Make room for wildlife in your garden

Wildlife friendly gardening is about making a haven for you as well as for wildlife. By introducing a few wildlife features you'll be rewarded with a natural garden where you can get closer to animals and birds

GARDENS are increasingly important havens for wildlife as habitats in the   wider countryside shrink and fragment, and climate change takes its toll. Up to a quarter of a city’s area is made up of gardens, so although each garden on its’ own may be small, together they form a patchwork linking urban green spaces with nature reserves and the wider countryside. So together, our gardens represent a vast living landscape; and with an estimated 16 million gardens in the UK, the way they are managed can make a big difference to wildlife. Hedgehogs, sparrows, song thrushes and stag beetles are all declining species in the UK, but by incorporating wildlife friendly features into our gardens we can help these species and more to thrive.

Getting started

Wildlife needs four things to thrive in your garden – food, water, shelter and a place to breed. By providing some, if not all, of these things you will bring your garden to life.

Butterfly gardens

Butterflies bring beauty to any garden. Attract them with nectar-rich flowers like verbena, scabious and ice-plant. Go for plants with simple flowers that make it easy for butterflies to get at the nectar. Avoid double-flowered varieties of plants which may have no nectar. Many cottage garden flowers, such as primrose, lavender, thyme and heliotrope are suitable. Don’t forget to provide food plants for caterpillars as well. Nettles are the food plant of choice for the caterpillars of some beautiful butterflies including red admirals, peacocks, small tortoiseshell and comma.

Go organic

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You can have an attractive and productive garden without using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Encourage gardeners’ friends such as frogs and toads, birds and small mammals – all of which eat insects and slugs. Ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies all feast off aphids.Slugs are part of the garden’s cycle of wildlife and are eaten by frogs and toads. If slugs or snails are a problem to your tender plants, avoid using slug pellets based on metaldehyde or methiocarb. Investigate alternative methods to control them such as pellets based on ferrous phosphate or products that create barriers to slugs and snails such as copper bands or gritty sand.

Hedge me in

Hedges provide living space and food for all sorts of wildlife, as well as privacy and security for you. Good native choices include hawthorn, blackthorn, wild rose, holly, hazel and elder.

Meadow magic

A meadow makes a wonderful alternative to plain grass on your lawn and brings vibrant colour to any garden. It can be difficult to make a meadow from scratch, especially as you need to reduce nutrient levels in your soil. A good alternative is to plant meadow flowers as plugs into your lawn, but be prepared to alter your mowing pattern to allow flowers to grow. Generally cowslip, ox-eye daisy, meadow cranesbill, yellow rattle and meadow buttercup do well.

Get messy!

Resist the urge to tidy up your garden. Seed heads left uncut will treat seed-eating birds to a free feast. Plant stems and leaves are a great place for creepy crawlies to shelter and perennials left standing will help over-wintering insects such as ladybirds.

Small gardens

A small space is not a barrier to gardening for wildlife: small, thoughtful changes can have a real impact when attracting wild creatures. Remember that your space is three dimensional, so make imaginative use of walls, roofs and other structures. Even the smallest of ‘ponds’ are valuable – old sinks and buckets can teem with wildlife, just by being thoughtfully placed and adapted. Plant a window box or container with butterfly nectar plants or night-scented stocks and tobacco plants for moths.