Wildlife Gardening

Make Space for Wildlife

There’s nothing more wonderful than a garden teaming with wildlife throughout the year. How can we provide an ideal environment for them? Many of us may only have a small garden or even just a yard or patio with no soil at all.

Here’s some ideas of how we can create a space for nature to live in our back garden, and some top tips as to how we can give wildlife a helping hand from summer through to the winter months. (pic courtesy of the HTA)

Encouraging wildlife into your garden brings benefits not only to the animals and insects but also to you. Being able to view a garden teaming with life certainly increases your enjoyment of it. In addition to this, common garden pests such as beetles, worms and caterpillars can be controlled naturally as they are tasty meals for wild birds and animals.

So what steps can you take to provide the most welcoming garden environment?

Provide a water source

Perhaps the most important requirement for wildlife is water – not only as a source of drinking water, but to bathe in as well. One of the best ways to provide water is by having a pond in your garden – providing a plentiful source of water, food and shelter. It does take a lot of time and effort to create and maintain a pond, but it is arguably the most important part of a wildlife garden.

Small simple ponds can also be added to patios as well. A small cut whiskey barrel or even an old sink, can be planted to create a suitable environment but more compact. However, if, like many city dwellers, you are unable to have a pond in your garden then you may like to consider a birdbath.

Birdbaths are available in different sizes, designs and materials and can make an interesting ornamental feature even on the balcony of a city flat.

Provide a food source

There are many different ways to provide food for wild birds and animals, the easiest is by putting out bird feeders and tables. It is important to consider the types of bird that come to your garden. Think carefully about where you site feeders and tables in your garden. They are best placed in the middle of your garden away from any places where predators can hide such as hedges and tress. With a clear view around the table, the bird will be able to see any predators coming and will give them a chance to escape to safety.

What is important is once you have started to feed the wildlife in your garden – keep it up, as they will depend on your offerings to rear their young.

Plants for wildife

You may also like to consider what types of plants and shrubs you can buy as these provide a good source of nourishment. Trees such as Cotoneaster, Pyracantha (Firethorn) and Sorbus (Rowan) all have berries, providing vital food during the coldest months of the year.  When all the berries are gone the trees can be used as a great place to hang seed and peanut feeders.

There are also a large number of shrubs that can also be planted that will also provide berries, but here’s our top 5:

  • Ilex (Holly): is a great hardy shrub that bears masses of berries and also attractive evergreen foliage. It can be pruned to maintain any height required
  • Viburnum: Evergreen varieties such as V. tinnus bear flowers all through the winter months followed by small black berries from late spring in to summer.
  • Aucuba: (Spotted laurel) has brightly coloured variegated foliage, and bears large red berries in the winter.
  • Pernettya: a smaller evergreen shrub with masses of large berries in the autumn months.
  • Cotoneaster: Available in a wide range of shapes and sizes from trees to grown cover shrubs. A must for every wildlife garden

Even in the smallest of gardens, these can be planted in containers. This will allow any area of your garden to become a wildlife heaven, yet still look very ornamental and easy to maintain.

Provide Shelter

Shelter is important as this gives birds and animals a place to rest, to flee to safety and possible nesting sites. The best way you can do this is by planting a hedge in your garden, instead of erecting wooden fences. There are many different types of plants available for this purpose, but the best ones are those that have thorns, such as Berberis (Barberry), Crataegus (Hawthorn) and Pyracantha (Firethorn), as these can provide secure nesting sites. Native plants such as Acer campestre (Field Maple) and Fagus (Beech) also make good hedges for wildlife.

From balconies to backyards, a wildlife garden will still need a certain amount of maintenance. A few top tips for doing this are:

  • Tidy your garden in the spring instead of autumn as you will need to leave places for wildlife to shelter during winter.
  • Hedges and hedgerows are home to a huge diversity of animals, birds and insects. If you have to trim hedges then only do so outside of the nesting season (UK nesting season is between beginning of March and end of September).
  • Pesticides are just not necessary. Even if you lose a few of your plants in the first year or two, your garden will settle into a balanced and healthier environment in the future, whereby you will never need to use any damaging pesticides. So, the number one rule is never use pesticides or weed-killer. That is the worst thing you can do to your garden and its wildlife
  • Never tidy up underneath hedges. The ground coverage provides habitats for small creatures and insects – and decaying vegetation nourishes the soil to enable healthy shrub regeneration. Some of our rarest wildlife has its home in our hedgerows like the dormouse for example. Rare butterflies also lay their eggs in hedges. So always treat hedges with respect