Making a Wild Corner for Wildlife

Even 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!

The 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.

But a 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 conscience.

Different elements  The 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!


Stones  Piles 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 disturbance.

How 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 partially shaded. 
  • If 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. 
  • Add 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 corner

  • Nettles – for red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma butterflies, ladybirds, aphids and seed eating birds including bullfinches.
  • Hogweed – for many species of hoverfly.
  • Teasel – for bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies and goldfinches
  • 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 finches.
  • Thistles – for many insect species including butterflies, and for seed eating birds.

© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017