photo of fox in urban garden

The incredible power and influence of urban wildlife gardening

Urban wildlife gardening can bring tremendous benefits to you, to your local wildlife, to the quality of life in towns and cities, and to the planet. And it’s not so hard to do.

There’s huge potential here. Domestic gardens constitute a very significant part of the urban landscape, forming a quarter of the total area of many cities. They can also represent half of urban green space. In countries like UK, more than 85% of the population lives in towns and cities; in the US it’s 82%; worldwide it’s currently 50 to 60% having risen from 34% in 1960, and is projected to reach 68% by 2050. We’re becoming an urban species.

Scaled up urban wildlife gardening could play a tremendous role in turning the tide of urban development and reversing the inexorable concreting over of valuable small green spaces, making a direct and significant contribution to addressing global issues of over-development, pollution, climate change and species extinction.

Conventional gardening doesn’t do the job nearly so well. It contributes significantly to ever rising carbon emissions through using and transporting horticultural products, chemicals, power tools, and plastics and other petroleum based materials, as well as supporting actions like destroying natural peat bogs in order to have potting compost. Addiction to perfectly manicured lawns represents the peak of this disastrous scenario. Wildlife gardens, on the other hand, are extremely significant carbon sinks. Regular gardens also use massive amounts of water, increasingly so as the effects of climate change are felt and water inevitably becomes a more and more scarce commodity. By contrast, established wild gardens use no extra water at all and they so soak up surplus water and thus help prevent flooding when there is excessive rainfall — which we’re also going to see more of in many places.

Many declining wildlife species that were once common in the traditionally farmed countryside are now more abundant in urban areas; in Europe examples include hedgehogs, frogs and song thrushes. Connecting with nature and wildness has been shown by a plethora of studies to benefit human mental and emotional wellbeing and overall health. And those studies show that having an urban wildlife garden bring these benefits too.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if lots of urban gardeners decided to rewild at least a part of their gardens? This would have a huge beneficial impact on the ability of all kinds of wildlife to survive and thrive in our towns, cities and suburbs, creating a network of wildlife corridors that connect with each other and with the surrounding countryside. Connectedness – rather than just creating isolated pockets of wildness – is now being recognised as the key way to execute conservation, as it enables vulnerable species to move when their original habitat becomes unsuitable for them to cope with as climate change effects kick in.

Wilding the urban garden can make a huge difference – if a lot of us do it. So let’s do something different with those arid bare-earth flowerbeds; let’s go a bit mad with those manicured lawns; let’s convert some of those front hard-standings and concrete slabs into something more diversity-encouraging and fecund. A wild urban garden can be your own little eco-system and nature reserve. A lot of it is just getting out of the way and letting nature do its thing. You’ll be surprised at just how many creatures appear in your vicinity when you let the habitat go wild and free. Let’s do this!

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