Rosewood’s resident wildlife expert, Dean Barratt shares his advice on how to welcome great British wildlife into your garden this spring:
Almost anyone with some outside space can help support our native wildlife, even if you just have a window box or a balcony. For those with larger spaces, supporting wildlife in all its forms can become almost as involving as having your own pets, and turn into a passionate hobby. Literally, from small acorns….
The key is understanding that wildlife of all shapes and sizes benefit from our help, and to focus that help on providing food, water, shelter; plus, safe and easy access.
Over the hedge
Just as our hedgerows are disappearing from farmland (circa 50% lost since the end of the Second World War), hedges are also becoming a rarity in our gardens - at least in back gardens - being supplanted by the ubiquitous fence. This creates two issues. Firstly, hedges are wonderful habits for wildlife, providing opportunities for shelter, feeding and nesting. But they also allow easier movement from one garden to another for creatures such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads. As well as creating a more natural boundary they also act as much better windbreaks and don’t need replacing every 10 to 15 years. Yes, they need annual pruning and take a few years to establish, but the benefits to wildlife are huge - especially if you choose a species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, beech, hazel or holly - and remember you only need to have a hedge in part of the garden’s perimeter for wildlife to benefit. If your garden is completely enclosed, then consider cutting a small archway or hole (about 13cm x 13cm) in the bottom, in a few locations, ideally behind foliage, to allow animals easier access.
Britain in bloom
According to a study conducted by B&Q, gardens make up around a quarter of the space in our towns and cities. With such a significant expanse of land, ensuring that a good proportion of this space is more than just patio and lawn (real, please!) is vital for urban wildlife. And growing a wide variety of plants is key in this.
Large trees are a dream for wildlife - the average mature oak tree can be home over 280 different species of insect – but we don’t all have the space or time (if newly planted), so for most a quicker route to attracting wildlife is with annuals, perennials and shrubs.
And whilst native plants such as Blackthorn and Wild Cherry can bring specific benefits for certain insect species, within reason all plants can bring benefits to wildlife in general. But one thing to consider is that pollinators prefer simpler, single flowers rather than some of the ‘over-engineered’ double blooms. For maximum benefit it’s also worth planting a wide variety of flowering plants which flower from early spring to the end of the summer.
Food, glorious food
In the garden web of life if you attract insects then you are more likely to attract birds. But in most cases supplementary feeding with quality seed is also very beneficial. Most bird species are in decline due to a reduction in habitats and other reasons. And whilst we might focus on putting out seed mainly in the winter, it’s important to feed all year, especially between April and July when the majority of fledglings leave the nest. Which leads us on to two other key things for garden birds: nesting sites and water. Nesting boxes are great for some species but for others they will look to build their nests in mature shrubs, hedging and climbers. Something to be aware of when planning any planting and pruning!
When it comes to feeders: the more the better, placed in a wide variety of locations. And aim to offer a variety of foods. Our new Recycled Seed, Peanut and Fatball Feeders are not only made from post-consumer recycled plastic, such as drinks cartons, but they are also great value and very easy to clean; good hygiene being a key consideration with garden birds.
After recent summers water security is a key consideration for us as well as our wildlife. Even a small and simple pond is guaranteed to attract all manner of wildlife into your garden.
In one weekend you can easily install a modestly sized pond using a proper liner. Hard moulded, pre-formed plastic pools might look appealing, but they are usually more expensive and are typically no easier to install. They also often have limitations such as being too shallow for some fish and having limited shelving for aquatic plants. On both points, if your aim for the pond is solely to attract wildlife then add few or no fish but add plenty of different types of aquatic plants.
Even if you don’t have the inclination or space for a pond, burying an old washing up bowl or similar plastic container and filling it with a few rocks and aquatic plants can still be a haven for wildlife. In all cases just make sure there is a very shallow ‘beach’ area to allow wildlife easy access in and out!
A final tip – add a bag of daphnia from a local aquatic centre. These tiny aquatic planktonic crustaceans will become established in no time and then act as both a food source for other animals as well as a great way of preventing the water from going green.
Let the Wild Things Grow
Whilst many gardeners may shudder at the thought of an overgrown lawn or unraked leaves, leaving these to linger a little longer is a great way to provide shelter and food for a huge range of vertebrate and invertebrate life.
Growing the grass out is a quick and simple way to boost the garden’s appeal to wildlife (even if it’s just in one small area), but if you’re in it for the long haul then a wild meadow is what you’re after. Create a beautiful haven for both humans and animals by scattering some annual wildflower seeds and grasses around March or April.
If you’ve been inspired to let wildlife in this spring you can check out our full Wildlife Range here.
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