© Adam Cormack
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.
Remember, the more wildlife that you can attract to your garden, the more colourful and interesting your garden will be.
Here are some tips to get you started...
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.
You could try planting herbs such as marjoram, lavender, fennel, thyme and rosemary, which will not only feed the insects, but your family as well.
Buddleia is a brilliant plant for both butterflies and bees but it will need cutting back every autumn to keep it under control.
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.
Plant a hedge
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.
Create a wildlife pond
Choose a sunny site away from overhanging trees to build your pond. Your pond should be at least 77cm deep, with shallow edges for plants and for animals to get in and out of the pond.
Don’t worry if you don’t have enough space for a large pond, even just an upturned bin lid or a sunken washing bowl filled with water will work. It’s great to watch birds bathing and drinking.
Introduce native plants if you wish but let your pond colonise naturally with wildlife. Don’t take frog spawn from another pond as this could spread disease.
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.
Put up bird boxes to provide extra housing for birds such as tits, robins and sparrows. Tits and nuthatches need boxes with a 28mm entrance hole and house sparrows around 32mm. Open-fronted boxes attract robins and flycatchers. 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 eves below the roof, why not try a ledge box for swallows, swifts or house martins?
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.
Provide food and water for birds all year round
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, will attract a wide range of birds.
Don’t feed whole peanuts and chunks of bread in the spring and summer as young birds can choke on them. For more details on what and what not to feed birds visit the RSPB website.
Why not support Northumberland Wildlife Trust, and buy your bird food from Vine House Farm, which donates a percentage of each sale to us!
And finally...keep a note of what you see in your garden and make sure you pass it on! If you are especially fond of birds, why not think about submitting your records to the BTO Garden Birdwatch?