Whether your garden is large or small, it has a great capacity for attracting wildlife. Even a tiny garden can be a haven for a wide range of birds, butterflies and bees. Mammals such as the hedgehog, a species in decline, can be encouraged by careful management and feeding. Many people find that contact with nature via a garden improves their quality of life and induces a sense of wellbeing. We can even connect with nature through a window from the comfort of a living room. There are a few simple things we can do to release the full wildlife potential of our gardens.
Use plants that provide food and shelter. Fragrant flowers such as buddleia, lavender, thyme and even the humble dandelion will attract butterflies and bees, and fruit trees and shrubs are a favourite for mammals and birds. Climbing plants such as ivy and jasmine can be grown on garden walls as somewhere for birds to nest and to provide pollen for bees, butterflies and other insects. Further tips on plants which are attractive to wildlife can be found at the BBC.
Create a mini-wilderness
Many features which attract wildlife require little initial or ongoing effort. Make a log pile with unwanted pieces of wood, or a rock pile; either of these can become a perfect habitat for insects and shelter for other animals. A variety of animals will make the gaps and cracks in such a pile their home. More information on log pile creation can be found at RSPB-dead-wood. These are great, simple options as they don’t need any maintaining and can be left untouched for years. Also leaving part of your garden uncut will provide shelter and a varied habitat for many animals and leave you with less to maintain.
Provide a source of water
Wild birds need access to clean water all year round. This can be a particular problem when temperatures dip below zero. If you haven’t got a bird bath or small pond, a washing-up bowl set into the ground can be just as beneficial. Whichever option you choose, it is important to keep the water clean and ice-free (see RSPB-helping-birds-water).
Work alongside nature
Avoid using pesticides, because they can be harmful to various animals and interrupt the food chain. Instead practise organic pest control (see organic-pest-control). Birds, hedgehogs and ladybirds eat pests so will control them naturally. Start composting by having a compost pile or bin. You can use unwanted vegetation from your garden like grass cuttings and fallen leaves, along with house waste like vegetable peel, fruit leftovers, teabags, eggshells and coffee grounds. A compost pile will provide shelter and food for many species. Information can be found at home-composting.
Buy or make a nest box in which birds or even bats can nest. Make sure you put it in a sheltered place and high enough so that it’s out of reach of cats. More information on nest box building can be found at BTO-make-a-nest-box and Bat-Trust-boxes. A bundle of hollow stems or bamboo shoots can be tied together and hung to create a perfect hotel for solitary bees and keep them returning year after year (see bee-house).