hedgehog in grass

How can I help garden wildlife?

It’s a good idea to think of your garden in layers with a few additional features that you can add to provide extra nesting habitats and shelter for wildlife.

Healthy soil

Garden wildlife doesn’t just mean cute hedgehogs and garden birds. We also need to consider the little things in the cycle of nature, the insects, the fungi and even the microbes. One of the best things you can do in your garden is to keep your soil healthy. There are countless creatures that depend on the soil for their shelter, food and nourishment. When the soil is healthy it supports the whole garden eco-system starting with the invisible microbes and then the next levels in the food chain. The larger invertebrates such as worms and beetles, which feed on the decaying plant matter and smaller organisms, become themselves food for the next layer in the food chain, such as the birds, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles. 

garden compost bin
Improve the soil with homemade garden compost. Image: Jean Vernon

If you turn your kitchen peelings and garden waste into garden compost via a composter, this material will feed the soil and the organisms that live there. This in turn will help to feed your garden plants.

Log piles

Just as prunings, peelings and garden waste is broken down in a composting system or even in the garden soil, bigger pieces of wood decay in the same way. It’s all thanks to the fungi and detrivores like beetles and grubs that break down the woody material into a food that they can use to fuel their existence. Think about ancient trees that drop a branch, or get blown down in a storm, these trunks and branches decay and eventually become one with the soil, it’s all part of the natural cycle. Beetles and other creatures lay their eggs in the rotting wood, the grubs eat the decaying material, breaking it down further, as fungi and microbes digest the timber. Tiny beetle holes make the perfect nesting site for solitary bees and other cavity nesting creatures. You might not have room for a fallen tree in the garden, but chances are you’ve got room for a small log pile, or even a pile of prunings. These will not only provide shelter and overwintering sites for many creatures, but will also create nesting sites and a source of food for many of them too. 

A little bit wild

If you’ve room on your plot to leave a corner for the wildlife this can create an oasis of shelter and food for wildlife. It might be a short section of hedge that you don’t cut back hard, many creatures will benefit from the shelter beneath and the dense growth makes the perfect nesting site for birds. An abundance of berry bearing plants provides vital natural food for the birds. 

flowers with seed heads
Leave some borders to set seed. Image Jean Vernon

By leaving some of the borders to set seed and senesce gracefully, you are actually providing a source of food for seed eating birds and nesting and overwintering sites for many beneficial insects that will use the hollow stems.

Allow sections of the lawn to flower, it doesn’t have to be a full on meadow, many wildflowers that grow in the lawn can add a beautiful dimension to your grass and keep feeding polliantors that are on the wing into autumn.

Water source

Every living creature needs water to survive, even insects. Whether you’ve got a tiny garden or an acreage you’ve got room for a planter pool, a bird bath or a simple water source for wildlife. And if you’ve got a large plot you can add a pond, water feature or several. Fresh water is essential all year round and can be a life saver for our garden wildlife.

frog in grass
Amphibians will feed on some garden pests. Image: Martin Mulchinock

A wildlife pond would be perfect, attracting all manner of amphibians that will feed on many creatures regarded by gardeners as pests. As it comes alive with insects and bathing birds, water creatures and more it will add a whole new dimension to your garden. Start small and see what a difference a bird bath makes and then expand your water offering to suit your space, your budget and the wildlife in your garden. Just be sure that there is a shallow edge for safe entry or exit, or add islands of pebbles and rocks for safe drinking.

Think habitat

Every level of your garden is alive with wildlife. A lot of it you can’t see, but it’s there, providing a range of services to ensure your garden stays healthy. 

Think about the structures in your garden like the walls and fences. Are they clothed in climbers providing a matrix of stems that will support roosting or nesting birds? Or are they cloaked in a rich layer of ivy? Far from being a problem, ivy is actually the go-to plant for wildlife. It insulates the area beneath its leaves, providing protected shelter for wildlife. It makes the perfect nesting site for many birds and it flowers late in the season so it provides essential pollen and nectar for pollinators in autumn. There is even one species of bee that relies on ivy for its existence, unsurprisingly called the Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae).

Ivy Bee on ivy flowers
The Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae). Image: Jean Vernon

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