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
  • That is so impressive, I remember when you started your garden. It looks beautiful. We have a largish garden but one area has a huge old beech tree covering most of it which creates deep shade. A row of closely packed trees in the farmers field have grown over the last 20 years and now the bottom slope, where we used to get a bit of sun, is in deep shade most of the time. The neighbour planted a leylandii hedge along our border, just before he sold his property, without even mentioning it to us. It is hard work trying to keep it at a manageable height and we are not getting any younger. Their sycamore and beech overhangs the top corner of our garden which is always very dark even at the height of a sunny day. I am in the process of digging up the lawn which just couldn't cope with the increased deep shade. I plan to dig up all the docks and spanish bluebells and replant the whole area with english bluebells, more snowdrops, cyclamen, wild garlic etc and have a colourful woodland area. We dug a pond 20 years ago which now receives much less sunlight as the trees in the field have grown. We have chopped back some of the worst overhanging branches which helped a little. I used to raise tadpoles in 2 tanks and often released 300+ froglets around the pond each year. Sadly, we have not seen any frogs for 3 years now. There are newts in the pond, loads of snails but the damsel flies and dragon flies have disappeared. I just don't know how long the pond will survive the growth of the trees. I have always fed the birds and attract a wide variety. Our most common visitor used to be greenfinches but they disappeared. We have seen a few this year which we were very excited about. Loads of goldfinch chaffinch, tits etc. We now get house and tree sparrows since planting a native mixed hedge 18 years ago, although not in large numbers. For 5 years I had a badger visiting to eat the peanuts I put in margarine tubs, later she brought 2 youngsters with her. They no longer visit which may be because we bought a labrador dog. Once I saw 6 jays eating the peanuts, I assume 3 pairs. We still see one occasionally. We see siskins every year and nuthatches, treecreepers, visiting longtail tits, sparrowhawks, buzzards and woodpeckers. Every year a GSwoodpecker brings the babies to the nut feeders. I am pleased to see a little grey squirrel in the garden again. Red polls are also now regular visitors. A few starlings now and then. 

Comment
  • That is so impressive, I remember when you started your garden. It looks beautiful. We have a largish garden but one area has a huge old beech tree covering most of it which creates deep shade. A row of closely packed trees in the farmers field have grown over the last 20 years and now the bottom slope, where we used to get a bit of sun, is in deep shade most of the time. The neighbour planted a leylandii hedge along our border, just before he sold his property, without even mentioning it to us. It is hard work trying to keep it at a manageable height and we are not getting any younger. Their sycamore and beech overhangs the top corner of our garden which is always very dark even at the height of a sunny day. I am in the process of digging up the lawn which just couldn't cope with the increased deep shade. I plan to dig up all the docks and spanish bluebells and replant the whole area with english bluebells, more snowdrops, cyclamen, wild garlic etc and have a colourful woodland area. We dug a pond 20 years ago which now receives much less sunlight as the trees in the field have grown. We have chopped back some of the worst overhanging branches which helped a little. I used to raise tadpoles in 2 tanks and often released 300+ froglets around the pond each year. Sadly, we have not seen any frogs for 3 years now. There are newts in the pond, loads of snails but the damsel flies and dragon flies have disappeared. I just don't know how long the pond will survive the growth of the trees. I have always fed the birds and attract a wide variety. Our most common visitor used to be greenfinches but they disappeared. We have seen a few this year which we were very excited about. Loads of goldfinch chaffinch, tits etc. We now get house and tree sparrows since planting a native mixed hedge 18 years ago, although not in large numbers. For 5 years I had a badger visiting to eat the peanuts I put in margarine tubs, later she brought 2 youngsters with her. They no longer visit which may be because we bought a labrador dog. Once I saw 6 jays eating the peanuts, I assume 3 pairs. We still see one occasionally. We see siskins every year and nuthatches, treecreepers, visiting longtail tits, sparrowhawks, buzzards and woodpeckers. Every year a GSwoodpecker brings the babies to the nut feeders. I am pleased to see a little grey squirrel in the garden again. Red polls are also now regular visitors. A few starlings now and then. 

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