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Toad
Bug hotel
Bug hotel made from cardboard tubes

Kids'

wild

gardens

Studies show that kids love to be outside, spending time in Nature – but the outside fun doesn't have to stop as the days begin to shorten.


Now is a good time to think about how you can make your garden more wildlife-friendly. When cold weather approaches, many birds, mammals and insects begin to rely on our gardens for food and shelter.


Getting your children to help out in the garden is a good way to help them learn more about the wonderful creatures we share our spaces with – and there are plenty of wildlife gardening projects that are great fun for children to get involved in.


Here are just a few ideas for getting kids out into the garden this autumn and winter.

Get the kids out into the garden to create wildlife havens for insects, mammals and amphibians

Build a bug hotel

Bug hotels can be large or small – and some can be quite palatial! They're easy to make using recycled materials – builders pallets are ideal, either full size or sawn in half to fit into smaller spaces.


Find a corner of the garden with a level, even surface – under a hedge, tree or wall is a good location, as invertebrates like cool, damp conditions. Stack three or four pallets one on top of another, and make secure by driving stakes into two or more of the corners.


Children can then help to fill in all the gaps with natural materials. Take a walk in your local woodland to collect pinecones, twigs, bark, branches and dry leaves. You can also use any old bamboo canes or terracotta pots you have in the garden. Take care when pushing things into the gaps – it's best to wear gardening gloves to avoid splinters.

Bugingham Palace

A bug hotel is a great place to put broken crockery – mugs and cups are perfect – instead of throwing it away. Include a few items that can be easily removed for inspection – after a few weeks, insects, beetles and bugs will begin to take up residence, and kids can check inside to see what the hotel's guests are up to.


We've seen some fantastic bug houses built out of large cardboard tubes, old bookshelves, or plant pots filled with different materials and stacked up. Just make sure that any structures you create are sturdy and can't topple onto tiny people.

Hedgehog

Homes for hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are one of just three British mammal species that truly hibernate (the other two are dormice and bats).


Around this time of year hedgehogs start hunting for a warm and cosy place to spend the winter in.


Raking up fallen leaves is great exercise – and a seasonal job that the whole family can join in with. Hedgehogs love to hide in piles of branches or dry leaves – so encourage your little ones to help make a home for a hedgehog, by piling up leaves in a quiet corner of the garden.


You could also make a simple hedgehog home, using a sturdy cardboard box with air vents and an entrance hole cut in the sides. Put some shredded newspaper or clean dry straw inside, then position the box under a fence with some plastic sheeting over the top to make it more weather-resistant. Finally, pile twigs, leaves and dry grass cuttings over the house, so it blends in with its surroundings.


Older children might enjoy helping you make a more complex structure from wood: see these instructions from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.


Create a bat garden

All our UK bats – 18 different species – eat insects. A single bat can eat up to 3,000 insects in a night, so the more insects you can attract to your garden, the more likely it is that you'll have bats visiting too.

Planting a wide range of native trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers will attract a large variety of different insects. Night-scented plants, such as nicotiana, honeysuckle, jasmine and night-scented stock are particularly good as these sweet smelling flowers will attract night-flying insects. Pale blooms are useful too, as they are easier for insects to see as light fades at dusk.


Shrubs and perennials can be planted now, ready to bloom next spring – you could either create a dedicated bat border, or dot plants in amongst existing flower beds.


Just like birds, bats need a place to roost. The Bat Conservation Trust offers instructions for an easy-to-make bat box – and older children should enjoy helping to make one. Or you can buy boxes ready made. Position your bat box as high as possible, preferably in a sheltered, sunny spot and close to hedges or trees – bats use these features for navigation, so will find their way to the box more easily.

Boy holding a bug

Plant bulbs

Autumn is the time to plant spring bulbs – and putting in a little effort now could give you some beautiful splashes of colour in the garden come next spring.

Crocus

Crocuses, snowdrops and grape hyacinths are brilliant bulbs to plant for bees – insects emerging from hibernation in early spring will welcome the feast of nectar these flowers provide.


Plant your bulbs in a flower border, a patio pot or the lawn. If planting in your lawn, try creating interesting shapes such as circles and spirals – or children can spell out their name or initials using bulbs.

Make a toad abode

Why not create a cosy home for a toad? Dig a small hole in a shaded area of your garden (under trees is ideal) and position a plastic or terracotta plant pot on its side in the hole. Bury it halfway then put in some damp leaves or moss.


Toads are more likely to take up residence if you have a pond – and having a few wilder and untidy corners, such as long uncut grass or piles of twigs and leaves, will give toads somewhere to shelter and hide.


Toads love compost heaps, too – as do slow worms. Slow worms are often mistaken for snakes but are actually long, legless lizards. Try putting squares of carpet or small logs on top of the compost heap – if you lift them carefully on a warm, sunny morning you may be lucky enough to spot a slow worm hiding underneath!

Make a cake for the birds

Bird cake is cheap and easy to make, and birds benefit from this high-energy food. You'll need 250g suet or lard and 500g dry ingredients: any mixture of birdseed, peanuts (omit if you suffer from a nut allergy), oats, grated cheese and dried fruit.


Soften the suet or lard for a few seconds in the microwave, then add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly with a spoon or your fingers. Press into plastic containers – old yoghurt pots and margarine tubs are ideal. Leave in a cool place overnight to set, then tip out onto the bird table.


To make a hanging bird cake feeder, make a small hole in the bottom of an empty yoghurt pot, and thread a piece of string through, knotted at one end, before filling with bird cake mixture. This can then be hung upside-down from a tree or bird table.

Blue tit on bird feeder

Little Green Space October 2017