Regular readers will know that I’m on something of a mission: for the past 20 years, I’ve been beavering away trying to make my garden as wildlife-friendly as possible, and sharing my experiences in regular blogs and articles and books.

I believe that gardeners can have an amazing impact for wildlife, and by getting your hands dirty you also better understand the natural world and the threats it faces in the wider landscape. It tunes you in to nature.

However, every now and then I like to take a step back and ask myself an important question: are the thing I am doing in my garden truly bearing fruit? Honestly, objectively, am I saving nature?

So here are the headlines, warts and all. To start, here is a quick resume of what I’ve done in my current garden, which I’ve had since December 2014.

So far, I have:

  • removed a line of 30 mature and dangerous leylandii trees
  • cleared a dense thicket of suckering damson trees
  • planted 30 new native trees and fruit trees
  • dug a big pond
  • developed a vegetable plot
  • created three large bee borders, a tulip bed and a seaside garden
  • created an area of ‘wildflower meadow’
  • put in a composting area
  • laid turf paths.

Gosh, put like that, it doesn’t sound very much, and in fact the removal of so many trees to start with, while wholly necessary, actually removed a lot of cover from the garden (the winter roosting Wood Pigeons were probably not too pleased!).

But, being more kindly to myself, I can think with pride of the effort to hand-dig the pond, which is 15 metres (50 foot) long.

And I’ve increased the plant diversity in the garden from just over 200 species to just under 500, and all of them chosen because of their wildlife value.

The proof of the pudding, however, is how nature has responded. Well, I’ve been recording several of the groups of wildlife that visit my garden each week so that I am better able to answer that question. I can’t tell you if my woodlouse population is booming (they seem to be very happy, but I haven’t been counting them), but I can tell you chapter and verse on my bats, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, grasshoppers, stag beetles and birds.

For example:

  • A number of bird species are now regular in the garden which were absent of at least very rare to start with. I now have frequent visits from Mistle Thrushes, Stock Doves, Little Egrets, Grey Wagtails and Greenfinches. House Sparrows were nowhere to be seen at first, but now, with my feeders, birdboxes and veg garden (and hence aphids), I’ve had four pairs breed this year, and they’re onto yet another brood now. Here's one of my Stock Doves - no, not injured but sunning itself. My wildlife likes to take it easy.

  • I've had some rarer visitors, too, such as this Black Redstart

  • The total counts of dragonfly and damselfly are up 20-fold. Not surprising, you might think, given that I put in a large pond, but the garden already had three ponds when I arrived. However, they were just no good for wildlife.
  • Slow-worm and Grass Snake numbers have boomed. I didn’t find a single Slow-worm in the whole of the first year, and just a single Grass Snake; now in the fifth summer I can get daily counts of up to seven of each.
  • Common Blue and Brown Argus butterflies appear to have colonised successfully, and Wall Brown and grasshoppers are now regular in the new meadow, which today looked like this:

So has anything gone down? Well, yes, the Frog population seems to be struggling. It could be the boom in Smooth Newts; it could be the Grass Snakes. Also, the loss of the leylandii means that Goldcrests and Coal Tits now visit a little less frequently. And I still have no Starlings.

There’s lots more still for me to do: the area of meadow will eventually be four times the size, I’m going to put in another pond, my Bee Borders are yet to mature, and I want to make a Bat Cave (I’m not sure how, but it’s there on the wish list). These first four years have largely been about getting the layout in place, the heavy-lifting; from next year, the focus will shift to plants and growing lots of flowers from seed, and I’m predicting a big growth in my butterfly population

So, that’s me, but what about you? What successes – and challenges – have you had in your garden or local greenspace? We’d love you to respond to this blog and tell us your story. And don’t worry if you don’t have a big garden; little achievements in small gardens all add up across the country (in fact, I always say that each triumph in a small garden is all the sweeter!).

Anonymous
Parents
  • Adrian's garden sounds like hard work, but what fabulous rewards!

    My own efforts have been over the last 8 years. Some things done for necessity, but others for the local wildlife, including:
    Planting a natural hedgerow, sloe, hawthorn, dog rose and bird cherry mainly, with loads of long grass below, (it's never weeded);
    Dug a small pond, and used a rigid liner with a step/slope as an exit or escape. It contains only oxygenating plants, water mint and tadpoles, but is used every day by blackbirds and sparrows for batheing and collared doves and sparrows for drinking. It's shaded by a buddleia "hedge", just 2 metres wide and the same in height. It's surrounded by gravel and with a Jasmine (currently in glorious bloom) off to one corner.

    I put in new fences at the back, making sure to cut out panels for a hedgehog highway.

    The bottom of the garden has redcurrent and a large buddleia, which is used for hanging bird feeders. Behind this is just dead leaves, small branches  and twigs and a hedgehog box.

    On my feeders I get chaffinch, redcap, several tits and wrens as well as the previously mentioned larger birds. The wren even started to build a nest in a box, but it was too hot, being south facing. The box stays there because bumble bees have laid hatchings in there for the last four years. My solo bee houses don't attract anything though.

    Raspberries and strawberries are shared with my feathered friends and my guide dog at the back, but the black grape in the front garden seems to be the unofficial property of the local blackbirds. Heaven only knows how they get to them all!

Comment
  • Adrian's garden sounds like hard work, but what fabulous rewards!

    My own efforts have been over the last 8 years. Some things done for necessity, but others for the local wildlife, including:
    Planting a natural hedgerow, sloe, hawthorn, dog rose and bird cherry mainly, with loads of long grass below, (it's never weeded);
    Dug a small pond, and used a rigid liner with a step/slope as an exit or escape. It contains only oxygenating plants, water mint and tadpoles, but is used every day by blackbirds and sparrows for batheing and collared doves and sparrows for drinking. It's shaded by a buddleia "hedge", just 2 metres wide and the same in height. It's surrounded by gravel and with a Jasmine (currently in glorious bloom) off to one corner.

    I put in new fences at the back, making sure to cut out panels for a hedgehog highway.

    The bottom of the garden has redcurrent and a large buddleia, which is used for hanging bird feeders. Behind this is just dead leaves, small branches  and twigs and a hedgehog box.

    On my feeders I get chaffinch, redcap, several tits and wrens as well as the previously mentioned larger birds. The wren even started to build a nest in a box, but it was too hot, being south facing. The box stays there because bumble bees have laid hatchings in there for the last four years. My solo bee houses don't attract anything though.

    Raspberries and strawberries are shared with my feathered friends and my guide dog at the back, but the black grape in the front garden seems to be the unofficial property of the local blackbirds. Heaven only knows how they get to them all!

Children