© Stu Brown
No matter where you live, or however big or small your garden or yard may be, there are lots of things that you can do to encourage wildlife and become a wildlife gardener!
Gardens can be a valuable habitat for wildlife as they are, but it’s always great to give nature a helping hand - plus, the more wildlife that you can attract to your garden, the more colourful and interesting your garden will be. You can easily transform your garden into a thriving wildlife-friendly habitat by making some simple changes, or even just providing basic food and shelter.
For more information, read our Guide to Wildlife Gardening and download our information on different things you can do to encourage wildlife into your garden.
Plant flowers and attract pollinators
Flowers will brighten your garden up, and provide pollen and nectar for butterflies, bees and other insects which will, in turn, attract animals such as bats and hedgehogs. Many garden plants are just as good for wildlife as wild flowers. Buddleia is a brilliant plant for both butterflies and bees but it will need cutting back every autumn to keep it under control. Try planting herbs such as marjoram, lavender, fennel, thyme and rosemary, which will not only feed the insects, but your family as well.
If you want to plant wild flowers then try forget-me-nots, primrose, red valerian, michelmas daisies and knapweed but make sure that they come from cultivated stock, as wildflowers belong in the wild. Early season bulbs such as crocus tomassimianus and muscari give a nectar and pollen boost to early insects such as bumble bees.
Hedge and tree planting
Hedges provide both food and shelter to a wide variety of wildlife, as well as privacy and shelter for you. Good native choices include hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose with mixed crab apple, holly and elder. If you don’t have space for a hedge, climbing plants such as honeysuckle or ivy provide valuable nesting spots for birds and are a haven for insects and small animals.
Trees in the garden can act as a windbreak, as well as providing privacy, shade and height. If chosen carefully, a tree can be accommodated in the smallest of gardens and some species can even be grown in containers.
Create a garden pond
A wildlife pond is one of the single best features for attacting new wildlife to the garden and it is thought that some amphibians, such as frogs, are now more common in garden ponds than in the countryside. A well-designed wildlife pond can play a big part in helping to preserve our natural biodiversity, as well as being an attractive garden feature.
Log piles and homes for overwintering wildlife
Log piles provide food and shelter for the minibeasts in the garden, such as spiders, woodlice and centipedes. Any wood will do, although big logs in a shady corner are best and can make a home for anything from beetles to hedgehogs or amphibians. Remember to check your log pile first if you are planning a bonfire as hedgehogs can often be found hibernating here! They are especially good in dark or damp areas where a few additional ferns add to the structure of the garden.
Build a compost heap
Make your own natural fertilizer by composting garden cuttings and vegetable kitchen scraps in a home-made box or bought compost bin. This will encourage insect and slug-eating creatures and adapt natural processes to maintain your soil.
Look after the birds
Birds are amongst the most common and popular wild creatures to visit the wildlife garden - especially if we encourage them with regular food. Surveys have found that bird tables and feeders in gardens help some 30 million wild birds survive and raise their nestlings each year.
Put up bird boxes to provide extra housing for birds such as tits, robins and sparrows. Site your box out of direct sunlight and away from places that cats and other predators might attack from, such as overhanging branches. If you have suitable eaves below the roof, why not try a ledge box for swallows, swifts or house martins?
Feed the birds all year round by providing a mix of food such as good quality peanuts, seeds, kitchen scraps and fat balls, plus natural food such as berries and seed-heads. Don’t feed whole peanuts and chunks of bread in the spring and summer, as young birds can choke on them. Remember also to keep a fresh supply of water available - if you do not have a bird bath, use an upside-down plastic bin lid/plant pot saucer, and keep it topped up, free of ice and clean to stop the spread of disease.
Don't forget the bats!
A bat box works on the same principle as a bird box, except that bats prefer a wedge-shaped roost and enter through a gap underneath rather than an opening at the front. Cats are one of the most hazardous predators for bats, so your bat box should be sited where cats cannot threaten the emerging bats.
It is best to put them on trees, and three boxes per tree is ideal, facing north, south-east and south-west. Bats like to move around and choose boxes facing in different directions at different times of the year and in varying conditions. Make sure there are no branches around the box as bats like an uncluttered flight path to and from the box.