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
  • We have just started our garden (and gardening) journey having moved house within the last 15 months.  Like you, we spent the first summer removing dead and dangerous trees in the much neglected space and having gone from a small town garden with plastic grass and only a few evergreen plants, we have found ourselves in at the deep end with a garden that not only has real grass but also has a pond!
    The garden had endured a prolonged period of neglect and we have, quite literally, removed tonnes of brambles, ivy and nettles along with the dead trees and other general garden detritus. There have been some amazing finds along the way such as a raised bed with a lovely dry stone wall where we thought we had a fallen tree trunk, a lovely little secluded patio and another 1 or 2 of garden!
    Recently we have been tackling the stagnant pond, in addition to liner repairs, we have removed a staggering amount of duck weed and rotting vegetation and found our first evidence of pond life (a small newt of some kind - yeay)! We have a new pump and airbricks to oxygenate the water and a variety of wet vegetation to plant which should make the pond far more appealing to all.
    We have a wildflower meadow prepared and ready to be planted with succession bulbs and then seeded, both of which are jobs for the autumn (guess who has been watching Gardeners world!) There’s a whole load of other stuff we have made, moved and planted over the last 12 months (including replacing some of the lost trees) all of which has been done with a view to being as beneficial to nature as possible. I have made plenty of rookie mistakes, some I know about and have addressed others are yet to come to light I’m sure! But every day is a learning day and we must be doing something right as our feathered friends in the garden have increased from a handful of wood pigeons, 2 pairs of collar doves, a black bird and a lonely Robin to a charm of Goldfinch, sparrows, a wren, Blue tits and magpies. We have the occasional visit from jackdaws and a resident squirrel who challenges me to find new and inventive ways to prevent the emptying of the bird seed container (and he's proving pretty good at overcoming most obstacles much to the delight of the pigeons and doves)! There is still so much more to do and this is going to be a long journey but I’m hoping that once it is finally done, someday, we may get chance to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours!

Comment
  • We have just started our garden (and gardening) journey having moved house within the last 15 months.  Like you, we spent the first summer removing dead and dangerous trees in the much neglected space and having gone from a small town garden with plastic grass and only a few evergreen plants, we have found ourselves in at the deep end with a garden that not only has real grass but also has a pond!
    The garden had endured a prolonged period of neglect and we have, quite literally, removed tonnes of brambles, ivy and nettles along with the dead trees and other general garden detritus. There have been some amazing finds along the way such as a raised bed with a lovely dry stone wall where we thought we had a fallen tree trunk, a lovely little secluded patio and another 1 or 2 of garden!
    Recently we have been tackling the stagnant pond, in addition to liner repairs, we have removed a staggering amount of duck weed and rotting vegetation and found our first evidence of pond life (a small newt of some kind - yeay)! We have a new pump and airbricks to oxygenate the water and a variety of wet vegetation to plant which should make the pond far more appealing to all.
    We have a wildflower meadow prepared and ready to be planted with succession bulbs and then seeded, both of which are jobs for the autumn (guess who has been watching Gardeners world!) There’s a whole load of other stuff we have made, moved and planted over the last 12 months (including replacing some of the lost trees) all of which has been done with a view to being as beneficial to nature as possible. I have made plenty of rookie mistakes, some I know about and have addressed others are yet to come to light I’m sure! But every day is a learning day and we must be doing something right as our feathered friends in the garden have increased from a handful of wood pigeons, 2 pairs of collar doves, a black bird and a lonely Robin to a charm of Goldfinch, sparrows, a wren, Blue tits and magpies. We have the occasional visit from jackdaws and a resident squirrel who challenges me to find new and inventive ways to prevent the emptying of the bird seed container (and he's proving pretty good at overcoming most obstacles much to the delight of the pigeons and doves)! There is still so much more to do and this is going to be a long journey but I’m hoping that once it is finally done, someday, we may get chance to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours!

Children