Whether you have enough land to make the Queen envious, or a single square-metre of space to call your own, there are multiple ways, both big and small, to create an environment fit for plants and wildlife to flourish. in your garden From water butts, to bug hotels, here are some of the ways to create a sanctuary suitable for humans, animals and plants to coexist in harmony.
Allow your green space to go wild
While a beautifully manicured garden can be an appealing prospect for those with lawns, consider keeping at least a fraction wild and overgrown. Mowing lawns can remove essential sources of food for pollinators, such as bees, whose existence is crucial in growing some of our favourite foods and improving crop quality.
Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity, has even launched an entire month – “no mow May” – to encourage people to leave their gardens wild to encourage wildlife. Ian Dunn, CEO of Plantlife said: “Cutting grass less and later is great for nature. A more relaxed approach to mowing the lawn benefits plants, pollinators, people and planet. Not only do wild flowers flourish, creating a botanical bounty for the bees and butterflies that depend on them, but also climate emissions from mowers are lowered, and people ‘win back’ time to enjoy garden wildlife and connect to nature.”
If you do want to cut back overgrown areas, wait until spring to give minibeasts sheltering from the cold a change to move on, however.
A source of clean, safe water is vital for wildlife, especially during the hot summer months. Even a regularly changed dish of water can offer a place for wildlife to bathe and drink.
Those with more space might consider a pond or water feature, which can provide an important habitat for amphibians and invertebrates, such as frogs, toads and newts. Make sure you leave shallow sides and/or a secure exit route for creatures to get in and out of the water, such as a piece of slate or sturdy branch.
Create homes for wildlife
Leaving part of your garden wild not only helps pollinators, but provides a home for all kinds of wildlife to hide and breed. Creating a garden that attracts insects will, in turn, attract insect-eating creatures, such as hedgehogs, bats, birds and their chicks.
Climate change, insecticides, herbicides, light pollution, invasive species and changes in agriculture and land use are causing Earth to lose around one to two per cent of its insects each year, says bug expert, University of Connecticut entomologist, David Wagner. One way to counteract this is by creating a bug hotel to encourage insects to live and hibernate in your garden or balcony. This can be done by simply leaving piles of wood, twigs, rocks, trimmings and compost, manna from heaven for tiny creatures, such as beetles and spiders, who can hide and feed in these decomposing piles, as well as fungi and moss.
Choose hedges over fences
The humble hedgerow has been in decline since the end of the Second World War, with losses of 50 per cent in some parts of the country, according to the RSPB. With benefits to wildlife, soil and the environment, consider planting a hedge, rather than erecting a fence. Hedges provide vital homes and shelter for roosting and nesting birds, harvest mice and foraging bats, as well as the beloved hedgehog. Just make sure you leave space near the bottom for hedgehogs to travel through.
The profound impact of pesticides on wildlife and nature around the world is well known, from bees becoming “addicted” to pesticides that are a major cause of their decline, to imidacloprid driving dramatic declines in global songbird populations. Rather than damaging the delicate ecosystem in your green space, consider more natural approaches to pest control, such as companion planting. This is when a second plant is planted next to another to repel pests or lure them away by acting as a sacrificial plant. Slugs dislike copper piping and egg shells, so introduce these to your garden if they’re proving a problem, while spraying plants with water or a light soapy, non-toxic solution can eradicate aphids.
Feed the birds
Birds are an important part of your garden’s ecosystem, so it makes sense to look after them. Protein-rich fat balls are the preferred snack of our feathered friends during spring, so stock up to keep them happy (in winter, they like seeds, natch). Make sure you position feed in a safe sheltered space away from cats. If you have the space, a bird box in a high, sheltered area will also help them thrive. And hearing birdsong boosts human wellbeing, according to a 2020 study, so it’s win-win all round.
Instead of watering your garden using water from the tap, get a water butt or barrel. These vessels collect rainwater that can then be used to water plants and flowers – and even clean your car. Harvested rainwater contains more nutrients than tap water, which is often treated with chemicals, such as chlorine, so it’s better for nature. And water from a butt is usually at a similar ambient temperature to its surrounding environment, rather than tap water which is often much cooler. Using rainwater in this water will also help you save money on your water bills. What’s not to love?