As the UK becomes more urban, industrial and agricultural, it is thought that we have lost 96% of the wild meadows that were once dotted around the country.
This is why we are being encouraged to make our gardens into little wildlife havens that encourage birds, bugs and invertebrates to make their home there. Anything from paving over your patio or building fences to cutting your grass and trimming back flowers can have a detrimental effect on ecosystems.
This can be a great task to undertake with the kids, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a garden. In fact, there were suggestions that wildlife could see a boost during the Covid-19 Outbreak with roadside verges and pollinators left uncut, which they hope will be a long-term trend.
But how do we do it, and what about if you have your own dog, cat, rabbit or chickens who need to share the garden with the birds and bugs?
How to attract wildlife to your garden
Obviously, here at Petz, we have our four-legged friends on our minds all the time!
So, making your garden suitable for them as well as wildlife is an important consideration. After all, you don’t want pets eating or drinking wildlife products that could be hazardous for them.
This can include thinking about plants and plant feeds and considering overgrown areas in which they could destroy or get tangled up. Research any plants which could be dangerous to your pets who regularly use the garden (such as dogs, chickens or rabbits), or any cats which regularly visit.
Thorny plants or ones which deters your animal (such as juniper for dogs) could, on the other hand, be a good idea, as they will stay away from certain areas. Consider putting plants in raised beds or pots, so they are out of the way and still leave your pet with enough room to roam.
Avoid the use of slug pellets – you can read more about those below in our ‘Insects and Bugs’ section. They can look interesting for pets who love to explore but can cause poisoning and illness or even death.
One of the biggest issues cat owners face is their feline treating visiting birds and wildlife as prey. Attach a bell to their collar, and try to train them to stay away from them, such as intervening if you see them watching something.
You may wish to not allow your pet into your garden at certain times of day, and you will preferably be able to keep an eye on them just in case. Closing off part of the garden using fencing could also be a good idea, so pets and wildlife can live happily but separately.
Bird boxes are great as a safe area for them to nest when the time comes, and they will be more likely to use the immediate area in order to feed and gather their nesting material.
Trees, bushes and hedges give them a good place to hide and rest in between flights and also shelter from possible predators. Some berries which grow on these could even provide food, and twigs and leaves can provide nesting material.
Feeding stations are great and think about various styles which will attract different breeds. Small seed feeders or fat ball holders will be suitable for small tits, sparrows and similar, whereas tables can attract larger birds such as wood pigeons.
Don’t forget about water, too. Keep the areas clean of their waste and old food, and top up in the mornings.
Create hedgehog highways! This is one of the easiest ways to help, as fences and walls can stop them from travelling. Hedgehogs can travel for a mile in a night foraging for food and nesting materials. The males will go further than that, especially in the breeding season, sometimes reaching up to two miles.
Fences can stop them from reaching certain areas or finding a mate. Put gaps into your hedge or fence, which can be as simple as leaving one fence or gate slat a bit shorter. You generally shouldn’t intervene with them unless they seem to be struggling to find food, or are out during the daylight.
You can always leave out a suitable food for them, such as cat food or dedicated hedgehog food.
Visit www.hedgehogstreet.org for info about the highways, and some tips such as building houses, log piles and leaving out water.
Bugs and Insects
Even though we love wildlife, there are some bugs that need to be encouraged more than others. Those which cause damage and eat your plants, such as aphids, are not as valuable as those which help it but can still ensure larger wildlife have something to eat, so you should control rather than rid.
Certain plants will attract certain insects, so sunflowers, cosmos, echinacea and lavender for bees and butterflies and eryngium is great for a host of pollinators.
Read more about attracting birds and butterflies from Beetham Nurseries.
Pesticides are bad, so try to avoid using them. They wipe out the good guys as well as the bad! As we all know, slug pellets are also dangerous. They can harm other animals too, such as earthworms which may come into contact with them. Then, birds and hedgehogs who eat these poisoned animals can suffer. There are garden feeds out there which naturally keep slugs away without causing them to die a painful death.
On the other hand, compost heaps can offer somewhere for insects to thrive while being undisturbed. They won’t harm your plants, but just check you aren’t putting anything bad on your bedding!
Changing your garden with the seasons
With different seasons come various weather conditions and wildlife behaviour.
Spring is when everything bursts into life. It is often the time to properly tend to your garden and plant the new flowers. Animals may also be coming out of their hibernation, and birds will be returning to the UK from Africa and other climes, so encourage them to find your home.
Summer is key for insects. Minibeasts such as moths, dragonflies, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and bugs are all thriving, as are butterflies and bats. June is a great month for wild meadows, so any in your garden will also come to life.
Autumn brings a lot of fruits, berries and nuts on the trees which animals can take advantage of. Now is the best time to clean out any used nest boxes, and prepare the woodpiles where toads or hedgehogs spend the winter. Dead logs will also produce soil.
Winter is the toughest month. Food is in short supply, so it is vital to still carry on feeding birds even if the weather isn’t nice for you to venture out into the garden. Some will migrate to the UK from arctic conditions, so in certain parts of the country, you may wish to prepare for these seasonal visitors. Early winter is when you should put up nest boxes, and it is also the best season to plant trees that you can enjoy next year.
- Don’t keep your garden too tidy
- Provide food, water and plants for nectar
- Keep long patches of grass and logs or rock gardens
- Give them shelter, such as bug houses
- Feed birds, especially in the colder months