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How to make you garden wildlife friendly

There are a lot of small things that you can do in your garden to make it more attractive for wildlife. Our garden is fairly small in an estate within a village but it is amazing what you can do in a small space to attract wildlife. Unfortunately we see so many gardens that are just a piece of lawn surrounded by wooden fencing. Although the lawn will probably have a few worms in it there wont be much else to attract wildlife.

Set out below are our top tips to making your garden more wildlife friendly.

Install a wildlife garden pond or water feature

Wildlife pondWhat ever size of garden you have the one thing that will certainly bring in wildlife is a garden pond. If you have a very small garden anything will do, we have seen people just sink an old tub or washing up bowl into the ground with a few pond plants in it and they have soon had frogs and other water insects in it. There is a step by step guide to building a wildlife pond on the Discover wildlife site here.

Remember to plant out the pond with native British plants. There are a lot of pond plants sold in aquatic centres that are not native to the UK and some that can be quite invasive. There is a good list of UK pond plants that you can use in your pond on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust site here.

A pond is a great place for amphibians such as frogs and if you are lucky you might get newts as well. In early spring you will hear the croaking of frogs as they call for a mate and then lay their spawn. It is then great to watch the spawn grow into tadpoles and then into tiny little frogs. Hopefully during the summer you will have Damselflies and Dragonflies visiting your pond and hopefully then laying their eggs which hatch out into larvae which will feed in the pond and then emerge out of the pond the next year as fully grown adult Damselflies and Dragonflies.

Remember don't add any fish like Gold fish or Koy Carp to your pond as they will eat all the pond plants and insects and you wont have any wildlife left.

Remember when making your pond make sure that it has a side or sides that are shallow or sloping and easy for hedgehogs to get out. If not install some Hedgehog pond ladders to make it easy for a Hedgehog to get out should it fall in.

Here is a good video from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust on how to make a wildlife pond.

Have a log pile or two

Log pileFind an area in your garden where you can have a pile of logs which mimic fallen trees. These logs will create a habit for a range of invertebrates, such as Stag beetles, beetles and woodlice. Their larvae will feed on the decaying logs as they rot down. The cavities amongst the logs will also act as hidey holes for frogs and over wintering newts. As the logs rot down you will need to replace them with new ones. It is best if the log piles are situated in a shaded area or under a bush or shrub canopy as this will help retain moisture. Log piles in full sun will soon dry out and will harbour very few invertebrates. If you don't have a shady area you could make a log pyramid by taking various length logs and digging a hole and burying the logs vertically with at least a third of their length in the soil. This will help to keep them moist.

Don't take logs from the wild but always be on the lookout for logs. I noticed that Network rail were cutting back trees encroaching on the tracks near our local railway line and the contractors were happy for me to take some away when I politely asked them. If you have a local tree surgeon or see one working nearby, have word with them as they are often happy to get rid of logs.

If you have trees or woody shrubs that need their branches pruning back on occasions, don't burn the cuttings but add them to your log piles.

Birch TreesHave trees & shrubs in your garden

Trees are the lungs of the world and we have lost so much of our native woodland in the UK. If you have the room then trees are a must have for any wildlife garden. According to this table on the countrysideinfo.co.uk site here, a mature Silver Birch tree can be host to up to 229 insect species and 126 different lichens. This is only bettered by Willows and Oaks which can have up to 284 insect species and 324 different lichens. This is not to say that other trees with less species are worse as they may have less species but might have more of them in terms of biomass.

Although we have a small garden we are very lucky to have two Silver Birch trees in our back garden and a weeping Silver Birch tree in the front garden. In the winter we have had small flocks of Lesser Redpoll feeding on the Birch mast and in the spring we see many Blue tits and Great tits feeding on the bugs and caterpillars in the two trees. One year we had a pair of Collared Doves who successfully reared a fledged a chick. We also have a Rowan tree and two fruit trees, an Apple and a Greengage both on dawfing rootstock.

All trees and shrubs make ideal homes for insects and nesting places for birds. Some old trees can also be roosting places for bats. If you don't have room for large trees then there are smaller varieties which can be planted such as:

  • Rowan - Grows to 15m and the birds will love the red berries in the winter.
  • Juniper - Lovely blue berries in the winter, although you will need to have two as they are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers grow on separate trees.
  • Hazel - Squirrels will love the Hazelnuts.
  • Holly - Can be as a bush or tree. Great for red berries at Christmas if the birds haven't eaten them all first.

If you can't have large trees in your garden then you can buy fruit trees which are grown on dawfing stock which reduces their height. Apples, Pears, Plums, Cherry and Greengages will be great for your garden as they will provide lovely blossom in the spring which will be loved by the Bees and Bumblebees. They will then give you fruit in late summer and the birds and insects will feast on the windfalls well into the autumn.

When considering shrubs think about ones that have nectar rich flowers that will attracted to Bees, Butterflies and moths such as:

  • Hawthorn - Good for blossom in the spring and red berries for the birds in the winter
  • Pussy Willow
  • Mahonia
  • Honeysuckle
  • Ivy
  • Buddleja.

Waxwing eating berriesAlso think of shrubs that produce berries which birds will like in the winter such as:

  • Elderberry - The pollinators love the flowers in the spring and the juicy purple berries are a feast for many birds.

  • Holly - Lovely red berries which the Blackbirds love.

  • Cotoneaster - Loads of red berries in the autumn.

  • Viburnum (The Guelder Rose) - A Native UK that has bright red berries a favourite with Waxwings.

  • Skimmia - A small plant that can be grown in pots and produces Pink flowers in spring and red berries in the winter.

  • Shrub or Dog Rose - They have bright red hips which Blackbirds, Thrushes and Fieldfares will adore.

  • Wild cherry - Lovely blossom in the spring which bees will love and small cherries in the autumn.

  • Crab Apple - Lovely blossom .

  • Pyracantha - Great for birds to roost and nest in. In the autumn it will have vast quantities of Yellow or Red berries.

  • Cornus (Dogwoods) - a feast of white berries in the autumn.
Grow nectar rich plants

Butterfly BookPlant nectar rich plants to attract our pollinators such as Bees, Bumblebees, Butterflies and moths. A lot of our pollinators are in deep decline due to the overuse of pesticides by farmers and growers and the lack of wild habitat. Ideally native species are preferred but any flowering plants that produce nectar are good. Try and plant species that flower at different times of the year to give our pollinators the best range of nectar.

Here are some examples:

March to April

  • Marigolds
  • Lavender
  • Phlox
  • Forget-me-not
  • Hibes
  • Heather
  • Sweet Williams
  • Kidney Vetch
  • Red Campion
  • Globe Thistle
  • Catmint
  • Rock-rose
  • Sunflower
  • Foxglove

There is a good list of Bee friendly plants on the friends of the Earth site here.

If you join Butterfly Conservation, in your welcome pack you get a brilliant book called 'Gardening for Butterflies and Moths' by Kate Bradbury which has a great list of suitable plants, which butterflies to see in each month, planting plans for your borders and also a list of caterpillar food plants.

Don't forget Walls & Fences

If you only have a small garden you can maximise your space by growing plants on your walls and fences. These will not only provide nectar rich flowers and berries but also provide great nesting and roosting places for birds. Some climbing plants like Clematis and Honeysuckles will need trellis to climb up but some plants like Ivies and climbing Hydrangeas don’t need support. We have a page here that shows some of our climbing plants.

Garden Organically

Please don't use chemicals, weed-killers or pesticides as they are just so toxic to our wildlife. Try and use organic methods if you have to control weeds and pests such as slugs etc.. Better still by making your garden more attractive to wildlife you will find it will attract insects that will help control pests such as ladybirds and their larvae that will help in the control of aphids.

Slugs

If you can attract Frogs to your garden they will eat slugs. Most people think that Hedgehogs will eat slugs but they only will when they are desperately hungry. We have witnessed this in on our feeding station cameras as we have seen them chomping away on the kibble and ignoring the slugs that are crawling around on the feeding bowls.

Not many people realise that there are in fact some good slugs and they are the Cellar slugs, the Yellow Cellar slug (Limacus flavus), the Green Cellar slug (Limacus maculatus) and the Leopard slug (Limax maximus). They are detritivores, feeding on decaying plant material in gardens. There is a good identification image on the RHS site here.

LeavesDon't be too neat and tidy

When it comes to your gardening if you want to help wildlife try to not be too neat and tidy. Leave that leaf litter under the shrubs and trees and in amongst the patio pots as that leaf litter is a great home for all the bugs and beetles. The hedgehogs will also love the leaf litter as they will use it as bedding and they will drag it into their nests. Leave the dead stems from annuals and bi-annal plants over winter as they are good over wintering places for various insects and their eggs, you can then remove them in late spring. If it really bothers you then cut them down and pop them under a bush or put them on your log pile.

When it comes to your lawn don't worry about getting that golf green lawn look, let the clover and daisies grow in amongst the grass. When it comes to mowing, try and leave it alone over the month of May in order to let the clover grow flowers which the bees will love. If you do feel you need to tidy the lawn up and the need to mow your lawn try popping the mower on a high setting so that it doesn't mow the tops of the clover and the daisies.

Put up nesting boxes

FSC LogoDue to us losing so much of our ancient woodland and forests a lot of our birds and bats need artificial help in nesting and roosting sites so putting up nest boxes for birds and bats is essential for their survival. There are many that you can buy but they are not that difficult to make yourself and there are many plans that you can find on the net. If you are buying one make sure that it is made from sustainably sourced timber, look for the FSC logo on . Also ignore the ones that have a perch in front of the nest hole as these perches are not necessary and lastly make sure it has access to the inside so that it can be cleaned out at the end of each nesting season. Sighting your nest box is quite important. The RSPB have some good information on bird nest boxes and where to site them on their website here.

Along with the usual Blue tit and Great tit boxes, consider installing nest boxes for Robins, House Martins and Swifts.

Don't forget our amphibians

FrogAmphibians such as Frogs, Toads and Newts like to hibernate in a cool (but not cold), dark and damp shelter. When the weather is hot and dry they need cool moist places to hang out.

If you have a shady moist spot that doesn't get too much sun then consider making a frog, toad and newt abode out of some old bricks, rocks or logs. There is a good explanation of how to do this on the RSPB site here.

I had a small pile of about 8 to 10 paving pammets that were left over from a small paving job that I had done that were tucked behind one of our water butts in a nice moist shady spot. Rather than leaving the pammets all neatly piled together I re-made the pile but leaving big gaps between each stacked pammet and then covered it with some small logs and branches.

You can buy ceramic toad abodes from several online retailers. However you can make a similar thing from a earthen ware garden pot placed on its side. Dig a hole in a moist shady spot and bury the garden pot on its side with half of it sticking out of the ground.

Lastly - Go Wild

If you have the space in your garden let a little bit of your garden go a bit wild. An area with nettles is great for a host of different insects and caterpillars. You could perhaps have a wild-flower area. If you don't have much space then plant some wild flower plants in pots or in window boxes is a great idea.