customers love the outdoors and seeing its wildlife inhabitants. In truth, you don’t need to venture far to observe and enjoy wildlife. Your own garden can provide the perfect setting for many species of insects, birds, mammals and amphibians. However, the urban garden sometimes needs modifications to entice these amazing creatures. This doesn’t mean major, costly changes; just minor adjustments to create a habitat that is attractive to wildlife, and encourages them to thrive.
Once you’ve convinced your local wildlife that your garden is the kind of accommodation they’ve been looking for, the same modifications will encourage them to stay. You can then enjoy your garden’s wildlife year after year with just a small amount of maintenance.
What changes can I make to my garden to attract wildlife?
Firstly, a heads up. If you like a pristine, clean cut garden, you may not like some of these suggestions! Manicured gardens are a human obsession that’s generally frowned upon by garden wildlife.
Plant wildflowers. They provide vital pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects that fertilise. They’re automatically drawn to wildflowers, particularly butterflies to Buddleia. Other suggestions would be cornflowers, floxgloves, bluebells, crocus and globe thistle.
Scatter wildflower seeds to create a meadowland, or just leave a section of the lawn to grow wild. Meadows are simply mixtures of grasses and wildflowers, great for insects, and low maintenance. You may even attract shrews, voles and other mammals that feed on grass. Meadows also provide food for some species of butterfly caterpillars that don’t eat cabbages or nettles.
Show weeds the love. Weeds are simply plants that you don’t want, surely? Perhaps they prohibit the growth of other plants, but usually they’re removed because they don’t look pretty. Plants such as nettles, daisies and buttercups are important sources of food for many insects. They flower for a long time in all weather conditions, providing a vital food supply when other sources might be absent.
Hedges and berry bushes
Hedges are popular with nesting birds and small animals, whilst also providing shelter to the garden. The kind of hedge plants you could consider are blackthorn, buckthorn, cherry plum, elder, hawthorn, hazel and privet. By adding climbers and creepers such as clematis and honeysuckle, you provide essential foliage for insects and birds.
Berry bushes such as spindle berry, barberry and blackberry provide another source of seasonal food. The much maligned ivy is actually a great source of autumn nectar for insects, and late winter fruit for birds.
Trees attract insects and offer secure nesting places for birds and squirrels, for which species like crab apple, alders,
conifers and silver birch are ideal. If you would like to attract bats, a willow will give you a good chance of achieving that. The more trees you can plant close to each other the better as this mimics a woodland habitat which naturally entices a wide range of wildlife.
If you are limited for space, find out if you can plant trees in your neighbourhood or take time to preserve existing mature trees. The wildlife fraternity doesn’t respect boundaries, so as well as looking after local wildlife, actively caring for nearby trees may have a positive impact on wildlife wandering onto your own patch.
The hedgehog is one of the most fascinating mammals found in urban gardens. They are also a gardener’s friend because they eat snails, slugs and insects.
To provide the best habitat for hedgehogs, firstly leave a gap at the bottom of your fence so that they can roam from garden to garden. As many as 10 different hedgehogs may visit a garden over several nights. You may think you’re looking after one hedgehog, but actually it could be a few.
You should also leave areas of the garden with piles of leaves, twigs and logs from which they can create a nest, and feast on the likes of slugs and beetles. Hedgehogs hibernate from November to March so providing them with a home and food pre-hibernation will help them survive. Leaving out fresh water, tinned dog or cat food (no fish) and crushed dog or cat biscuits will give them additional help with building up their fat reserves, but never feed hedgehogs milk as it can cause diarrhoea.
Compost quickly recycles nutrients which is good news for everything living in it and growing on it. Compost heaps shelter many creatures which enjoy the heat released by decomposition.
Avoid using compost with peat because it destroys vital habitats. You can obviously produce your own compost with a heap or composter. Your own compost will naturally enrich your soil. It will also provide a habitat for the likes of worms, woodlice, frogs and slow worms.
Items to add to a garden to help urban wildlife
Bird baths, ponds and water features
Seed eating birds need water to be able to wash the seeds down. A bird bath provides an essential source of water for
birds to drink, whilst also giving them somewhere to bathe. You should, however, ensure that your bird bath doesn’t freeze over the winter months. If you do need to defrost a bird bath, don’t use salt as this can kill the birds.
Ponds and water features provide the ideal habitat for a huge variety of animal life, not just birds. Amphibians such as frogs, and invertebrates like earthworms and snails thrive in ponds and garden water features.
Bird tables and bird feeders
A bird table is a welcome feeding perch for birds, away from predators. Bird feeders also offer a quick takeaway of sunflower seeds, for example. During winter and spring, natural food supply is at its lowest, so this is when birds appreciate a bird table and feeders most. That said, food shortages can occur at any time.
Nesting boxes, or bird boxes, encourage birds to breed in your garden. You should research which birds prefer which types of boxes, and locate them where the birds will be sheltered from the elements. Also keep an eye on predators
such as cats and install the nesting box high up where they can’t be reached.
Install the boxes before spring to avoid disrupting the breeding season and leave protein-rich food such as fat balls in a feeder. During winter, seeds are better. Again, if you have cats, place your feeder near a dense bush to provide the birds with cover.
If you’re diligently leaving food for feathered friends but it takes a few days before any birds arrive, don't be discouraged. Once they’re convinced it’s not a trap, chances are that they will visit regularly. During severe weather, try to feed birds twice a day if possible.
Bee hotels and insect hotels
Readymade bee hotels are used as breeding places by cavity-nesting solitary bees like mason bees, leafcutter bees and yellow-faced bees, rather than the more common bumblebee and honeybee that live in colonies. Solitary bees are important pollinators and a gardener’s friend. You can also make your own bee hotel with wood and bamboo, bramble or reed.
Insect or bug hotels provide shelter for insects and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the insect that will be living there.
There are several different sections that provide insects with nesting facilities, particularly during winter. Again, they can be purchased readymade or built with raw materials.
Rock gardens and gravel beds are low maintenance, need little watering, and attract specialised wildlife such as mason bees. Find a quiet spot, and pile up rocks, bricks, logs, twigs and leaves. Left alone, this will become home to all sorts of important insects such as beetles and spiders.
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