Encouraging wildlife into your garden is a winner all-round. Flying visitors such as birds, butterflies and bees are pretty to look at and also help improve your garden’s production. Encourage hedgehogs, toads and frogs too – they act as fantastic pest control, reducing the need for pesticides.
Find out how to control slugs and snails in your garden
The benefits of increasing wildlife in your garden
From an environmental point of view, gardens are a very important part of our overall green space. According to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust it is estimated that the UK has lost 97% of its flower-rich grassland since the 1930s, greatly reducing the foraging habitats and nesting sites for bees and other wildlife.
And of course from the gardener’s point of view, bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are essential for crop production - fruit and fruiting vegetables rely upon them.
Andy McIndoe, tutor of online gardening course Gardening For Wildlife with MyGardenSchool and the RHS, explains that by encouraging wildlife into the garden you help to achieve a natural balance. “Beneficial insects keep pests under control. Birds, amphibians and hedgehogs naturally control slugs and snails. This does away with the need for chemicals and is better for our health and the environment.”
Find out more about the importance of biodiversity
What species should we encourage and why?
- Bees: “They are so important globally and we need to do everything possible to benefit them and maintain their food supplies. Gardens can be a really important source of nectar and pollen,” says Andy.
- Bumblebees: crops such as tomatoes hold the pollen very tightly onto their anthers and can only be pollinated by bumblebees.
- Wild birds: not only are these natural predators, many populations are also in decline.
- Butterflies: many of their natural environments (such as roadside verges) are diminishing, so gardens are a haven for butterflies.
- Hedgehogs: these prickly pals are in need of protection from declining numbers and they are also a fantastic natural control of slugs and snails.
Simple ways to attract more wildlife
Creating a garden that appeals to wildlife doesn’t have to involve lots of big changes – or letting your garden run wild. Hilary Wood, Head Gardener at Blenheim Palace, says the best approach is to let nature take its course and just lend a helping hand to encourage and keep things under control. She also offers these easy tips to invite more visitors to your garden:
- Provide nest boxes for insects and also for birds to nest - birds will feed off of the insects, so the food chain begins.
- Introduce water to bring a different range of wildlife and provide water for the wildlife to drink.
- Piles of old logs are great for animals to nest and hide in.
- Improve soil with well-rotted compost to introduce worms and slugs and other soil insects, providing food for birds and hedgehogs.
- Some of the best wildlife-attracting plants include buddleias, lavenders, lavatera, rosemary, lamiums, honeysuckles, asters, geraniums, foxgloves and salvias.
- Try to avoid using chemicals as they interrupt part of the food chain and can be harmful to some wildlife.
Longer-term planning for a wildlife-friendly garden
Andy says that reducing seasonal planting helps to give more consistency in the garden environment. He also advises increasing the number of potential habitats in the long term by introducing a small pond or a bushy shrub or small tree for birds to roost.
“You can also try planting more berry-bearing shrubs with the benefit of spring flowers,” he says. “For example, replacing a clipped laurel hedge or line of conifers with a native mix of hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose and honeysuckle would have a huge benefit to wildlife.”
Visit our wildlife section for more on garden wildlife