Here are nine principles we’ve learned over the years, which may help you establish your own rich garden wildlife habitat – even in town or city, even if you haven’t much space.
- Tidiness is the enemy of nature. Insects and other creatures need food and cover all the year round, and especially through winter – so leave dead flowers, leaves and fallen twigs. Grass in nature never gets mowed. We just cut back the perimeter trees and bigger shrubs every few years, to stop them completely crowding everything else out.
- Have water present all the time – this can be a small pond, or a dish or other shallow receptacle, kept free of ice in winter.
- Plant native species of shrub and other plants, in as much variety as possible. These will naturally provide food for insects and animals in the form of foliage, seeds, berries and fruit. Include those that provide food in winter, such as ivy and holly.
- Resident birds need four things to keep them happy – somewhere to nest, somewhere safe to roost at night, something to eat, and somewhere to hide from predators. We have allowed trees and shrubs to grow tall and dense round the perimeter of the garden, simulating the rich natural habitat of the thick hedgerow or forest edge, with a more open, sheltered space in the centre, like a woodland glade.
- If you start offering additional food, keep providing it as the birds will become dependent – especially when naturally occurring food is scarce such as winter, and in early spring, when there are young to feed.
- To attract certain species, special measures can be taken. For frogs and other reptiles, make woodpiles. For stag beetles, bury hardwood logs in the ground. To encourage hedgehogs to visit, provide places where they can stay by day or hibernate for the winter. These can be large heaps of decomposing vegetation, or purpose made ‘hogitats’; naturally occurring food can be supplemented by treats such as mealworms, or cat food – not milk or bread.
- Get a trailcam – you’ll be amazed at who is coming to visit your garden throughout the night. Cameras inside nest boxes are great too. These are what we used to record the video clips in this article.
- Some results are achieved quickly – like installing bird feeders – while others, such as growing dense shrubbery or attracting hedgehogs, develop organically over a longer time. Be patient.
- Encourage children to visit your garden and learn about wildlife – its future depends on people in the future caring about it.
Happy urban wildlife gardening!