Our gardens can offer us peace, beauty, fresh air, and a regular hobby. But they can also be havens for the UK’s wonderful wildlife.
Some gardens are more wildlife-friendly than others, and this is often determined by water accessibility, the types of plants we choose to grow, and whether there are enough shelter and nesting spots.
So, if you’re a green-fingered animal lover who would like to breathe more life into your outdoor space, here are 11 ways to make your garden more wildlife-friendly.
1. Create a hedgehog-sized hole in your fence
Hedgehogs travel far and wide when looking for food (sometimes 2km per night!). So, if you want to give them a helping hand, you could consider making a hole in the bottom of your fence to allow easy passage.
With hedgehog numbers in decline, it’s believed that fencing and hedgerows without proper connectivity may be partly responsible. This is because it can limit their search for food and isolate them.
To find out how to create a hedgehog hole, check out this article from The Wildlife Trusts.
2. Let the grass grow
Many of us have adopted the habit of keeping our lawns neat and tidy by mowing them regularly. But if you want to support insect wildlife, why not let your lawn grow wild every once in a while?
According to the RSPB, “Letting the plants grow a bit unruly, especially if you have a lawn, is actually a big help for insect wildlife. The mini jungle created by long grass gives them a safe haven to hide in, and if there are wildflowers in there, it’s good for bees too.”
You could even go a step further and sow some extra wildflowers (like poppies and cornflowers) in the long grass, which make excellent food for bees and butterflies – and look stunning too!
If it’s not practical or convenient to let your entire lawn grow wild, you could reserve a small patch or make shapes in your grass. To read more about how to do this, check out this article from the RSPB.
3. Feed birds
Because birds have different needs throughout the year – for example, breeding, nesting, feeding their young, moulting, and migrating long distances – providing a steady supply of good quality food can help them keep their strength up.
The RSPB advises that during spring and summer when they’re particularly active, birds need high-protein foods like black sunflower seeds, mealworms, and meaty, tinned dog and cat food.
4. Build a pond
Even a small pond can add immense value to your garden by acting as a sanctuary for all sorts of different wildlife.
Amphibians – particularly common frogs – use ponds to reproduce, while other animals like birds and hedgehogs will drink from them (and birds also love to splash about!).
Building a pond needn’t be time-consuming or expensive. For example, in this useful guide from The Wildlife Trusts, all you need is a plank of wood, a pond liner, a variety of pond plants, some large rocks, and some builder’s sand.
It’s up to you how big to make your pond. For tips on how to build a tiny pond (think washing-up bowl size), this article from the RSPB is particularly helpful.
5. Open an insect hotel
Whether you love or hate insects and minibeasts, they’re an essential part of our ecosystem.
Not only do insects and minibeasts act as food for birds, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, bats, and fish, but they’re also involved in pollination – turning flowers into fruit. Plus, they help to keep our environment clean by breaking down plants and animals after they die.
Insects and minibeasts, like other animals, need somewhere to shelter, raise their young, and store food. So, one way you could help them is by opening a 5-star bug hotel!
Bug hotels usually consist of a strong, stable structure that’s stuffed with natural materials – such as sticks, bricks, and straw – to create plenty of warm, dry hidey holes for insects of various sizes.
For insects and minibeasts who like to burrow into decaying wood (like centipedes and woodlice), you could also create a log pile in a shady area of your garden and stuff gaps with dead leaves to make it more snug. You can find out more about building bug hotels in this guide from Woodland Trust.
6. Start a compost heap
Simple yet powerful, compost heaps make for brilliant ways to enrich the soil in your garden, save money, recycle kitchen scraps and garden debris, reduce pollution, and provide food and refuge for all kinds of different wildlife.
Some of the most common compost heap dwellers include beetles, toads, hedgehogs, bats, birds, slow worms, and grass snakes. These creatures also eat slugs and insects, making them natural pest controllers.
Making compost takes about six months and you can do it in either a large bin (you can make one yourself using this guidance from Gardeners’ World) or on bare soil – though the latter takes much longer. Bins are helpful because they retain warmth and moisture, speeding the composting process up.
You can add garden waste like grass cuttings and leaves, and kitchen waste like teabags and eggshells to your compost bin. To find out more about what to add and how it all works, check out this article from Gardening Know How.
7. Plant nectar-rich flowers
Nectar is the food of some of our prettiest insects, like bees, moths, butterflies, and hoverflies. And, as these insects move between flowers, sipping on nectar, they pollinate them – allowing plants to make seeds or bear fruit.
So, if you’re looking to add some beautiful new blooms to your garden, why not choose ones that are most popular with our pollinator friends?
Setting up a nectar cafe will not only help pollinators thrive but will also allow you to sit back and enjoy the fluttering of gorgeous butterflies and bumbling bees.
Discover Wildlife has recommended 20 flowers that you can sow in your garden or window box to cater for the maximum diversity of pollinators. Examples include field forget-me-not, common knapweed, flat sea holly, and New York aster.
8. Support bats
Bats often get a bad wrap because of their association with diseases. But wildlife charities like RSPB and Bat Conservation Trust are doing what they can to break the stigma and help these misunderstood creatures thrive.
Bats play an important role in our ecosystem by controlling insects (they eat thousands of them every night!). They also pollinate the flowers of over 500 plant species around the world.
There are 18 species of bat living in the UK, from the noctule (weighing the same as four pound coins) to the pipistrelle (weighing the same as a 2p coin). Though, sadly, over the last 50 years, bat numbers have fallen significantly due to factors such as habitat loss and changes in agricultural practices.
One way to help them is to build a bat box in your garden to give them more roosting space and easy access to insects. You can do this with just a few simple materials, as seen in this article from The Wildlife Trusts.
9. Hydrate your guests
Providing access to a fresh, clean water supply is a key way to support your garden guests, and encourage them to come back. So, why not consider adding a birdbath to your garden?
The most obvious visitors to birdbaths are, of course, birds who drink from them but also wash dirt and debris off their feathers, during the process of preening (or grooming). The preen gland is an essential part of this process because it produces oil, which birds spread to each feather to coat and protect them and make sure they stay waterproof.
Bees, wasps, and other beneficial insects may also drink from bird baths.
You can either buy a birdbath – they come in all sorts of interesting colours and designs – or you can make one yourself. Check out this guide from Gardeners’ World, which uses an upside-down terracotta pot and a saucer.
10. Build a hedgehog house
As previously mentioned, creating a hole in your fence can increase a hedgehog’s travelling distance and help them thrive. Though, if you want to go a step further, you could also consider adding a hedgehog house to your garden to give your humble visitors somewhere to shelter and nest.
It’s best to place it in a dry, secluded place with plenty of shade and a low threat from predators – perhaps behind a shed or under plant cover.
You can either buy a hedgehog home; many of which have been designed to provide insulation during winter and ventilation during summer. Or, you can build one yourself. This guide from the Wildlife Trust will show you how.
11. Grow climbing plants
Climbing plants like ivy, passion flower, and honeysuckle are an excellent source of food and shelter for insects and other wildlife. They’re also great for growing in both small and large spaces because they don’t need much soil and grow vertically, hugging structures.
To find out more about how to grow climbing plants, check out this article from the RSPB.
American biologist, naturalist, and writer E.O. Wilson once said, “Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” Though, sadly, our local wildlife is contending with more challenges than ever before such as climate change, pollution, and habitat loss.
Encouraging and supporting wildlife in your garden not only provides animals with more food, shelter, and nesting options (which will increase their longevity) but also helps to preserve our ecosystem and increases opportunities to connect with nature. And spending time in nature has many well-documented benefits such as increased energy levels, reduced feelings of stress and anger, and a boosted immune system.
For more ways to get closer to nature, you might want to read our article; 32 ways to connect with nature and feel inspired and 16 weird and wonderful animals you can find in the UK.