Encouraging Wildlife and Boosting Biodiversity

According to the State of Nature Report 2019, there has been a significant decline in UK wildlife in the past 50 years through management, habitat loss, development and persecution.  There are complex interactions between all living things, making the tiniest insect, lichen or fungus of huge significance to the larger birds and mammals, including us humans, creating a balanced ecosystem that provides us with food, materials, medicines etc. So it is important that those ecosystems are kept healthy through healthy and diverse populations.

Private gardens in Britain cover a vast amount of space and so there is great potential for them to be managed in a way that creates havens for wildlife, boosting the number and variety of animals they can support (biodiversity). This also increases the interest and enjoyment of a garden for us as who doesn’t like to see butterflies, bees, dragonflies and frogs bringing their gardens to life.

There are several ways that you can encourage biodiversity in your own garden.

  • Plant more for pollinators. Ornamental plants will help to provide a food source for insects and if you use a variety of plants that flower and fruit at different times of year, you are providing this food over a long period of time. Pollen and nectar-rich plants are liked by bees, butterflies and other insects, and fruiting trees also by mammals and birds. Moths gather their food at night and so like night-flowering or scented plant species. If you are not sure what to choose, go to a garden centre to see what is in flower and look for the RHS ‘Plants for Pollinators' logo or check out the list on their website. Plants for Pollinators advice and downloadable lists / RHS Gardening
  • Let some of your vegetables go to seed. Some veg flowers are edible and others are great food sources for pollinators.
  • Provide habitat from dead wood. Dead wood can be used as a garden ornament or you can create a log pile in a tucked away corner or under a shrub. This will benefit invertebrates, fungi, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
  • Leave plants to die back naturally over the winter. During autumn and winter some perennials will quickly soften, collapse and become soggy so these could be cut back and removed if you wanted the garden to look a little tidier, but anything with rigid stems should be left standing until late March when new growth begins at the base. These stems and foliage provide shelter for insects and other wildlife whilst seed heads of perennials and grasses provide food for birds.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals. It may be tempting to reach for the pesticide when you see your plants being devoured, but these chemicals will also kill the beneficial insects too. Also these annoying insects are part of the food chain for other animals especially birds, and if the whole system is allowed to work naturally your garden will be better for it. If you find you do have a problem in the garden, check out the RHS website for non-chemical approaches.
  • Ensure there is water in the garden. Even in the smallest space, it is important to put out water for wildlife. It is not only birds that will use it but insects too. If you have a bit more space you can create a pond which will attract lots more wildlife and will help create a balanced ecosystem in your garden e.g. frogs will eat the slugs before they can devour your Hostas and strawberries. Avoid having fish in a pond as they will eat the tadpoles and create an imbalance in your pond.
  • Leave the grass long/make a meadow. Long grass is a haven for many insects so reduce the size of your lawn or leave part of it uncut, even if for only a few weeks in May. Have a look at the Plantlife No Mow May campaign. If you are able to leave some of your lawn longer until late summer, you can create a wildflower meadow. You can add plants to an existing grassy area or for a bare patch you can sow seed or use a pre-grown wildflower turf. When you cut this you need to remove the clippings to reduce fertility. If your grass is very vigorous you can sow Yellow Rattle to help promote wildflowers over grass. (Although grass is good for insects too.)
  • Leave windfalls of fruit for wildlife.  Fruits that has fallen to the ground are vital sources of food for all sorts of wildlife from birds and small mammals to insects including butterflies and moths. The fruit provides a source of energy just when they need it to build up their reserves ready for winter.
  • Provide food and habitat for other birds and mammals. Put up bird feeders, nest boxes and bat boxes to encourage and support more species.
  • Provide food, habitat and access for hedgehogs. Hedgehogs need to be able to move between gardens to find food, nesting sites and mates. Make a 15 x 15cm hole in the base of any solid garden boundaries, or replace part of your fence with a hedge. Provide shelter in the form of log piles, leaf piles, compost heaps or bespoke ‘hedgehog houses’ in quiet, undisturbed places. Leave some fallen fruit. You can also provide some extra food such as wet cat food (chicken and turkey in jelly is best), cat biscuits, or commercial hedgehog food (but not bread or milk) especially in autumn as hedgehogs need to fatten up before hibernation. And remember to keep them safe - avoid using pesticides, check bonfires by lifting up the base and checking for noises, and light from one side only. Even better, build/move the bonfire just before you light it. Check long grass/under hedges before you strim/trim and be careful when turning compost heaps.
  • Limit or eliminate garden lighting. There is new evidence that lighting negatively affects wildlife as it disrupts their natural behaviour, and that this contributes to insect decline. ( There is also evidence that it affects human health). It is best to not have lights altogether and draw curtains as it gets dark to prevent overspill, however if you do need lights, position them as low as possible, point them downwards and fit hoods. Turn them off when not in use, or fit motion sensors. Choose low intensity lighting and warmer lamp colours, solar lights in a warm colour are ideal.

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Welwyn Garden City

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Houghton Conquest

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