The UK is a country that by and large loves nature. This could be because the Brits are known for backing the underdog. We cheer on David rather than Goliath and hope Oliver does indeed get ‘more’. So in the 21st century perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when most of us back nature against the overwhelming power of humanity.
For those that want to help, the best tool they have is their garden. Now when I say garden, I don’t necessarily mean a huge area with room for a pond. Gardens that help wildlife don’t have to be big to make a difference for nature.
No garden at all
I’m going to start with those of us with no garden at all. For seven years I lived in a flat with no garden but there were still things I could offer wildlife.
Even for people who live in city high-rise flats or houses with little space at the front or back, there are still things that you can do to help wildlife. In fact, your contribution may be the most important because you could provide a real oasis in the urban desert. Some of the things you can do include:
- Window box
Perhaps it’s a cliche, but window boxes are still one of the best and cheapest ways to help wildlife. Having a small mixture of flowers that offer nectar in the day and the night offers food and even a home for insects.
Don’t underestimate the power of fresh water in the city especially during hot days. Even insects such as honey bees need to collect water. You can create a water sauce out of an old large plastic bottle.
- Holes in the wall
On a vertical wall, a few holes here and there can offer an excellent home for a mason bee. These are solitary species of bee that live on their own in holes in the brickwork where the female raises her young. Offering just a few holes can make a difference. Plus, the bee is a pollinator which is excellent news for your flower basket. Now you’ve offered the mason bee food and a home, but what about other invertebrates?
- Climbing plants
Although you have no horizontal garden you could use your vertical one. Having a wall-plant such as ivy (Hedera helix) grow on you wall offers a great home for many insects. In winter too, the plant can offer spaces where invertebrates can rest and hibernate.
I have a small garden
Many houses across the UK off a small space either at the front or the back of the house and there’s a whole host of small things you can do for nature in these places.
Just like with the flat, water can be a great starting place. It doesn’t need to be much, just a bird bath or even a plant pot saucer will go a long way to help nature. Birds won’t just use this as drinking water but also as bathing water too.
The term ‘weed’ can cover a huge range of flowers that are often native and can offer a great source of food, shelter and even a place where insects can raise their offspring. Having a small patch of ‘weeds’ can be a massive help to wildlife. And the best part is that controlling their spread can help diversity as a whole so that one species can’t overrun the others.
Having a small pile of bricks or stones in the garden offer an excellent home for beetles, spiders, woodlice and more. Having an even larger pile can even offer a home to frogs, toads and newts. They shelter during the day and then come out at night to hunt for food.
Medium/ large garden
For people with medium or large gardens, the same actions as stated above can be done on a much bigger scale. But ‘bigger scale’ isn’t always a good thing. Take bee hotels as an example – recent studies have suggested that when you create a huge bee hotel and have dozens of solitary bees living close to each other, it increases the chances of disease. Bees living in a hole in a wall by themselves are therefore less likely to encounter disease. You could say that they are in ‘isolation’ for the same reason as we are at the moment.
The other potential misconception about larger gardens is that if you want them to be good for nature, the best thing to do is let it grow wild. But this may not be the case. A BBC documentary headed up by Chris Packham looked into just this idea and found that of all the gardens surveyed for wildlife, the ‘wild garden’ had the lowest biodiversity.
This is because our gardens are tiny slithers of nature. They are missing the big players of the ecosystem such as deer, cattle and wild boar. In these circumstances, what often happens is the a few plant species dominate the others. With fewer species of plants, there are fewer types of invertebrate.
So the best strategy for a wildlife garden is one with the most microhabitats. Such micro-habitats could include:
- Nocturnal flower patch
- Native flower bed
- Fruit tree
- Larger trees
- Area of very short lawn
- Area of medium length grass
- Area of very long grass
- Boggy area
- Compost heap
- Holes in the wall
- Pile of bricks and stones
- Wintering flowers
A different community of creatures and plants can live in each of these places. With more species of invertebrates able to live in the garden, the more food is available for birds.
Enjoy ALL nature
When watching nature through our window, we all have our favourites. It could be robins or butterflies, whatever it is each of us has something we truly enjoy watching.
For every species we enjoy watching, there are others that not everyone likes. Magpies, sparrowhawks and slugs all fit into this category because their way of life comes into conflict with ours. But the truth is that although these creatures can seem harsh, they play a vital role in nature. The best way to prevent their affects from becoming detrimental is to have a fully working ecosystem with as many players as possible. The best way to do that is to offer as many different niches and micro-habitats as possible.
The more you watch these creatures, the more you see how they fit into the ecosystem and how they also have struggles, successes and babies to feed.
Over to you
Anyone in the UK can do something for wildlife in their garden, even when they don’t have a garden! During lockdown is the perfect time to start and see what nature is sharing your home with you. If all households did just one thing for nature, it would have a huge impact on the natural world.
Next time – Do more things locally
We take a look at what our lives could be like after the COVID-19 pandemic and how aspects of lockdown could benefit us and nature in the future.