Gardening for Wildlife: Part 1

April 26, 2019
The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.
- Michael Pollan

Gardens can be extremely important places for all kinds of wildlife, especially as they are increasingly under pressure in the natural environment. Making a wildlife friendly garden can be one of the easiest ways to help out our native species, and can start with just a few simple actions like buying plants and flowers which are good for insects and pollinators, or putting out food for birds. We recently moved into a new house with a fairly run down and mostly paved over garden, and so have the exciting opportunity to start making it a home for wildlife and to document our progress as we go! As complete novices we've tried to do our research on the best ways to do this and to justify our decisions. We hope that this new series will be helpful to anyone else who is thinking about gardening for wildlife!

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. 
- Alfred Austin

1. Clearing up the garden

Luckily the garden wasn't too overgrown to begin with, and so there was just a little bit of weeding to do along the paving tiles and some bushes which had died and needed cutting back. I just did this by hand and didn't use any weedkillers as they can be toxic to wildlife and pets, and can get washed into the ground and water. If needed, you can use pure white vinegar as a natural and non-toxic weed killer in combination with other techniques, some of which can be found here

We also cleared the space in the middle of the garden which used to be a fountain and turned it into a bed for wildflowers. The pump was taken out and we covered the bottom with a layer of stones to make sure that it was well drained. We used peat-free compost in the flower bed because it is the most environmentally friendly option. Peat is a natural product formed in peat bogs and is composed of partially degraded vegetation which contains plenty of nutrients for growing garden plants. The problem with peat is that takes a very long time to form, with just 1 metre taking 1000 years, making it essentially a non-renewable resource. Peat bogs are also huge carbon stores, and are habitats for a wide variety of unique animals and plants. Destroying peat-bogs will therefore release carbon into the atmosphere, affecting global warming, and also affect the wildlife which lives in the bogs. As regular compost contains 60-90% peat, the best option is to go peat free. 

2. Choosing the flowers 


For the new flowerbed we decided to put in a mixture of British wildflower seeds. Our packs (which are now only 50p from B&Q), contained field poppy, foxglove, cowslip, field cornflower and ox-eye daisy seeds, and after a week or so are already beginning to grow! Alternatively, you could get some Seedballs, which contain a mixture of seeds as well as all the nutrition they need to grow. They even have different mixes if you want to attract certain types of animals, with a mix for butterflies, birds, bats or bees. We also bought a few potted plants which are pollinator friendly, such as lupins, foxgloves, azaleas, English lavender and heather. You can find more information about which plants are pollinator friendly on the Royal Horticultural Society website.

3. Bird feeders


This year marked the 40th Anniversary of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch and the event has now become the world's largest wildlife survey, with over 8 million birds counted in 2018 in gardens up and down the UK. With gardens being such an important resource for birds, we wanted to try to attract as many different species as possible.

We put our feeding stand towards the back of the garden so that we could watch the birds from the house without frightening them away, and already have had great tits, blue tits, a coal tit, a wren, house sparrows, wood pigeons and a magpie! To attract as many species as possible and provide the best variety of nutrition, we put out:
  • dried mealworms - full of protein and good for birds when other food sources are short during winter and the breeding season
  • seed mix - a variety of seeds which provide a good overall nutrition and attract a wide range of species
  • suet balls - made with animal or vegetable fats and sometimes containing seeds or insects, these provide a high energy food source throughout the year
  • water bath - important for birds to remain clean and parasite free, as well as for cooling off in hot weather. Top up regularly as the water tends to evaporate especially on hot days. It can also provide a good water source in the winter as long as it is ice free.

A recent Discover Wildlife article raised an important issue concerning where our garden bird food comes from. The RSPB encourage consumers to opt for bird food grown by companies who adhere to strict environmental standards, such as by providing habitat and food for wildlife. This is something that had not occurred to us before, but is definitely worth considering in the future. 

Next steps...

We are now planning to make a hole in the back wall in order to create a hedgehog highway, so they can move freely between our garden and the wooded area to the back of the house. There is an old wheelie bin which we are planning to turn into a compost bin, and some more areas at the back which we will turn into more wildflower patches.

If you have any tips on gardening for wildlife, we would love to hear from you!

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