Gardening for wildlife

We’ve all heard the negative stories in the media, 52 per cent of wildlife lost in the last 40 years, songbirds and butterflies populations declining and recently massive losses in bee populations. Scare stories on national and global scale that might leave you feeling powerless but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

As valuable habitat for our native wildlife decreases, more and more of our native birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs and insects moving to urban areas.
The problem is that few of our urban areas provide a suitable habitat for many, if any, of these creatures, so it’s fantastic that many people want to make their gardens and yards wildlife friendly.

Domestic gardens occupy an area greater than all the nature reserves in the country combined, and provide the opportunity to make a real difference. By making minor changes in our own garden (however, large or small) we are joining an army of millions combining forces to make Big Changes. We are all creating and adding corridors and habitat for wildlife. Just as in the expression ‘take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’ philosophy can be applied to wildlife. So as I strive to make my garden welcoming to wildlife because I know mine, along yours and with every other wildlife-friendly garden will add to, and increase the national and global patchwork that provides opportunities for wildlife to spread, thrive and survive.

A wildlife garden is an environment created by a gardener that serves as a sustainable haven for surrounding wildlife. Wildlife gardens contain a variety of habitats that cater to native and local plants, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, mammals and so on.

Establishing a garden environment that mimics surrounding wildlife allows for natural systems to interact and establish an equilibrium, ultimately minimizing the need for gardene’s maintenance and intervention. Wildlife gardens can also play an essential role in biological pest control, and also promote biodiversity, native plantings, and generally benefit the wider environment. Wildlife friendly gardens require as much diversity as possible and the natural environment can be complex to replicate in your yard. Birds and animals and insects use plants for many things including: food, shelter and breeding sites, so plants don’t necessarily have to provide food directly as they may attract insects which in turn provide food for some species.

Habitats
Building a successful garden suitable for local wildlife is best accomplished through the use of multiple three – dimensional habitats with diverse structures that provide places for animals to nest and hide.

Some ideas to make for a wildlife friendly garden and yard no matter whether you have just a container in the balcony, or a big country estate or a modest urban garden like most of us.

Feed The Birds
The quickest and easiest way to enjoy wildlife and make a difference is simply putting up a bird feeding station and keeping it full with fresh clean food. Birds will visit everyday and it will increase the amount of birds in the garden, which play a key role in biological pest control. Not only will the food and shelter increase the survival rate of birds, but also ensure that they are healthy enough for a successful breeding season.

Water
We need it and so do our wildlife. Put a shallow dish of clean water, especially in the dry season and you’ll be helping more than birds. Until you see a hardworking bee stop for a quick sip with your own eyes you haven’t seen anything. If space allows add a deeper water feature (with at least one sloping side) or ideally a pond. Birds and animals will use it to bathe and a multitude of insects will use it for meeting, mating and breeding. Day and night flying insects will all in turn attract birds and bats seeking a meal and keep a sharp eye out for visiting dragon flies, a special treat every time you see one. A pond or even fish to swim.

Plant a tree for plant diversity
Plant native trees, ground cover and shrubs. Larger plants should be complemented by ground covers, grasses and small dense shrubs, as dense undergrowth provides protection for small birds and reptiles. If you have the space planting a native tree or small shrub makes a huge difference. A tree provides a three dimensional eco-system and the volume area it occupies (compared to say a lawn) offers many more opportunities for wildlife and can support considerably wider diversity. Over 300 different species have been recorded living on tree. Leaves, flowers, seeds all provide food. The branches and trunk provide shelter and breeding space and fallen leaves and dead wood are home and food for someone, from ancient and simple fungi, to woodlice, all the way up to birds, a tree supports a multitude of life.

Create A Living Garden
Whether a simple hanging basket, tubs or borders, get planting. Native is best but almost all plants and flowers are good for wildlife. Caterpillars live off foliage, providing food for birds and small mammals. Flowers, as well as looking attractive, produce nectar for flying insects including bees and seeds to produce next year’s free flowers, as well as providing food for birds.

Go Native
The symbiotic relationship between animals and plants has developed over millions of years and while native plants may play host to 100’s of species, a non-native plant might host a few dozens, or even none at all. Many of our butterflies and moths can only reproduce on single plant species. By planting native, you’re increasing the chance of helping insect and animal species too.

Rocks: provide large rocks as habitat for lizards.

Mix It Up
Lost of wildlife is closely associated with loss of habitat. Therefore the more we can do to our plots, the greater the diversity of wildlife we can attract. A single hanging basket with native flowers creates a unique habitat. The tree on the street creates another and the neighbour’s lawn a third and so it goes on. All these individual features attracting different species and adding to the patchwork of wildlife habitats and corridors.

Appreciate Your Wildlife
Wildlife can please all your senses, all through the year. Birds bring color and life and songs. The buzz of industrious bees will add atmosphere to a garden party. Butterflies and dragon flies dance and play in the sunshine after the rain to remind us the seasons turn and life continues and will be renewed once more if we simply give it some space.

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