January 2015

The gardener's role

Gardeners have a huge role to play in the future of UK wildlife as the traditional British countryside changes. Experts say that, due to more industrialised farming practices and encroaching urbanisation, over 600 individual species are at risk in Britain and others are in rapid decline.

By gardening organically and encouraging wildlife, you can establish a balance between pests and their natural predators. Both plants and beneficial pests will flourish, and with a healthy food chain in place, the more harmful creatures can be kept at manageable levels. For example, ladybirds feed on aphids, and frogs, toads and birds eat slugs and snails.
Managing a wildlife garden

Being more wildlife-friendly doesn't mean you have to have a messy garden, but it does mean forsaking the ideal of a perfect lawn and rigidly trimmed borders. Simple changes to your gardening such as planting some native species, allowing seedheads to form and hiding a logpile behind the shed can be very beneficial to wildlife. However you can go further - what if the alternative view from your kitchen window was a natural meadow? This could support native orchids, meadow flowers and butterflies, with a tapestry of seed heads and dried grasses during winter, and a host of birds feeding on winter berries and nesting in trees.

What to do


Ten ways to introduce wildlife-friendly features

    * Choose plants that are more attractive to native wildlife, for example, birds are attracted to berry-bearing plants in winter, such as cotoneasters, holly, pyracantha and skimmia. Also favourites with birds are natives like crab apples, hawthorn, honeysuckle, rowan, and sunflowers.
    * Allow some of your plants to go to seed to provide winter food for seed-eating birds. Seed heads also have an aesthetic bonus, as they provide winter interest in the garden.
    * Look for alternatives to slug pellets and pesticides or reduce the use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides - use organic methods of control. Many insecticides kill beneficial species as well as harmful ones.
    * Use bird-feeders or bird tables to protect birds from cats.
    * Provide nesting boxes for birds and even bats. Nest boxes are excellent substitutes for the holes in old trees. In many gardens, there may be lots of food, but nowhere to nest.
    * Plant perennials with broad flower heads to encourage bees into your garden in summer. Avoid too many double flowers that can prevent insects from accessing the nectar.
    * Avoid using herbicides by hand weeding, applying mulch, using weed-suppressant fabric and planting good ground cover.
    * Have a water feature - even a simple bowl can encourage frogs and other wildlife which will feed on bugs and snails. Dragonflies will often breed in them, and many birds may use them to drink and bathe in. If you have room for a pond, site it in a sunny position and ensure the sides are gently sloping, so birds can drink and bathe, amphibians can spawn and hedgehogs can escape if they fall in.
    * Keep a pile of logs in an undisturbed corner of the garden to provide shelter for insects and mammals - if you're lucky a hedgehog or toad may find a home there and feed on all your slugs and snails.
    * A bundle of hollow stems in a quiet spot that catches the morning sun can be a home for solitary mason bees.


Plants to try

    * Viburnum opulus, Guelder rose - good autumn colour and white summer flowers, which turn into red berries in autumn, providing a good food source for birds
    * Echinops ritro, Globe thistle - this thistle is a great architectural perennial, with its spherical blue flower heads drying into striking seed heads. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, and birds eat the seeds
    * Buddleja davidii, Butterfly bush - good source of nectar for butterflies
    * Lonicera periclymenum, Honeysuckle - provides nectar for butterflies and moths, which it attracts with its nocturnal scent. Birds also eat the seeds
    * Calendula officinalis, Marigold - nectar rich and also good for companion planting
    * Primula vulgaris, Primrose - the spring flowers provide an early source of nectar in spring, while the leaves are food for butterfly larvae and finches eat the seeds
    * Hedera helix, Ivy - provides shelter for birds, nectar in winter and berries in spring

Material courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk/gardening

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