Wildlife Friendly Gardens

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In the UK, our gardens comprise 12% of the cultivated land and they cover a larger area than all our nature reserves put together. If everyone made their gardens wildlife friendly it could make a huge difference.

If you have the space, you could create a woodland habitat, with small trees such as birch, rowan or hazel, underplanted with shrubs. Shade loving plants such as ferns, aquilegias, foxgloves, aconites and bluebells can be planted on the woodland floor, whilst honeysuckle can be encouraged to climb up the trees. Covering the soil with a layer of chopped bark helps to retain moisture in the soil and creates an instant woodland eco system. If there are any fallen trees or logs in the garden, keep them as part of the woodland area. The wood will soon be covered in fungi and lichens and will be home to countless insects.

Woodland environments, however small, can attract a wealth of wildlife. Trees provide habitats for caterpillars, which in turn attract bluetits and chaffinches. Many species of butterfly will breed and feed in the woodland garden. White admirals lay their eggs on honeysuckle leaves, and speckled wood butterflies feed on ferns and grasses. Small mammals are attracted to woodland areas and will rummage about in the leaf litter looking for insects, nuts, and seeds. Remember that a wildlife friendly garden cannot be too neat and tidy. Leaf litter and plant debris are home to a thriving community of insects and fungi.

Another habitat you may want to create is the wildflower meadow. To convert part of your lawn to meadow, first define the meadow area by continuing to mow closely the part of the lawn you want to retain, leaving the rest to grow longer. Less fertile areas are ideal. First rake the area well, water thoroughly and then sow a meadow flower seed mixture. Leave the area undisturbed until the following spring. Cut the grass down when it is over 4 inches high, removing all the cuttings, but don’t cut it shorter than two inches. Continue to do this through the first season, to allow the new plants to establish in the meadow area. In the second season it will only need to be cut twice.

The long grass provides hiding places for caterpillars, larvae and invertebrates, whilst the flowers provide nectar for adult butterflies, bees and moths. With the increased number of insects in the meadow, the bird population will use the area as a feeding ground. Swallows, swifts and woodpeckers may be attracted by the insects, and in late summer the seed heads of the meadow grasses will be a magnet to chaffinches, linnets and tits.

If you want some quick fiz wildlife friendly approaches, set aside an out of the way shady spot, make a small woodpile, plant foxgloves bluebells and a buddleia, and be tolerant of nettles and thistles, which are important fro butterflies and bees. In a sunny spot plant lavender, thyme and chives to provide food for bees.

Check out your garden and see if you can make it more wildlife friendly.

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Guest Thursday, 17 January 2019