Turning your garden in to a refuge for wildlife can be small and simple or you can go big and elaborate. Any little change you can make in your garden can make a big difference for wildlife in your area.
We are in the process of setting up a big new exhibit here which will feature some animals as well as setting up a big wildlife garden outdoors! This garden will be split into a few different habitats to show you how you can entice wildlife into your garden to enjoy. Look closely and you will see that the fauna of the UK from birds such as blue tits and goldfinches (although my personal favourites are pied wagtails) to the enigmatic hedgehog or amphibians like great crested newts to insects such as ladybirds and tortoiseshell butterflies.
Our new exhibit will feature a wide range of the techniques and items which we’ll talk about below to show you how easy it can be to care for wildlife in your garden!
We have been working on this whole new area at the park while we have been shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic as we already had the materials here. We want to be able to continue with it and need you help with buying some of the things we need to make the animals (both wild and exotic) feel at home.
We want to keep it a surprise (and it’s not the new reptile house), but it will house a local conservation project as well as loads of information about British species! As a thank you, for anyone who spends £40 or more on the Amazon wish list below (send us your proof of purchase by email), to help us make this project happen, will get a sponsored butterfly on our sponsor board in the new exhibit with their name on it to enjoy for ever!
How can I turn my garden into a wildlife garden?
1 – Build (or buy) a bug hotel
You can buy some beautiful ready to go bug hotels, as well as kits to get you started… Or you can build your own, which can either be a reproduction of what you can buy or just be as simple as a pile of rocks, twigs, rotting logs, bamboo, pine cones and more – or a combination of all of them!
2 – Compost
You can either compost in a simple compost heap or in special containers. You can fill these with garden cuttings, grass cuttings, food waste (only raw food such as fruits and vegetables as cooked food is more likely to attract vermin). Compostable egg crates and even eggshell or cold BBQ ash can also help to aerate the compost and add nutrients.
This is a great home for woodlice and worms, but due to the increased temperature may also become a refuge for reptiles like slow worms so remove soil to be used in the garden carefully to avoid hurting any tenants.
3 – Let your grass grow
This, if you have a lawn, is the easiest thing you can do for wildlife, especially insects by letting your lawn grow (and if you want you can even turn it in to a lush meadow with wild flower seeds sprinkled between the grass). Long grass provides all manner of food and shelter opportunities for wildlife, and if you keep on top of the edges by hand you can keep it looking pretty nice too.
4 – Make wildlife corridors
This might be one which you will need to agree with neighbours first but (especially in safe gardens without dogs) if you can leave gaps in your fences for hedgehogs to pass through a safe corridor through gardens will be much safer for urban hedgehogs than travelling along the roads.
If you want to make such corridors even more accessible for a wider range of animals (especially amphibians like newts and frogs) you can connect them by having them near plant beds, hedgerows or overgrown lawns.
5 – Bird feeders and nest boxes
You can help birds very easily, especially as they are one of the most commonly aided groups of animals when it comes to commercial products. There is a huge range of feeds for wild birds on the market as well as different ways to present them depending on who you want to feed, whether you want to keep the food safe from squirrels and how you want it to look.
For ideas about how you can make some of your own bird feeders there are some nice hints during the video below recorded from a livestream during which our head keeper Ruth made some simple enrichment.
Equally it is very easy to find a wide range of bird nest boxes to put in your garden depending on whether you want to help the birds nest during breeding season or to give them a safe place to roost at night. They come in all sorts of different sizes and styles for different species, some of which might have special instructions about where to best place them!
Always resist the temptation to look into nest boxes when in use so as not to disturb any possible tenants. Think about using a wireless camera set up in these boxes if you want to keep an eye on them without disturbing them.
6 – Bat boxes
These won’t work in every garden but if you’re near fresh water (or have a pond), have a lot of insect attracting plants (or live by a meadow) and are able to put these boxes up high where they can’t be disturbed, then a bat box might be a lovely thing to add to your garden. However please do remember that in the UK if bats move in, you need a special licence if you want to move them again!
7 – Build a pond
Water features are a great addition for animals to drink from, frogs and newts to live and breed in and as a home for so many different invertebrates! They don’t have to be very deep either, as ponds can often be a concern when you have small children or pets. Even a shallow water feature can become a come for insects and frogs, but some animals like newts do prefer something deeper.
8 – Plant to attract pollinators
Many insects rely on flowering plants as a source of food, and in turn allow the pollen from these flowers to move from one plant to another for reproduction. Here are some of the best pollinator friendly plants and who they might attract:
- Birds-foot trefoil (various bees)
- Bowles’s mauve (various butterflies)
- Buddleja (various butterflies, bees and hoverflies)
- Catmint (various bees and butterflies – the leaves are often also caterpillar food)
- Comfrey (bumble bees)
- Common knapweed (various butterflies)
- Dahlia (various butterflies and bees)
- Dandelion (bumble bees, honey bees, hoverflies and beetles)
- Dog rose (various bees, butterflies and moths)
- English bluebell (various butterflies, bees and hoverflies)
- Field scabious (various butterflies and bees)
- Hebe (various butterflies and bees)
- Hemp agrimony (various butterflies)
- Meadow cranes-bill (honey bees and bumble bees)
- Red valerian (various butterflies)
- Sedum (various butterflies)
- Verbena (various butterflies, bees, beetles and hoverflies)
- Vipers bugloss (honey bees, bumble bees and various butterflies)
- Wild carrot (various bees, beetles and hoverflies)
- Wild cherry (various bees, butterflies and moths)
- Wild marjoram (bees and moths)
- Yellow rattle (bumble bees)
9 – Plant ivy
The various ivy plants are described by the Royal Horticultural Society as being one of the most versatile plants which you can have in the garden which includes being very versatile for wildlife. It is thought that more than 140 different insect species and as many as 17 bird species feed on ivy, with many more using it as shelter throughout the year.
10 – Make hibernation for animals easy
Depending on who you want to attract to the garden for hibernation will determine what sort of place to offer them. As mentioned above compost heaps are great for reptiles to hibernate in as they retain some heat, but please remember to not disturb your compost heap during the winter. Some other animals will use log and rock piles, with artificial versions being available for animals like hedgehogs.
Always resist the temptation to look into hibernation boxes over the winter so as not to disturb any possible tenants. Think about using a wireless camera set up in these boxes if you want to keep an eye on them without disturbing them.