RSPB England's Lucy Hodson explores why locking away the lawnmower is the best thing you can do for your garden and the environment. 

Why a messy garden can be good for wildlife

Take half an hour on a sunny day in early summer. Just sit in your garden, and watch. Before long, you’ll notice the thrumming rhythm of life. Hoverflies, bees and butterflies bustle around flowers. Beetles, spiders and bugs rumble through the grass and over stones. Birds flit from the cover of a hedge, darting to the feeders for a quick visit. Our gardens are truly alive and they can host a huge variety of wildlife.

Those of us lucky enough to have a garden will know about the joy, interest and escapism a bit of greenery can provide. Gardening is a widespread and popular hobby, and managing even the smallest patch of green can be good for both our mental and physical health.

As humans, many of us regularly feel the urge to tidy. Presenting our houses and spaces in a neat, orderly fashion can be very satisfying, and nobody likes mess, right?

Unfortunately, our tidy habits can affect the wildlife we share our towns and green spaces with. Removing or reducing the number of bushes, hedges and trees can shrink the amount of cover and shelter available for wildlife. By labelling some plants as ‘weeds’, and waging war against them, we remove vital foodplants for both pollinators and birds. Sourcing non-native plants, and using environmentally damaging products in our garden can cause problems for wildlife elsewhere.

So how can we help?

Inviting wildlife back into our gardens can be both simple and rewarding. No matter the size, our gardens have the potential to contain several ‘mini-habitats’. A good, wild garden can be home to literally thousands of species!

Nature is messy, but there is beauty in its chaos. By learning to appreciate it, we can let go of our tendency to over-tidy, and create spaces around us that wildlife will fill! The best bit is, it’s dead easy. By sitting back and doing less, you can open the door to a wealth of wildlife. Here’s three ways you can give your garden a break:

  1. Put down the shears.

    The trees, shrubs and hedges in our towns provide vital support for our wildlife. As well as shelter from predators, they provide excellent places for birds to build their nests. They support insect populations, and produce berries, seeds and fruit that our birdlife relies upon. Though a trimmed hedge might look neat, regular chopping can be a risk to birds trying to nest. Consider laying down the shears between April and August; allowing your hedges, shrubs and trees to flourish during this crucial breeding window is great for our birdlife! Tree and hedge removal can have further implications, as much of our nesting birdlife is legally protected. Find out more about protecting nesting birds during breeding season here.

  2. Let a patch grow wild! 

    Our lawns are often the pride and joy of our gardens, but those great British stripes aren’t so great for biodiversity. According to the charity Plantlife, over 200 species of plants have been found in British lawns, and these can support vital pollinators like bees and butterflies. Many plants that we deem ‘weeds’ are actually fantastic for wildlife! Next time you see one, take a closer look at a dandelion or buttercup – they’re beautiful flowers that you can learn to love!

    Unfortunately, many species of wildflower struggle with the intensity of regular mowing, meaning they’re out-competed by grass. So, trying saying no to the mow! Consider leaving a patch of lawn to grow wild, or better yet, replace it with a native wildflower mix. On your lawn, simply cutting less often can boost the number of flowers, and therefore insects, that your garden supports. Mowing only once a month means flowers like daisies, dandelions and clover can bloom and provide nectar for bees, hoverflies and butterflies galore. Little adjustments to our gardening can make a big difference to wildlife. Read more of our advice on gardening for wildlife:

  1. Always go peat-free!

    When planting up flowerbeds and planters, it’s easy to get carried away with providing the best-growing conditions as possible. However, as a gardening enthusiast, you may not be aware of the environmental implications our demand for compost has. Traditionally, store-bought compost has contained a large amount of peat which, with its high nutrient content, is great for growing a variety of flowers and vegetables in.

    Unfortunately, the harvesting of peat isn’t so rosy.  Peat is made up from decayed organic matter, and it takes thousands of years to form. It develops in very wet, boggy habitats, which support their own array of amazing and rare wildlife. Due to the wet nature of a bog, peat is a brilliant carbon sink, locking in millions of tonnes of carbon that would otherwise make its way into the atmosphere. To get peat-based compost, it means removing peat from wild sources like bogs. By doing this, both precious habitats and that huge carbon store are damaged. Bogs are often drained and organic matter, now exposed to air, starts to decay and release carbon into the atmosphere. By switching to peat-free ways of gardening, you can help protect the planet and reduce emissions! Find out a little more about alternatives to peat compost here.