One of the most enjoyable parts of sustainable living is merging your home with the natural world around it. Instead of seeing a house and its garden as a sealed-up, nature-free haven of concrete civilisation, you can incorporate your own needs into what already calls the land ‘home’.
There are lots of things you can do to help nature thrive in your garden, and each of them will also add to your enjoyment of your outdoor space. Growing a wildlife garden isn’t just about letting the weeds take over – it is about creating a miniature nature reserve which provides homes for the animals and a beautiful, natural space for you to enjoy.
You will want to create as many habitats as you can in your wildlife garden, but you don’t want to overcrowd the area with so much that you can’t keep on top of it. Instead, focus on a number of things you can do well. Some of the key habitats for wildlife to enjoy are lawns, trees and shrubs, flowers, and water. Within these, smaller microhabitats can be created to cater to a range of different creatures.
Long grass will make a perfect habitat for the egg-laying and over-wintering of caterpillars and leather jackets (not the wearable kind). Starlings and blackbirds will search for leather jackets (cranefly grubs) in shorter grass.
Trees and Shrubs
Using a range of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants will provide nectar and other food sources throughout the year. Cut shrubs on a rotational basis to create different structures and ages of growth. This will benefit different wildlife at different times.
Water is a key component of a truly great wildlife garden. The shallow areas of a pond are used by birds for bathing and drinking, by emerging dragonflies, and by amphibians laying their eggs. Deeper areas of the pond provide homes to aquatic insects during cold spells and give newts a place to swim. The best way to cater to all creatures is to create a gently sloping pond which will also help any non-water-dwelling animals (such as hedgehogs) to escape should they fall in.
Breeding & Shelter
There are two main things that all wildlife needs to survive: somewhere to shelter and breed, and somewhere to find food. You can help out by growing climbers against walls to offer shelter and breeding places for birds. Nests can be built in thorny shrubs or hedges, which also offer shelter to all kinds of animals.
Bat boxes, such as the Habibat, offer roosting sites for bats, whilst bird boxes and bug boxes provide spaces for raising broods and expanding colonies. A simple pile of leaves will keep a hedgehog happy through the winter.
Looking after a wildlife garden
o Leave the tidying of shrubs and borders until early spring to make sure there’s plenty of winter shelter available for insects, and to retain seeds and fruit for birds and small mammals throughout winter.
o Leave dead wood lying where it falls for beetles and other beneficial insects, mosses, and fungi to make use of.
o Keep a variety of plants to encourage lots of insects to take up home in your garden – baby birds need the protein to grow strongly and healthily so that they survive the next winter.
o Rainwater harvesting will ensure you always have enough water to keep the wildlife garden thriving. The harvested water can be used to water plants and to top up the pond if necessary.
o Avoid using peat, and choose alternative composts – peat extraction destroys important wildlife habitats.
o When picking native plants, make sure they are genuinely native stock and haven’t been brought over from the continent. Wild flowers should be sourced from legally-collected seeds and not dug up and taken from the wild.
o If you want to furnish the garden, make sure the furniture is FSC-accredited. Charcoal for barbecues can also be found FSC approved, so you can get out and enjoy your wildlife garden in a truly sustainable way.