in these more slightly more enlightened days of environmental
awareness, there are still plenty of misconceptions about
wildlife gardening flying around. Perhaps the most
irritating is that ‘leaving your garden to go wild’ will
attract masses of interesting birds, mammals, amphibians and
insects. While there is a grain of truth in this notion,
there is also a great deal that is harmful, both to wildlife
and to those who are doing their best to promote more natural
gardening practices. Encouraging wildlife is not a
reason to neglect your garden!
key to maintaining a good range of wildlife in any habitat,
wild or cultivated, is diversity. A garden with both open
sunny spaces and damp shady spots is more likely to attract
and home a
wide array of creatures than a garden where one range of
conditions dominates completely. Simply put, shady gardens
may be great for some bird species, hedgehogs and
invertebrates such as slugs and snails, but a light sunny
patch will immediately encourage the butterfly species usually
lacking from areas with low light levels. Similarly, while an
overgrown and wild corner in an otherwise open flowery garden
will have a good range of animals, a garden that is completely
‘wild’ will lack some very important wildlife attracting
elements and its diversity will drop over the years as
dominant plants out-compete the more delicate species.
wild corner here or there can be crucial for wildlife.
By their very nature these tend to be places that are
undisturbed, and the majority of the wildlife using your
garden will require some privacy, especially for breeding.
A bramble patch might have a blackbird or wren nesting.
In more rural areas, even a whitethroat or chiff chaff might
be attracted to a bramble thicket, and you are hardly likely
to go wading into the depths of a prickly area such as this.
This lack of disturbance is one key element in wildlife
gardening, and an overgrown corner provides the seclusion that
many creatures require, enabling you to freely move around and
enjoy the rest of your plot with a relatively clear
best sort of overgrown corner will still have a selection of
wildlife attracting elements within it. Each of these will
have its own range of invertebrates associated with it and
thus a selection of other wildlife attracted to the ready food
supply. Perhaps the most popular of these elements is the log
pile, where wood boring beetles and their larvae, wood lice, centipedes, slugs
and snails will find a home. These will in turn attract
animals seeking food including hedgehogs, toads, newts and
some birds. A log habitat is best created in a damp shaded
area, so be sure that your overgrown plants will shade it from
the warmth of the sun. Amphibians and hedgehogs are inclined
to spend the winter beneath a tangle of branches or logs such
as this, so if you do create a woodpile, be aware that it may
have to stay indefinitely and not be used in the log burner!
of stones and rocks too might provide refuge for a variety of
creatures. This habitat is possibly more beneficial on the
edge of your wild area, where it will receive the warmth of
the sun. If you are fortunate enough to have slow worms or
even lizards in your garden, this is the kind of place they
will gravitate towards – dry, warm and, between and under the
stones, safe from predators. These creatures too will find
food here – the kinds of insects and other invertebrates that
prefer the drier conditions that prevail in this habitat.
A Grassy Haven Of
course your undisturbed corner needs plants around it, and
these will generally arrive by themselves (although adding
certain excellent species that are perhaps a little too
rampant for the rest of your garden is a good intervention on
your part). This is a perfect opportunity to indulge an
infatuation with grass - long, thick, tussocky species with
seeds for birds and shelter for a huge range of beetles,
including the many ladybird species that devour aphids in your
vegetable plot. Many small animals happily spend their whole
lives in thick grass, which means that plenty of other
creatures seek them out for food. Shrews are very much the
gardener’s friend, and their varied diet of creepy crawlies,
including plenty of slugs, means that they could set up home
in a wild grassy patch. Voles, wood mice, hedgehogs, small
frogs and toads and of course the occasional grass snake,
could find their way here. Grasses that are allowed to freely
seed will encourage birds such as greenfinches and house
sparrows and with luck, in a sunny area, bring a range of
butterflies to the garden. Gatekeepers, meadow browns,
speckled woods and skippers all prefer long grass and will lay
their eggs on a selection of native species (even couch –
perhaps its only redeeming feature!)
Add Water A wild
spot is also the perfect place for a little water in some form
or another. This could be a watering hole for hedgehogs and
foxes, and a place for birds to bathe rather than a full-blown
wildlife pond. A sunken vessel of some description – a
half-barrel or similar container - is suitable for a spot like
this. Topping up occasionally plus a small amount of autumn
plant thinning would be the only work required. Add a few
floating wetland plants and oxygenators to provide shelter for
small aquatic creatures and maintain good water quality plus a
pile of stones up to water level will allow wildlife to access
the water, and if necessary get out with ease.
A Wildlife Haven
Balancing the idea of a wildlife garden with the premise that
gardens are also for people can sometimes be difficult.
However interested in wildlife your family may be, there are
still footballs to be kicked and frisbees to be thrown, and in
my garden that’s just the adults! Add the requirements
of children and other visitors and a tiny garden can suddenly
be too small a place to support all of these needs. This
is one great reason to have a wild corner. Everyone knows it is
out of bounds, making it a safer and more attractive place for
the wildlife that will be passing through your plot. And a
passing through place can quickly become a home if food, water
and shelter are provided in a space with a minimum of human
and where to create a wild corner
Choose and area of your garden that is not near an obvious
thoroughfare. A corner is ideal, especially if it is
there is nothing in your chosen spot, begin by planting a
native shrub at the back – a hawthorn, goat willow or
dogwood would be good choices.
Pile rotting logs or branches at the base of the shrub,
taking care to give it enough space if it is newly planted.
Include a small rock pile.
water if you wish. A tiny pond or sunken barrel is ideal,
but make sure that this is in at least a little shade and
there is a way out of the water.
Allow grass and weed seedlings to germinate, and at a later
date add a few tough, wildlife attracting plants.
Good plants for a wild
Nettles – for red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell and
comma butterflies, ladybirds, aphids and seed eating birds
Hogweed – for many species of hoverfly.
Teasel – for bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies and
Brambles – for bees and nesting birds
Tough native grasses - for many invertebrates including
ladybirds, some butterflies, hedgehogs (summer nests) and
small mammals including shrews.
Knapweed – for bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies and
Thistles – for many insect species including butterflies,
and for seed eating birds.