Little Green Space
by Penny Bunting
As spring arrives, many of us will be heading out into our gardens – this is a good time of year for planting, pruning and planning. If you’re planning any changes for your garden in the coming year, why not think about incorporating some wildlife-friendly features, to help boost biodiversity?
British wildlife needs help – and we can play a key role. The State of Nature 2019 report examined how 7,000 UK species have fared, looking back at nearly 50 years of monitoring – and, sadly, the news isn’t great.
According to the report, 41% of species in the UK – including animals, birds and butterflies – have declined since 1970. Numbers of butterflies and moths have dropped significantly, and the UK’s mammals have fared particularly badly, with more than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether.
Climate change is cited as one of the major causes for this decline, along with habitat loss and pollution.
There is hope though, as many initiatives and organisations are working hard to halt the decline – and you can help too, by providing the food and shelter that wildlife so desperately needs.
So, if you want to help nature in your garden or community green space this year, here are four key areas to consider. Nectar-rich flowers Insect populations have taken a real battering in recent years and bees, butterflies and other pollinators really need our help.
Having a wide range of different nectar-rich shrubs, perennials and annuals in your flower borders can be a lifeline for insects. A bumblebee can only fly for about 40 minutes between each feeding – so just one nectar-rich flower could be the pit stop that saves a bee.
Try to include plants that flower at different times of the year. Snowdrops, crocus, ivy and mahonia are good for winter and early spring. Other good spring plants include flowering currant, and California lilac.
Herbs like lavender, borage and rosemary are easy to look after and flower in summer. Also try catmint, sweet peas, marigolds and honeysuckle for summer blooms. In autumn, verbena, sunflowers, sedums and cosmos will provide an energy boost for bees before they head into hibernation.
Wildflowers like foxgloves, poppy, vetch, teasels and cranesbill are fantastic for pollinators too.
For even more ideas, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a great tool called Bee Kind to help you plan an insect-friendly garden. See www.beekind.bumblebeeconservation.org. Wild area Many gardeners have the urge to keep things neat and tidy – but doing this can make the garden less enticing for wildlife.
If you have enough space, keeping a corner of the garden wild and untouched can bring many benefits. A wild area can be useful for gardeners too – you can use it as a place to pile up pruned branches and raked up leaves, rather than burning them in a bonfire.
Hedgehogs, toads and slow worms love to hang out in heaps of undisturbed garden matter – and it’s a great habitat for many invertebrates too.
Allowing some wild plants to grow can also help insects. Nettles, thistles and dandelions are all important food sources for pollinators.
Dandelions, in particular, are bee ‘super plants’. They have a long flowering period and attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies ¬– in fact they can support more than 50 insect species.
Another really easy way to help insects is to let a patch of grass grow wild. Bumblebees like to nest in long grass, and native flowers like clover should appear. White clover attracts honeybees, while the longer tongued bumblebees prefer red clover. Delaying cutting your lawn as soon as it starts to grow in spring can give these plants a chance to flower, offering vital pollen early in the season. Insect houses Insects like dark dry crevices to crawl into – and there are several ways you can create this type of habitat in your garden.
You can buy commercially made bee houses, and these should be fixed in a south-facing spot out of direct sunlight – with entrance holes pointing slightly downwards so that rain can’t get in.
Or you can create your own bug hotel by stacking two or three wooden pallets on a stable surface. Fill in the gaps with a mixture of dry materials such as straw, moss, leaves, hollow stems, bark, pinecones and old terracotta pots.
Even something as simple as a stack of terracotta pots left in a quiet corner can create a hidey-hole for tiny creatures. Wildlife corridors Wildlife needs to move around from one area to another – hedgehogs, for example, can walk for a mile or more each night in search of food or a mate.
You can make it easier and safer for creatures to get from A to B by creating wildlife corridors in your garden.
These could be a strip of unmown grass, a line of trees or shrubs – or even a hedge.
And if you work with your neighbours, you could connect your gardens to give creatures lots of space to wander in.
Adding small gaps at the base of a fence is one easy way to do this (check with your neighbours first!) The size of the hole needs to be large enough for small creatures, like frogs and hedgehogs to pass through but small enough to prevent pets from escaping.
Allow some long grass to grow near the hole or plant a leafy plant nearby, so that animals can get quickly to shelter after passing through.
A climbing plant grown on bare fences or walls can also help creatures travel vertically and offer protection. Ivy, honeysuckle and pyracantha are good wildlife-friendly climbers. Make a difference There are lots of other ways you can help boost biodiversity in your garden. Putting up birdboxes and birdfeeders, planting a tree, creating a compost heap, and providing water in the form of a small pond or birdbath are all great ideas.
But you don’t need to implement all these ideas to make a difference. Just one small action – planting a shrub with nectar-rich flowers, for example – can really help. And two or three actions could turn your garden into a wonderful wildlife haven!