Gardens contain many micro-habitats which are so important for wildlife:
Installing a pond or other water feature such as bog garden is a great way to increase the wildlife interest in a garden.
A pond provides a breeding place for frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies and all the other aquatic fauna. It is also a drinking and bathing area for birds and other animals.
Tips for water habitats:
- Site ponds in a spot which gets plenty of sun and is unlikely to fill up too quickly with fallen leaves from trees
- Include at least one sloping side in a pond so that amphibians and other wildlife can easily get in and out of the water
- Plant up your pond or bog garden to provide plenty of cover, both in and out of the water
- If you don't have much space, make a pond in a pot - it will still be a help for wildlife
- Collect rainwater to top up your pond
Stone is another useful element in the garden, if you can readily source it. Dry stone walls offer nooks and crannies for small mammals and reptiles. A pile of rocks and stones makes a snug hibernaculum for overwintering reptiles and amphibians. Pebbles, flat stones and even gravel are used by butterflies for basking and song thrushes for cracking open snail shells on.
Lawns and mini-meadows
A lawn can be a surprisingly rich environment for wildlife. Short grass is a good spot for birds such as green woodpeckers and blackbirds to search for ants and earthworms. Allow your lawn "weeds" such as clover and dandelions to flower in between cuts to provide nectar for pollinating insects and and seeds for birds. Or let the grass grow long for the summer so that it can feed the caterpillars for various butterflies such as skippers, meadow brown, speckled wood, gatekeeper, ringlet and small heath.
The addition of other flowering plants will increase the wildlife value of lawns. These establish best if raised as small plants in seed trays and transplanted into the lawn.
Attractive wild flowers for short turf;
bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
self heal (Prunella vulgaris)
violets (Viola spp.)
wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus)
And for long grass left uncut for most of the summer;
devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis)
field scabious (Knautia arvensis)
hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
knapweeds (Centaurea spp.)
mallow (Malva sylvestris)
teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
Or try sowing a mini-meadow, choosing a seed mix or wildflower turf which best suits your soil. Fertilizers and weedkillers should not be used on wildflower lawns or meadows.
Climbers, walls & fences
Cloth fences and walls with climbing plants or wall shrubs. These provide shelter for spiders and insects. And good nesting spots for wrens, robins and blackbirds. Some plants have additional flower and berrying benefits for wildlife such as pyracantha, honeysuckle, ivy and hip-bearing roses such as 'Rambling Rector', 'Frances E. Lester' and 'Scharlachglut'.
Hedges, woodland edges, banks & ditches
Living boundaries, such as hedges, are of great value to wildlife, offering refuge and a safe corridor for animals to move about around the garden and between gardens in your neighbourhood. Spread this out to a wider border planted up with some specimen trees and you have effectively created a woodland edge.
Other linear features to incorporate, especially if you have a fairly flat garden, are banks and ditches. Their sides offer sun or shade, dry or damp conditions, depending on the aspect.
Trees and shrubs
Trees and shrubs provide supports for climbing plants such as clematis, roses and ivy. Ivy flowers in the autumn when few other nectar and pollen sources are available to insects. Flowering trees and shrubs are sources of nectar and pollen for insects. And with a large leaf surface area it means they support a host of aphids and caterpillars – themselves a large part of the diet for birds and their chicks.
Dense branches and natural cavities in trees and shrubs means good nesting and roosting sites for birds and bats.
Forest trees such as oak, ash and beech, while excellent for wildlife, are too large for most gardens. Instead, consider planting;
cherry (Prunus avium)
crab apple (Malus)
goat willow (Salix caprea)
hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
hazel (Corylus avellana)
holly (Ilex aquifolium)
mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
silver birch (Betula pendula)
spindle (Euonymus europaeus)
wild roses (Rosa)
Well-stocked flower beds means there are lots of provisions for wildlife. They are a source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other flower visitors. As the flowers go over there are seed heads for seed-eating birds and insects. And if the annual cut back of perennials is delayed until early spring, there are hollow stems and foliage available for overwintering invertebrates.
When choosing plants, look for those which hold the RHS Plants for Pollinator logo and avoid lots of double-flowered forms which don't have easily accessible pollen or nectar. Plant a range of annuals and perennials which flower over as long a season as possible. Useful garden flowers are sedums, scabious, sunflower, Michaelmas daisies, wallflowers, aubrieta and golden rod. Native plants, including foxglove, meadow cranesbill, primrose, cowslip, hemp agrimony, knapweeds, teasel and red campion, can be incorporated into flower beds.
Pots & containers
A small space or lack of a garden doesn't mean you can't help wildlife. Ground beetles, centipedes and woodlice can make a home under a pot, a robin choose to nest in an undisturbed hanging basket and pollinators flock to container favourites such as lavender and nasturtium.
Fruit & vegetable areas
If you have an allotment or grow your own at home, chances are you will be providing lots of flowers for pollinators. Fruit tree blossom, fruit bushes, tomatoes, beans, courgettes and pumpkins all attract bees and other pollinating insects. Grow plenty of herbs too and let some of these flower. Try growing annual marigolds, phacelia and poppies around the edge of the kitchen garden to encourage insects such as hoverflies. Many hoverflies are beneficial as their larvae prey on aphids, which are common pests on many fruit and vegetables.
Leave some fallen fruit in the autumn to be eaten by overwintering migrant birds, such as redwings and fieldfares.
Dead wood & compost heaps
Dead wood provides habitat for approximately 20% of Britain’s woodland insect fauna. Logs and standing dead timber is food for wood-boring insects that in turn are eaten by woodpeckers and treecreepers. In a garden dead trees or branches should be checked for signs of disease. Dead material may need to be removed on the grounds of safety or to prevent disease spread. However, where dead wood cannot be left in situ, it can be still stacked in a shady part of the garden.
All good gardens have a compost heap. Decaying plant material seethes with springtails, worms, mites and other invertebrate animals. They are part of the composting process and, along with bacteria and fungi, will convert the vegetation into a rich, crumbly compost. The heap will also be an important feeding area for birds and insectivorous mammals. The warmth of a heap can attract grassnakes as a cosy nest to incubate their eggs.