Making gardens animal-friendly
IT is a little-known fact that more than 80 per cent of the UK’s population has somewhere to grow outdoor plants, including patios, window boxes and balconies.
Although these may not be the largest of outside spaces, they can still be extremely beneficial for all kinds of wildlife, particularly insects and in turn, birds, and maybe even mammals, such as bats – you might even get one of these beautiful dragonflies, which dropped into the gallery this week.
Obviously, if you’re 10 floors up, then no hedgehog or squirrel is able to take advantage of your wildlife gardening, but bats will love you for encouraging insects and give a regular fly-past at dusk.
In the smallest of gardens, piles of twigs and sticks, bee boxes, insect hotels, pots of foxgloves and herbs and a small water feature are among the wildlife gardening ideas that could provide homes and food for a variety of invaluable insects such as butterflies, moths and bees.
And don’t forget bird boxes – now is the perfect time to put boxes up as it gives the birds time to check them out before next spring.
A good wildlife garden is more than just a corner of a garden left to go wild, and whether you are creating a new wildlife garden, or have an established one, think of it as a nature reserve and you as the warden.
Provide as many habitats as possible, but avoid cramming too much in and focus on what can be done well in the space you have.
Here are a few examples:
Long grass provides habitat for egg-laying and over-wintering caterpillars and leather jackets. Blackbirds and starlings search for leather jackets – crane fly grubs – in short grass.
Different species of tree and shrub and flowering plants provide nectar and other food sources through the year.
Rotational shrub cutting creates different structures and ages of growth, benefiting different wildlife at different times.
A water feature with different depths is great for wildlife. Shallow areas are used by bathing and drinking birds, emerging dragonflies and somewhere for amphibians to lay eggs. Deeper areas help aquatic insects survive cold spells and are good places to watch newts swimming.
Wildlife requires two fundamental things: somewhere safe to breed and shelter and somewhere to forage throughout the year. Grow climbers against walls to provide shelter and roosting and breeding sites for birds.
A thick, well-developed, thorny shrub bed or hedge provides nest sites and shelter for wildlife.
A bat box provides roosting sites for bats, a pile of leaves may be used by a hibernating hedgehog.
Leave tidying of borders and shrubs until late winter or early spring to provide shelter for insects through winter.
Short lengths of drinking straws, hollow canes or plant stems tied in bundles are excellent nesting sites for beneficial lacewings and ladybirds.
Dead wood is good for beetles and other specialist beneficial insects, fungi and mosses.
Early and late flowering plants provide nectar for insects at critical times – just after emergence or prior to hibernation.
Tidy borders and cut shrubs in late winter and early spring to help retain seeds and fruit for birds and small mammals throughout winter and ivy is a late source of autumn nectar for insects and late winter fruit for birds.
Fruiting bushes are a good source of food for birds and mammals during the autumn and part of the winter, and annual plants that produce many seeds in late summer are a good source of seed for birds through autumn into winter.
Many of our actions have an impact on wildlife beyond our gardens. Consider this when choosing or using your materials when creating your wildlife garden.
Avoid using peat and use alternative forms of compost – peat extraction destroys vital wildlife habitats – and when planting native plants, ensure they are of genuine native stock and not of continental origin.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop
●● A migrant hawker dragonfly