WildlifeCreating a Wildlife Garden
What tools and materials will I need?
- Collection of old logs - anything you have lying around
- Stones & rocks
- Compost bin - if you haven't got one, why not start one?
- Garden fork
- Nectar rich flowers - more on this below
- Bird food & feeders
- A water source - a dish, bird bath or perhaps even a pond!
OK, now what do I do?
The wildlife that uses our gardens includes beneficial insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that prey on garden pests and others that pollinate flowers to produce crops of fruit and vegetables. Many wildlife habitats are in decline due to pesticide use and other changes in farming methods – we gardeners can make a small difference by changing our habits and making our gardens more wildlife friendly. Easy ways to create wildlife habitats:Reduce the use of pesticides
This is the first rule of creating a more wildlife friendly garden. Much of our wildlife thrives on wild plants which we may call weeds, so indiscriminate use of weed killer is not advised.
Sprays to kill pests such as Aphid and Caterpillars should be used only as a last resort and not as a preventative measure. Often, physical removal is a much better option than heavy use of sprays, which may kill beneficial insects such as Ladybird larvae and Lacewings that can eat huge amounts of Aphid each day. If spraying is carried out, it should be done in the morning once any dew has dried or in the evening. There will be less insects on the wing then, so less chance of harming them as well.
Make a log pile
This is an easy way to encourage more insects to your garden, which will be a source of food for larger insects, birds and mammals. Many, such as Hoverflies and Wasps are plant pollinators and predators of aphids and other garden pests. They start their lives as eggs often laid in decomposing wood, where there is a rich supply of other larvae and smaller insects for them to eat when they hatch out. A rotting log pile will support all sorts of larvae for years to come.
Site the log pile in a quiet, shady part of your garden away from the main borders or hidden behind some large shrubs, where the wood can slowly rot down and provide a habitat for many insects and fungi as well as a larder for birds and slow worms! Use logs of different sizes and pile them up in a random fashion, with small and large gaps.
Make rock piles
Rock piles and dry stone walls are a particular favourite of toads, frogs and newts when they are out of the water, so leave some voids when building walls or other features in the garden. A pile of rocks can be left in a corner of the garden to provide shelter for many species, including over wintering Ladybirds.
Compost heaps are an important home for many species, from tiny invertebrates to worms and maybe slow worms and harmless grass snakes which appreciate the warm dry conditions! You can either build your own compost bins or purchase one. Once the compost is ready to be used, spread it onto your borders as mulch to help condition the soil and retain moisture. The earthworms will gradually take the mulch down into the soil and many of the insects that were in the compost will find new homes around the garden or become food for birds. Many small invertebrates are voracious predators of garden pests and their eggs so they will earn their keep!
Create a patch of nectar rich flowers
Many flying insects such as bees and hoverflies as well as butterflies and moths will feed on the nectar from this important food source. Site your border in a sunny, sheltered part of the garden where insects can settle easily. Aim for single flowers rather than the complicated doubles which are difficult for insects to feed from and often contain little nectar. Butterflies are attracted to white, blue and purple flowers and bees are also fond of yellow. Light coloured and night scented plants will attract moths. Try to plant species which flower at different times of the year.
Plant caterpillar food plants
Many caterpillars feed on only a few types of wild plants, so you may wish to set aside part of your garden for these to encourage butterflies to lay their eggs near a food source for the caterpillars when they have hatched. Nettles are a good food source for several of our well known butterflies including Comma, Peacock, Painted Lady and Red Admiral. Many grasses including Couch and Cocksfoot are also important food sources for Speckled Wood, Wall Brown and Gatekeeper caterpillars.
Feed the birds
This is one of the most noticeable and easiest ways of attracting wildlife to the garden! Birds provide movement and sound as well as being natural predators for many garden pests. Setting up bird feeders is very easy and birds will soon find and flock to them! Nijer seed is a favourite of finches and should be fed through a special feeder because it is so fine. As well as seed and peanut feeders, suet balls are a good addition to the bird table during the winter months. Once they are attracted to your garden, birds may nest there and rear young. Remember to leave nests alone and do not prune any nearby plants during the breeding season for fear of exposing the nesting site to predators.
Water in the garden
One of the best ways to introduce wildlife to your garden is to add a pond. If you have room, a pond of 2 x 3 metres (6 x 9 feet) is an ideal size to create diverse conditions. Vary the depths and line with a butyl liner or use a preformed pond. Shallow margins (up to 20 cms) are important for frog spawning and deeper areas (at least 60 cms) for other wildlife such as dragonfly larvae. As well as providing a habitat for amphibians, birds and mammals will also use a pond for drinking and bathing.
By carrying out only one or two of the ideas suggested here, you will make a difference to the wildlife in your area and your garden will soon begin to reap the benefits!