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Friday, 5 October 2012

Encouraging wildlife in your garden

Encouraging birds, mammals and insects to visit and live in your garden helps to look after wildlife in the UK. It can also help control garden pests by attracting natural predators. Find out how to make animal shelters, choose wildlife-friendly plants and keep birds safe from cats.

How you can help wildlife

There are about 15 million gardens in Britain. In England, they cover a larger area than all the nature reserves combined.

Gardens provide important habitats (living spaces) for wildlife and helps provide refuge for animals whose natural homes in the countryside are being lost. Garden ponds, for instance, have helped to conserve aquatic and amphibian life, like fish and frogs.

Plant a tree

Get involved in The Big Tree Plant

Trees provide food and shelter for many types of wildlife, from insects to birds, and bats. You don’t have to have a big garden to plant a tree. Trees like crab apple, pussy willow or hazel will thrive in small spaces. You can even grow a tree in a large container if you don’t have a garden. Or you could sponsor planting a tree through the Woodland Trust.

You can also get involved in The Big Tree Plant. This is a national tree planting campaign to encourage community groups to plant and care for street trees. Find out more from The Big Tree Plant website.

Native species like silver birch, hawthorn, or yew support a wide range of insects, which in turn provide year-round food for mammals and birds.

There are several grants available for tree planting. Grants depend on whether you are planting a small wood on your land or a few trees in your community or local school. More information on tree planting grants can be found on the Woodland Trust website.

Provide wildlife shelters

Creating spaces for wildlife to live and nest in is one way of making animals feel at home in your garden. Creating variety helps provide habitats for different animals. Insects in particular help keep your garden healthy – they pollinate plants, eat other insects and provide food for birds. Here are some simple ideas that can help:

  • leave rotting logs in a corner of your garden to make a home for hedgehogs and insects
  • drill holes in pruned branches and logs to provide insects with shelter and nesting space
  • have an area of your garden that you leave alone - overgrown areas can give animals like hedgehogs space to rest or hibernate
  • bird and bat boxes encourage creatures to nest and rest in your garden

Plant a hedge

Planting a hedge in your garden can really help wildlife. Hedges provide food and nesting places for all sorts of animals and insects, for example:

  • many birds make their nests in hedges
  • hedgehogs, weasels and voles may shelter at the bottom of a hedge
  • wood mice may be found further up in the branches

Choose a mixture of native hedge species, like holly, blackthorn, guelder rose and field maple to attract a wide range of insects. They will then provide food for mammals and birds. You can buy hedge mixes from some garden centres or tree nurseries.

You can also grow violets, wood anemones and celandine at the base of the hedge to attract nectar-loving insects.

For more information on hedgerows and wildlife visit the Hedgelink website, or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Create a pond

Ponds are a magnet for wildlife, attracting frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies and other insects. Ponds provide water for birds too, and they’re surprisingly easy to create. If you haven’t got much space, you could even use an old sink or bath.

Feed the animals

You can help wildlife in your garden by providing them with food and somewhere to bathe:

  • attract birds to your garden by offering them food using feeders and tables
  • put bird tables away from places cats can get to or put them near prickly bushes to deter unwanted predators
  • clean bird tables regularly and don’t leave food out to rot
  • keep feeding regularly - birds come to rely on provided food and can suffer if they waste energy flying to food that isn’t there
  • choose plants that flower and produce seeds or fruit at different times of year, so insects, birds and animals have food in all seasons
  • birds need to bathe frequently to keep their feathers in trim, so even a small bird bath can be hugely valuable for attracting birds 

Choose wildlife-friendly plants

Think about wildlife when buying your plants or deciding what you will let grow in your garden. Choose ones that attract and feed a variety of insects and animals. For example:

  • sunflower seeds provide food for birds once the flowers have died
  • lavender attracts bees
  • buddleia is great for butterflies and bees
  • moths will come to red valerian, honeysuckle and night-flowering stock
  • native ivy is one of the best wildlife plants of all, benefiting birds, mammals, butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other useful insects

Only use pesticides as a last resort

Pesticides are designed to kill and control pests, weeds and fungi. However, they can also kill or discourage the wildlife you want to attract to your garden, including the predators that eat pests. Pesticides can be damaging in very small quantities, so you must always handle them carefully:

  • avoid using chemicals wherever possible, but if you do use them, always follow the instructions on the label
  • don’t over-dose your garden - using too much of a product can damage the plants you want to protect
  • dispose of out of date or waste products carefully - don't pour them down the drain or put them in your household waste bin
  • your council can give you advice on disposing of pesticides you no longer need
  • make sure pesticides or other hazardous chemicals from paints and finishes don’t get into ponds, as they can poison water life

Control your cat

Give birds a chance by putting several bells on your cat’s collar. This should give birds warning that your pet is approaching. Multiple bells are best because some cats can learn to move silently with just one bell on their collars.

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