Some great advice on creating a wildlife garden from Marcus Wehrle of Surrey Wildlife Trust
Photo - House Sparrow - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography
The UK’s gardens occupy an area four times larger than all our National Nature Reserves put together, meaning millions of people have the power to help wildlife species that are struggling in the countryside.
So why are gardens so important for wildlife?
Historically, conservationists have focused on preserving nature in reserves. Whilst these fragmented wildlife sites are important areas for some of our most threatened species, they alone are no longer enough to halt the decline of nature in the UK.
What we need are spaces for nature at every opportunity. From wildflower road verges to nature friendly housing developments, we can create stepping stones between nature reserves in any number of ways and gardens have an important part to play. At Surrey Wildlife Trust we call this a Nature Recovery Network.
Photo - Slow Worm - Nick Upton
Here are five key ways to give wildlife a helping hand at home:
Just like us, wildlife species need water to drink and some require it to reproduce. Provide a dish of water for birds with small pebbles in for insects to land on and drink. You could go the extra mile and create a bucket pond, or if you can squeeze one in, a larger wildlife pond.
Our gardens can provide a delicious buffet for a number of different species.
Plant a mix of early and late blooming nectar rich flowers and herbs for our important pollinators to feed on at different times of the year. Even leaving a small patch to go wild with nettles and weeds will give a boost to insects with minimal effort.
Feed garden birds during the hard winter months by leaving out seed or planting berry bearing shrubs or even a native tree if you have the space. You can also leave out cat food (not fish) for hedgehogs to give them a helping hand.
Vegetables such as runner beans are great for bumble bees, which buzz pollinate the flowers. If you avoid pesticides, you will also provide food for ladybirds (another pollinator!) and other predatory insects, which will feed on the pests that attack your vegetable patch.
Photo: Hedgehogs - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography
A nest box is an easy way to create a home for birds or bats, whilst solitary bee homes can also be fixed to a fence or wall. A hedgehog house can be created by cutting a 13cm hole in an upturned container.
Gather up fallen branches from the winter season and create wood piles for minibeasts. Or why not build a simple hibernaculum for reptiles and amphibians from garden debris such as old bricks, rocks, pots, cones and sticks? Even a pile of dead leaves in a quiet corner is great for wildlife!
Leave a patch of climbing ivy and refrain from cutting back dead plant stems at the end of the season to provide homes for overwintering insects. A patch of lawn left to grow long will also provide shelter for many species.
As well as helping reduce waste, a compost heap will provide space for minibeasts, as well as nesting reptiles such as slow worms and grass snakes (both harmless).
Replacing your fence with a native hedgerow will create vital shelter for insects, mammals and birds and the berries and flowers will also provide food.
Photo: Leaf Cutter Bee - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography
Avoid chemical control in your garden! Most weedkillers, bug sprays and slug pellets will do more harm than good, disrupting the natural balance in your garden by killing indiscriminately.
Long a staple of the local garden centre, sales of metaldehyde slug pellets have now been banned in the UK due to their wide-ranging harm to may wildlife species, so please dispose of any that you have left over.
Using methods such as companion planting will keep pest species at bay, whilst encouraging beneficial insect predators. Reptiles and amphibians also love a juicy slug or two!
There are also a number of eco-friendly controls available, such as nematodes – tiny soil dwelling parasites that attack slugs and snails.
Photo: Frog - Mark Hamblin - 2020Vision
The methods listed above will help nature in your garden, but they are not much use if wildlife species can’t find their way in or out. That’s why we need everyone to do their bit.
If a whole row of houses cuts a small hole in their fence or replaces it with a hedge, then hedgehogs will be able to visit multiple gardens! If a street agrees to stop mowing the grass verges outside their house or leave a wild patch of lawn, then insects have the space to feed and breed.
It is only by working together that we can create a Nature Recovery Network across our towns and villages, connecting our fragmented wildlife sites.
We hope we have inspired you to take action for wildlife in your garden or outdoor space this year. For more free comprehensive wildlife gardening advice, visit the Surrey Wildlife Trust website.
Photo: Stag Beetle Wildlife Garden - Terry Whittaker - 2020Vision
Take our garden survey
If you’d like to see how well your patch shapes up for nature and get free wildlife gardening advice, The Wildlife Trust have recently launched a national wildlife gardening survey. Thousands have already answered our short questionnaire and recorded their location on our interactive map to help us assess the state of the nation’s gardens - take part here.
Surrey Wildlife Trust is a conservation charity and one of 46 local Wildlife Trusts in the UK who work together to connect and protect wildlife across our counties. The Trust manages over 6,000ha of land in Surrey for wildlife and works with local communities, businesses and landowners to create space for nature.
Photo: Ladybird - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography