I'm sure many of you are like me: I love the birds in my garden, passionately, but I love all the other wildlife as well, and I love doing things to help give all of them a home.
Of course, it makes sense to do so, because wildlife isn't independent of each other: all the species fit together as a community, as interlinked foodchains, as an ecosystem.
There is also a growing realisation that gardens are actually rather important for all sorts of wildlife. This is no better illustration of this than the study by an amazing woman called Jennifer Owen. With incredible discipline, she studied the wildlife in her average, suburban Leicester garden for over 30 years. In that time, she found an incredible 2,673 different types of wildlife, from butterflies and beetles to mayflies and millipedes. 2,673!
Jennifer's garden was by no means 'special', so if she has all of those species, then you can be sure that yours is home to a fair number as well, no matter how small it is.
So now, with spring fast unfurling all around us, here are some of the ways you might like to help your non-feathered friends in your garden.
When people think of frogs, toads, and newts, they immediately think of a pond, and quite right too. Even a small pond the size of a washing-up bowl may host at a few newts or even a frog or two.
But if you have the chance to have a larger pond than that, grab the opportunity and you won't be disappointed. (As always with ponds, thing safety first, especially if young children visit the garden.)
However, amphibians spend much of the year out of water, and what they also need is damp undergrowth in which they can hunt at night, and lots of safe hidey-holes to bunker down in for the winter. Rubble piles, compost heaps, log piles – all can do the trick. If they are part-buried so the amphibians can creep underground, all the better. Here's a guide to building a safe retreat for them.
Helping butterflies in the garden is a bit of an art for which your key tool is knowledge. The good thing is that this knowledge can be summed up in three points:
1) Grow the special flowers that the adults love to nectar at. Bog-standard flowers won't do, and don't trust the symbols in most plant catalogues. Here's my guide to the very best.
2) Grow the special plants the caterpillars need. No caterpillars = no butterflies. Here are the plants that work best in gardens. For example, if you don't know that Garlic Mustard (below) is one of only two main foodplants of the gorgeous Orange-tip, and you don't have it in your garden, your garden won't be 'growing' Orange-tips.
3) Grow (1) and (2) en masse, as a habitat rather than as individual plants. Most of our butterflies look for a banquet, not occasional nibbles.
I realise that some people may baulk at the thought of snakes, but I love my grass snakes, and who can resist lizards? Once people know that slow-worms are actually legless lizards and that they eat garden pests, it becomes easy to love them, too.
What they need is safe places to escape cats and other predators, and they require rich hunting grounds through tangled vegetation. A stick pile is perfect (I think they are as important for garden wildlife as log piles), and allowing part of the lawn to grow long will really help. My favourite is the 'wildlife sunbed' under which they are safe and snug. If you haven't got one, you're really missing out!
We haven't even talked about mammals, wildflowers, fungi, worms, millipedes, let alone all the myriad of insects from lacewings to beetles.
At its most simple, helping garden wildlife comes down to creating habitats. A garden that is full to bursting with well-chosen plants including trees and shrubs is the best starting point and will host a wide variety of happy, healthy creatures (including plenty of birds). A sheltered, sunny woodland glade – that's a great model to follow.
On top of that, award yourself a gold star for each of the following elements: pond, compost heap, stick-and-log pile, and area of long grass. Oh, and an extra gold star if you don't use pesticides
The fact that the wildlife then provides us with so much pleasure as a result, well, it's a win-win, isn't it?
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