How to create a wildlife friendly garden
Throughout the last century the UK has seen 97% of its wildflower meadows lost to urbanisation and intensive agriculture due to the demands of an ever-increasing population. That is a staggering 7.5 million acres of biodiverse grassland native to Britain, gone. Meadows provide a crucial habitat for hundreds of insects, including endangered bee species like the bumblebee which are vital for pollinating the food we eat. This diversity of plant and insect species also supports the lifecycle of various small mammals and birds. If these important spaces continue to be lost at such an alarming rate, then so will the creatures that rely on them so heavily. It’s not all doom and gloom however, by utilising any outdoor space you have available, whether it be a balcony or back garden there are simple steps you can take to provide a safe haven for nature. By working together and each of us doing our bit we can work towards bringing back some of the spaces and the biodiversity needed to sustain the environment we share.
Here at Saffron we have put some thought into how to create an outdoor space that is a little more wildlife friendly. With the help of many expert sources, we have created a variety of different activities and challenges you can do to help give nature a home. These range from building your own mini-pond to simply planting a range of wildflowers in whatever space you have. All the suggestions we have provided are fantastic for the whole family to get involved in, whether you decide to include a range of wildlife friendly spaces in your garden or just one this guide will help you in your endeavours. So, whatever your age, we hope you will enjoy finding an activity that suits you and your outdoor space. Go on, get stuck in – and have some fun!
Bring in the Bees
Bees have been an important part of the world’s ecosystems for millions of years, pollinating plants and helping to produce the food we eat. Unfortunately, in today’s world bees are on the decline and this poses a major risk to producing enough food for the world’s growing population. The bright side is we can all do something to help our fuzzy friends. By planting wildflowers in pots, raised beds or throughout your garden you will be providing bees with the nectar-rich food they so desperately need to keep on pollinating.
You can buy your plants as seeds or as small shrubs ready for planting! All you will need is a small trowel if planting in the garden or some good quality soil and a pot if you are adding this splash of colour to your balcony. Be sure to keep the plants well-watered in the hot summer months as this will aid their nectar production for the hungry bees. It is not only bees that will thank you for your planting efforts but other flying insects such as butterflies will also be sure to pay you a visit. If you’re looking to get your hands a bit more messy you could always try making seed balls and scattering them around outdoors. These are especially fun to make and perfect for little fingers to get involved in the garden. The National Trust provides an easy to follow guide on how to make your own seed balls that are primed and ready for the garden.
Building a Mini-beast Mansion
Insects and amphibians, just like other animals need places to shelter and stay safe from predators, especially when they are raising their young. This construction project is perfect for any size garden and is one that can be as humble or grand as you like. A simple log pile filled with crunchy leaves will keep many critters happy or you can take on the challenge of a multi-story complex providing homes for a diverse range of grateful animals.
Building a mini-beast mansion is a perfect activity for autumn as there’s plenty of natural matter around to use as building materials, this is also perfect timing as many animals will be looking for a place to stay during hibernation over winter. While the structure can be as extravagant as you like, the key is about creating different compartments using different materials to suit all kinds of creatures needs. Old and disused bricks and wood pallettes (or planks) provide the perfect skeletal structure and this is also a brilliant way to recycle seemingly unwanted materials. Fill all the gaps in the building with different materials depending on what creatures you wish to attract. Tiles and stones placed near the centre of the mansion are perfect for frogs wanting to stay cool but keep safe from the winter frost. Dry materials like sticks and straw is what ladybirds will look for during an overnight stay. You can even include a hedgehog box at the base of the hotel for extra cosy comfort for our spikey friends. When the interior is complete add a ‘roof’ using planks of wood or old roof tiles and decorate this how you like with soil or moss and blend it into the garden. You can even take a careful sneak peek during winter to see who has decided to take up residence at your mini-beast mansion!
Restaurant for Birds
Providing a feast for our feathered friends is far easier than you might think! It can be done in any size garden and even on a balcony or roof space. This is an activity that will last all year round allowing you a front row seat as birds of all different shapes, sizes and colours visit your custom made restaurant. The different types of bird feeders you buy or make and what feed you fill them with will help determine what birds you attract. The Wildlife Trust provides a detailed overview of what feeders’ different birds prefer and also how to make your own feeder from a coconut shell or pinecone!
There are lots of different types of feed used to attract different birds so this is worth looking into when shopping for bird feed. Some of the main food types include, seed mixes suet (animal fat) and mealworms which are perfect during the fledging season. While there are lots of options with what you can feed birds it is important to also take note of what is harmful, you should avoid leaving any salty foods such as salted peanuts out for the birds as this will dehydrate them. It is also important to not leave large chunks of bread out, especially in the spring and summer as they may take these back to their nest to feed their chicks. The large chunks will be too big for the chicks to safely eat and may be harmful to them.
Make a Mini Pond
If you’re up to the challenge then all manner of pond creatures, birds and insects will thank you for it! This can be done in any size garden and the beauty is you can choose what size pond you want to suit the surroundings. What’s more you can be as creative as you like when choosing your pond structure. A washing up bowl, a disused sink or an old paddling pool, you can even invest in a small plastic pond from a gardening centre or online if you really want it looking professional! The wildlife it will support, however, won’t care much for how it looks, what really matters is that you will be creating an aquatic playground for a range of amphibians, insects and birds.
First things first you’ll want to ensure your mini pond is watertight so make sure you fill your mini pond with a water tight lining. Ideally your pond should be positioned on the ground to allow for creatures to get in and out as there is a possibility that mammals who come for a drink could get stuck in the water without a clear route out. Pieces of wood or stones can be used to construct a pathway for small travellers when they come to investigate your mini pond. It is also important to be mindful that even very small levels of water can be dangerous for very young children, it would be a wise idea to section off your mini pond so it poses no threat to little ones pottering around the garden. When the pond is ready to be filled it is best to let the pond fill up naturally with rainwater as tap water contains chemicals that could be harmful to wildlife. Once the pond has a decent level of water you can add a few aquatic plants as these will keep the water oxygenated as well as providing shade and shelter for the inhabitants within. They will also help prevent the build-up of green algae which will lessen your view of the marine world in your garden. The RHS has an extensive list of aquatic plants to suit the depth of your pond, including the Japanese water iris (Iris ensata) which is perfectly suited to ponds with a depth of around 5cm. Never add any water from other ponds or introduce wildlife yourself as this will contribute to the spread of disease; rest assured that creatures will come in their own time!
Construct a Frog Den
Contrary to popular belief frogs spend a lot of their time out of the water and so creating a den for them is a great way of providing them with relief from the winter cold. They hibernate on land during the winter, usually in places that are slightly underground before emerging in spring for mating and spawning. Therefore, providing frogs (and toads) with a safe space to hibernate throughout winter is a great way of ensuring they stay safe until they wake up in spring. Creating a den near a pond or a mini pond (see above for more details) is ideal. This will mean the frogs won’t have to travel too far come spring to find a perfect watery home.
To make the perfect hibernation den for your amphibious neighbours, dig out a circular hole with a flat bottom, then stack twigs, logs, stones and any solid organic matter of your choosing. Build these materials up from the bottom of the hole to create a crosshatching house up past the surface. The structure should be sturdy enough to ensure it doesn’t fall and crush creatures that make it their home during the winter, but there should be spaces within the structure for frogs, toads or even newts to move around. When it resembles a small mound over the ground then use the soil you have from digging the hole and put it back over the top to help keep the secret den camouflaged from predators. You may see your happy campers emerging during the spring but if you can’t wait until then try quietly shining a torch into the structure on a winter’s evening and see who has taken residence. But remember not to disturb the sleepy frogs!
A Home for Hibernating Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs are animals that hibernate during winter and so providing them with a cosy, secure space they can have their long sleep in is vital. This is especially relevant today as the sad reality is that our British Hedgehogs are in decline. This means it is extra important that we care and provide for any spikey visitors we may be lucky enough to find in our gardens. Your best chance of having a hedgehog visit is to provide them with a proper hibernation home (a hibernacula). These homes resemble a small rabbit hutch that is perfect for hibernating and raising hoglets.
There are many fantastic resources online such as the RSPB which give detailed instruction on how to build your own Hog House from scratch. This activity will not be suitable for younger children however, thus, a much easier option that the whole family can engage with is simply investing in a ready-made hedgehog home online or from a local garden centre. A helpful tip when looking for a home is to look for one that includes an interior dividing wall to help prevent predators getting the hedgehog using their paws. These houses can be relatively inexpensive and come autumn you will be ready to find the perfect site for this new home and add features to entice potential occupants. By placing the home in amongst natural materials such as a log pile, dried leaves or even a compost heap you will provide the hedgehog with an easy access food source of insect species. If you are careful and quiet try taking a peek inside your home during winter, you may just find a spikey tenant has moved in!
Starting a compost bin is a brilliant way to make your household a little bit more sustainable. It will prevent all your food waste and excess plant material going to landfill. The most magical thing about compost, however, is that it will provide a rich organic food for all plant life in your garden! It will also do wonders for the long-term health of the soil in your garden as it is rich in nutrients and soil bacteria so spreading this throughout your garden will help with the long-term health of your garden and all its inhabitants.
To get started on your composting journey simply purchase a decent compost bin (online or from a local garden centre). Find a spot in your garden that is level and well-drained. From here on out it is up to the worms to do the hard work of converting the waste into compost. They should be able to make their way into the pile naturally if it is well-drained but if you’re very keen to get the ball rolling straight away you can order worms safely packaged to your door from sites such as edenproject.com. From here it is all about good management, only compost natural materials that breakdown easily, keep the balance of moisture right and make sure it is well-aired. It can get a bit messy but it’s a great habit that we can all adopt to make our garden’s more wildlife friendly and our landfills less full!