Seven expert tips for a wildlife-friendly garden

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

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

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.

Cosmos: an example of a single-flowered species good for pollinating insects. (Birds love the seed heads too).

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

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

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:
To find out more about Sussex Wildlife Trust events:

Photo attribution: Robin loves Sunflower Hearts" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Wildlife Terry