People often asked me “What can I do to attract wildlife into my garden?”
I ask them what they already do to try; most often they tell me that they have bird feeders and put out bird food but not much seems to visit them.
Firstly, we need to understand the needs of any visiting creatures, be they four legged or flying.
Like us, they need to feel safe. It’s nice to be fed. It’s great to have something to wash it down with and if you can have a wash and brush up in the same spot, so much the better.
In the 70s and 80s many hedgerows were taken out to make bigger fields for growing crops and allow use of larger machinery. This made many hedgerow birds homeless and numbers have plummeted. Not only have they been deprived of suitable nesting sites but have also lost a valuable food supply in the form of the spiders and insects living in those hedgerows, and the berries that grew on them too. Other creatures also lost their wildlife corridors and the safety to move around in the landscape. Many small ponds were filled in; again depriving creatures like frogs, toads and newts of vital habitat. We can all do something to help mitigate the loss of habitat and in doing so begin to encourage visitors to our backyards.
Access can be an issue. Many gardens now have a wooden or concrete fence line which forms a barrier to four legged visitors. Hedgehogs are in trouble right across our island and I have to admit that I have not seen one in our garden in a long time. A hole the size of a drainage pipe in the bottom of the fence will give them a way in and a through route across the back gardens that they rely on to forage in safety at night .
For birds to feel safe in a garden they need shelter before they will consider visiting a feeder or bird table. Put it into context… how would you feel sitting down to your tea on the patio and the local velociraptor catches you out with nowhere to dart for cover? Birds are acutely aware of the threat of predators in the form of either local cats or passing sparrowhawks and will not visit if they do not feel secure.
To afford some shelter you could plant a few shrubs; the thicker a bush they form, the better . If you choose something like berberis, firethorn (pyracantha) or cotoneaster you will get the benefit of flowers to provide nectar for insects and also later on in the year, berries to feed the birds. Thick shrubs will also provide a nesting site for smaller birds.
By providing something like a log pile habitat you will encourage a good selection of invertebrates to take up residence. You could introduce a bug hotel if you have not got the room for a log pile. Consider planting nectar rich flowers and shrubs to encourage bees and other pollinators and have a selection that will provide nectar from spring when they are emerging from hibernation, right through to autumn when they will be feeding up for the big sleep. One of the best nectar providers in the spring is pussy willow which will feed bumble bees and butterflies alike. Spring flowers such as snowdrops, crocus and lungwort will also be a magnet for insects as they wake up.
Water in a garden is vital. Three years ago I installed a small pre-formed plastic pond, within days it was frog central! We always knew there were frogs in the garden, just not quite how many. Do remember to put a rock or ramp at the side of any pond you may have to allow hedgehogs to get out if they fall in. They are good swimmers and can climb but will need a little help. I now have another tiny water feature and a round pebble pond. Our resident sparrow flock, (making an almighty racket to announce their arrival!) soon took to the idea that there was a place to drink and bathe, they are now regularly joined by the blackbird family, dunnocks and resident robin.
I recently invested in a Trail Cam to explore the nocturnal goings on in the garden. We have Urban foxes around and we were delighted to find that they too stop by for a drink.
If you like the idea of providing water in the garden, have children and are worried about their safety, you don’t have to install a pond. We have a bowl that we use to soak potted plants in. We keep it full and the frogs and birds are not in the least bit fussy; they use that just as easily.
We can all do our little bit to help the local wildlife by giving them what they need. The rewards can be staggering. I promise you will not be disappointed if you give it a go. I wish you good fortune in your own endeavours!