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Go wild in the garden

26 MAR 20 | 5 minute read

When we think about biodiversity loss, we tend to think of exotic places and species like rainforests, orangutans and pandas, but the problem is actually much closer to home.

Of the 6,413 species in Scotland, there has been a 24% decline in average species abundance (the number of individuals per species), and 11% of our species have become endangered since 1970

The reasons behind this are complex. We could look to overexploitation, river and air pollution, non-native invasive species, pesticides, climate change and a range of other factors, but increasing urbanisation remains one of the key issues for biodiversity. 

To put it bluntly, plants and animals are finding it increasingly difficult to find places to live and the foods they need in our towns and cities. Their ecosystems and areas of habitat are being split into smaller unconnected patches, which makes it impossible for them to move from one place to another. 

Our gardens have the potential to play a crucial role in reversing this trend. 

Creating a wildlife-friendly garden doesn’t have to be difficult, or compromise the way your garden looks. Quite the opposite.

Conservation gardening projects can be tailored to any budget, and shape or size of garden (even people without gardens can help). Just a few small changes can make an enormous difference.

Cottage garden flowers - primrose, aubretia, lavender, thyme and thistles - are perfect as they bring vibrant colour and can fit anywhere from a window box to a border.

Striking the balance

Wildlife and practicality don’t always go hand in hand when it comes to gardening, and that’s ok.

Take time to think about what works for you and your garden - a lawn for children can still be rich in herbs like white clover, selfheal and birds-foot-trefoil. These wildflowers will attract bees and hoverflies and provide good foraging habitat for starlings and hedgehogs.

If you don’t have a garden you can still volunteer with your local community garden, or help by placing some bird feeders in the local woodland. There is something for everyone and every pocket.

Include native plants

Where you can, include some plants, shrubs or trees that are native to your local area so they can provide food and habitats for insects and animals living nearby. Our wildlife has evolved with these particular species, so they are much more likely to survive when they are about. 

Many of the cottage garden flowers - primrose, aubretia, lavender, thyme and thistles - are perfect as they bring vibrant colour and can fit anywhere from a window box to a border.

Plant a range that flower and seed throughout the year to provide food for insects and animals that are active and feeding over different seasons.

The ladybirds, butterflies and bumblebees will be sure to thank you. 

Plant for pollinators

Luckily, the flowers that are loved by bees and other pollinating insects such as butterflies, moths and beetles, are also just as attractive to the human eye. Borage, salvias, and echinacea variants are all stunning and are loved by insects for their nectar while the birds adore the seeds. 

bee on echinacea in wildlife garden

Make a pile

Everyone needs somewhere to live. Many animals such as birds and hedgehogs rely on insects for food. And despite their reputation, many insects help because they either eat other insects that do cause problems or break organic matter down to enrich the soil.

A pile of old bricks, rocks or old wood in a corner of the garden can help the bugs and insects flourish. 

If you don’t have space for a pile, there are some lovely insect ‘hotels’ you can build from plans on the internet or buy from a garden centre. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the wildlife settles in.

Be soil friendly

Good soil quality is a simple way to encourage biodiversity and get the most from your plants. Healthy soil is one that is full of bacteria, fungi, microbes and other creatures which creates the right environmental conditions for the plants and animals to thrive. 

Adding well-rotted materials like homemade compost will feed the tiny microbes Then, other creatures such as worms do all of the work by decomposing the waste matter and secreting nutrients to create better soil structure and fertility.

Home composting itself will also create a habitat for worms, woodlice and many other insects including frogs and slow worms, and it’s a great way to use up food waste. 

It’s also important to remember that synthetic fertilisers, weed-killers and pesticides contain toxic chemicals.

Insects, birds, small mammals and amphibians not only add to the biodiversity of your growing patch, but many of them also act as predators on pests such as slugs, snails and aphids so there is no need for toxic chemicals.  

Dig a pond

Garden ponds and water features have huge importance for wildlife, but over the past 100 years, nearly 90% of lowland ponds have been lost from the UK countryside

Even something as small as an upturned dustbin lid sunk into the ground and filled with water will soon be a hive of activity.

If you want to go the whole hog, you’ll need to think about what type of pond is best for your garden and how to construct it - but don’t worry.

It makes no difference to the wildlife whether your pond is natural or man-made as long as they are accessible. Caddisflies, damselflies, dragonflies, mayflies, pond skaters, snails and water beetles breed in water and frogs, toads and newts soon follow. 

What you can plant depends on the size and type of your pond. White water lily, yellow flag iris, purple loosestrife and marsh marigold are all lovely native plants that will encourage insects and other animals to call your pond home.
 

Even something as small as an upturned dustbin lid sunk into the ground and filled with water will soon be a hive of activity.

Create corridors

Take a look at your garden and imagine how the animals and insects get around.

Planting up bare ground and open areas to connect all parts of the garden will provide cover and food, and encourage the insects and amphibians to move around.

Make sure nature can access your garden by planting hedges instead of fences or making a 5-inch hole in the bottom of a fence panel so animals like the iconic hedgehog can come and eat your slugs - it’s a win-win situation.

hedgehog walking through the garden

Monitor your wildlife

It’s really fun and rewarding to monitor the wildlife in your garden. What they are, when they first appear, how many there are, and what they like to eat are all fascinating and will help you see how effective your wildlife-friendly gardening has been. You never know who might turn up. 

Each of us, whether you have a window box, a field or even no garden at all, can support and protect Scotland’s biodiversity.

Given the area of gardens in urban environments, these ‘creative conservation’ measures will play an important role in conservation more generally. 

Always remember, even when the problems are massive like the climate emergency or biodiversity loss, lots of little differences can all add up - you have the (flower) power, be the difference. 

Get involved

  1. Where you can, use plants, shrubs or trees that are native to your local area so they can provide food and habitats for insects and animals living nearby

  2. Choose flowers loved by pollinating insects to encourage bees, butterflies and beetles

  3. Cut a 5-inch hole in a fence panel to allow hedgehogs to come and go

  4. Pile up old bricks, rocks or wood in the corner of your garden to help bugs and insects flourish

  5. Create a pond, however small – insects and amphibians will love it!

  6. Plant up bare areas of your garden to provide cover and food for small critters 

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