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Help Nature, Nature helps

In these challenging times, gardens and outdoor spaces are more important than ever. Turn yours into a sanctuary for wildlife – and for yourself

If you're lucky enough to have a garden, or even a small outdoor space, it's likely you'll be spending as much time in it as possible during these challenging times.


Incorporating some wildlife-friendly features in your garden can help boost biodiversity. British wildlife needs help – and we can play a key role.


The State of Nature 2019 report examined how 7000 UK species have fared, looking back at nearly 50 years of monitoring – and, sadly, the news isn't great.

  

According to the report, 41% of species in the UK, including animals, birds and butterflies, have declined since 1970. Numbers of butterflies and moths have dropped significantly, and the UK's mammals have fared particularly badly, with more than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether.

  

Climate change is cited as one of the major causes for this decline, along with habitat loss and pollution.

  

There is hope though, as many initiatives and organisations are working hard to halt the decline – and you can help too, by providing the food and shelter that wildlife so desperately need. And encouraging more wildlife into your outdoor space can really improve your own mental health and wellbeing too.

  

So, if you want to help nature in your garden or outdoor space this year, here are a few key areas to consider. With many garden centres and nurseries now offering home delivery, it is possible to get the materials you need for new wildlife gardening projects. But many of these ideas can be put into practice by using things you might have lying around – or by simply doing nothing at all!


Nectar-rich flowers

Insect populations have taken a real battering in recent years, and bees, butterflies and other pollinators really need our help.

Having a wide range of different nectar-rich shrubs, perennials and annuals in your flower borders can be a lifeline for insects. A bumblebee can only fly for about 40 minutes between each feeding – so just one nectar-rich flower could be the pit stop that saves a bee.


Try to include plants that flower at different times of the year. Snowdrops, crocus, ivy and mahonia are good for winter and early spring. Other good spring plants include flowering currant, and California lilac.


Herbs like lavender, borage and rosemary are easy to look after, and flower in summer. Also try catmint, sweet peas, marigolds and honeysuckle for summer blooms.

Bumblebee on lavender

In autumn, verbena, sunflowers, sedums and cosmos will provide an energy boost for bees before they head into hibernation.


Wildflowers like foxgloves, poppy, vetch, teasels and cranesbill are fantastic for pollinators too.


For even more ideas, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a great tool called Bee Kind to help you plan an insect-friendly garden. See www.beekind.bumblebeeconservation.org.


Wild area

Many gardeners have the urge to keep things neat and tidy – but doing this can make the garden less enticing for wildlife.


If you have enough space, keeping a corner of the garden wild and untouched can bring many benefits. A wild area can be useful for gardeners too – you can use it as a place to pile up pruned branches and raked up leaves, rather than burning them in a bonfire.


Hedgehogs, toads and slow worms love to hang out in heaps of undisturbed garden matter – and it's a great habitat for many invertebrates too.

Bumblebee on dandelion

Allowing some weeds to grow can also help insects. Nettles, thistles and dandelions are all important food sources for pollinators.


Dandelions, in particular, are bee 'super plants'. They have a long flowering period, and attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies – in fact they can support more than 50 insect species.

Another really easy way to help insects is to let a patch of grass grow wild. Bumblebees like to nest in long grass, and wildflowers like clover should appear. White clover attracts honeybees, while the longer tongued bumblebees prefer red clover. Delaying cutting your lawn as soon as it starts to grow in spring can give these plants a chance to flower, offering vital pollen early in the season.


Insect houses

Insects like dark dry crevices to crawl into – and there are several ways you can create this type of habitat in your garden.


You can buy commercially made bee houses, and these should be fixed in a south-facing spot out of direct sunlight – with entrance holes pointing slightly downwards so that rain can't get in.


Or you can create your own bug hotel by stacking two or three wooden pallets on a stable surface. Fill in the gaps with a mixture of dry materials such as straw, moss, leaves, hollow stems, bark, pinecones and old terracotta pots.

White clover in long grass
Terracotta pots
Bug hotel

Even something as simple as a stack of terracotta pots left in a quiet corner can create a hidey-hole for tiny creatures.


Wildlife corridors

Wildlife needs to move around from one area to another – hedgehogs, for example, can walk for a mile or more each night in search of food or a mate.       


You can make it easier and safer for creatures to get from A to B by creating wildlife corridors in your garden.


These could be a strip of unmown grass, a line of trees or shrubs – or even a hedge.


And if you work with your neighbours (ensuring social distancing, of course), you could connect your gardens to give creatures lots of space to wander in.


Adding small gaps at the base of a fence is one easy way to do this (check with your neighbours first!) The size of the hole needs to be large enough for small creatures like frogs and hedgehogs to pass through, but small enough to prevent pets from escaping.


Allow some long grass to grow near the hole, or plant a leafy plant nearby, so that animals can get quickly to shelter after passing through.


A climbing plant grown on bare fences or walls can also help creatures travel vertically, and offer protection. Ivy, honeysuckle and pyracantha are good wildlife-friendly climbers.


Put away poisons

Sometimes it's not what we do, but what we don't do that can make a real difference.


Pesticides and weed killers can have a devastating effect on wildlife – so using organic methods to deter pests and control weeds will really help boost biodiversity in your garden.

Slug pellets don't just kill slugs – they also enter the food chain and can cause harm to birds, frogs and hedgehogs.


More wildlife-friendly methods to deter slugs include surrounding vulnerable plants with coffee grounds, companion planting with plants that slugs dislike (garlic is good) and beer traps.


Make a difference

There are lots of other ways you can help boost biodiversity in your garden. Putting up birdboxes and birdfeeders, planting a tree, creating a compost heap, and providing water in the form of a small pond or birdbath are all great ideas.

Snails
Wildlife garden montage

But you don't need to implement all these ideas to make a difference. Just one small action – planting a shrub with nectar-rich flowers, for example – can really help. And two or three actions could turn your garden into a wonderful wildlife haven!

Little Green Space April 2020

Comma butterfly