attribution: Robin loves Sunflower Hearts" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Wildlife Terry