many ways the humble garden can become a haven for wildlife of all kinds, that providing a habitat to nature is far easier than a lot of us imagine. Here’s how you can produce an amazing garden, that isn’t just beautiful but helps local wildlife thrive too.
Not everyone has the space for trees, but even a small shrub can be a fantastic way to provide shelter to birds. Trees that produce fruit or berries, such as rowan and cherry, are a haven for all kinds of feathered friends- but it’s not just them that benefit from maintaining a tree: 160 different types of insect feed on rowan trees, 14 of which can’t do so anywhere else. Many other insects similarly rely on specific species to prosper. Bees, moths, and caterpillars are also helped by the presence of trees. However one category of trees stands out in the race to save our wildlife. If you can plant fruit or nut-producing trees, you can be sure that your garden will quickly become a busy hub for hungry local wildlife. Whether you choose trees to fill your own plate, such as apples, pears or damsons, or if preference leads you to choose something only (generally) edible to wildlife, such as crab apples or oak (for acorns) you can give the wildlife in your area an invaluable food source, as well as a space to nest.
- Berry trees and shrubs
As mentioned above, berries are an ecosystem’s best friend, providing food for creatures of all shapes and sizes. Summer fruiting trees such as elderberry or blackberry will turn your garden into a summer haven for birds (as well as providing some tasty treats for your own kitchen) while evergreen berries such as juniper and holly will mean winter visitors such as robins come flocking.
Ivy suffers from a pretty mixed reputation. It does sometimes favour weaker trees, and the subsequent link to poor health has stuck. Although it can sometimes hide damage, it’s unfairly accused of damaging trees and making walls seem ugly, leading lots of homeowners to choose to strip it away. When growing on trees, some regard ivy as a parasite, or a sign of poor health of the tree: but neither of these is the case. Ivy isn’t parasitic and doesn’t use any nutrients or water that a tree might need, and in fact benefits the trees it grows on by adding a degree of support and protection. It can even reduce your energy bills by growing on your house, adding an extra level of insulation. However it’s wildlife that benefits most from ivy. At least 50 species are known to rely on ivy berries and pollen for food, and its structure for shelter. Insects, birds, bats and small mammals can nest and hibernate there, while its autumnal flowers and winter berries provide vital food sources at times of the year when other pickings may be slim.
The benefits of hedgerows for local wildlife is well known, as a great source of shelter as well as a safe place to nest and feed on nutritious berries. The decline of UK hedgerows means that there’s more need than ever for well-kept hedges to support wildlife.
Wild hedges are a complex ecological system, and growing one in your garden that’s as effective can be a challenge. Establishing a variety of different native species that produce flowers, leaves and fruit at different times of the year is important, to ensure a year-round supply of food and shelter for the birds and mammals that live there. As your hedgerow will become a home to many different species, you may be limited in how often you can cut it without harming the habitat: so factor this in to your decision and allow for a natural growth that won’t become too big for your garden. It’s also important to consider the foot of your hedge- dead nettles, woundwort, garlic mustard and common dog violet are attractive wild flowers, and extremely beneficial to local insect life. Remember that if you hope to attract butterflies to your garden, you should seek to plant out the varied plants required to provide the leaf matter on which caterpillars rely too.
- Flowering plants
Insects love the rich source of pollen present in flowering plants, while birds, ladybirds and reptiles can be attracted to the same insects. The all-important bumblebee can thrive on a well-kept border of springtime flowers, while planting a variety of spring, summer and autumnal-flowering plants can ensure a prolonged harvest for these nectar-hungry bees. The need for food sources across the summer months means it’s a great idea to space out your flowering plants to cover the entire spring-autumn period.