Whether you live in the heart of the city or out in the countryside, your garden is often the perfect place to escape your daily pressures and worries. It is also a home to wildlife guests quietly searching for shelter or feeding opportunities.
Studies show that UK is losing wildlife at an alarming rate, and between 1970 and 2013, 56% of species were in decline. Therefore, it is necessary to act quickly to restore our local habitats to encourage nature to thrive.
According to Wildlife Trust, there is estimated 24 million gardens in the UK, and making animals feel at home can make a big difference to their survival. In this blog, we explore what animals you should be attracting to your garden, as well as how and why building a wildlife friendly garden is important.
Benefits of attracting animals to your garden
Be it a lovely big lawn, or even just a balcony full of potted plants, you can provide food and shelter for animals making the most of your green space.
From bees and butterflies to birds and small mammals, all your initiatives will make a difference, making your oasis even more special for you and your visiting critters.
Help the declining wildlife population
World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Report 2020 revealed a 68% drop in wildlife populations worldwide, issuing a stark warning for animal populations and for the planet as a whole.
You can play a vital role in saving the endangered species on your very own doorstep. With a little work, you could not only improve your garden, which in turn contributes to your wellbeing but also satisfy the needs of the vulnerable animals, helping them survive.
Restore and protect wildlife habitats
According to recent reports, the UK is facing the degradation of habitats. This greatly affects the natural balance which is essential for crop production. Pollinating insects are vital for increasing the quality of yields, whereas birds, amphibians and hedgehogs control the slug and snail populations that enjoy feasting on those crops.
Contributing to garden biodiversity will attract a greater variety of insects and wildlife, which helps towards restoring a natural balance in your local ecosystem.
Improve your mental health
Attracting wildlife into your garden will not only help you connect to nature but also recharge your mental and emotional batteries.
Attention Restoration Theory (ART), published in 1989 and 1995 by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, states that natural environments can help people overcome mental fatigue.
In other words, by simply connecting to nature, you will feel refreshed, improve your concentration and reduce stress and anxiety.
What Animals Should You Be Attracting to Your Garden?
Hedgehogs play a key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, controlling slugs, snails and insect populations. However, their numbers have fallen by 50% since the year 2000, according to the BBC.
Attract hedgehogs into your garden by making it a hot spot for the slugs, snails and bugs that they like to munch on. You have the best chance of spotting them between April and October. Preparing your garden early will ensure they feel at home.
To do so, make sure you:
- Water your garden regularly – wet soil provides a favourable condition for slugs and snails to retain body moisture. They are highly susceptible to dehydration.
- Include wooden logs and large stones in your garden as they make ideal shelter.
- Leave a corner of your grass uncut when you mow your lawn. Tall grass provides plenty of hiding space and is a haven for small bugs and insects too.
Toads, frogs and newts
Those little amphibians like damp shady environments, and are usually attracted to features like ponds, compost heaps and log piles.
Although building a pond might require some work, it is certainly a rewarding project. According to research by the University of Exeter, even just looking at images of water makes people feel calmer. Therefore, spending time in your garden with even the smallest of water sources will not only improve your physical and mental health, but also it is said to reduce your blood pressure too.
According to the Young People’s Trust for the Environment, amphibians – newts in particular – are in decline. So, if you spot one in your garden, consider adding some aquatic plants to encourage a breeding friendly environment around your water source, which usually occur in early spring between March and April.
According to RSPB, the number of birds is in decline as well. There are many factors that contribute to this decline, but urban expansion is an important one to mention. Growing housing developments has contributed to increasing biodiversity loss, along with the fragmentation of natural habitats, British Trust of Ornithology reports.
Therefore, providing bird boxes can be a wonderful way of introducing shelters into nature. Natural nesting sites are becoming increasingly difficult for animals to find. Your garden can give them a safe place to settle.
Bees are responsible for the pollination of nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food. Therefore, their role in the ecosystem cannot be ignored. Their services make food production possible, while also contributing to genetic and biotic diversity.
However, bees are also in decline, and beekeepers are often reporting entire colony losses in countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and further afield too.
To give them a fighting chance to thrive incorporate pollen-rich plants such as lavender, honeysuckles and foxgloves in your garden. Small bee gardens can be established across yards and in window boxes, flowerpots, and planters – every little helps.
For butterflies, calendula, daylily and butterfly bush are some of the friendliest and inviting plants you could incorporate in your garden. Other plants such as lavender and gardenia will not only add to the calming atmosphere with their lovely fragrance, but help them thrive in your garden.
Butterflies are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Like bees, they are plant pollinators, which means they help fruits, vegetables and flowers to produce new seeds.
Red squirrel is one of the UK’s rarest mammals, with the UK population around 140,000, compared to several million grey squirrels.
To help them survive, human intervention is required. You could start by planting some shrubs and trees that make up part of their natural balanced diet. Try including brambles, crab apple, hawthorn, holly, yew and rosehip.
Also, embrace a natural garden in some key spots, instead of meticulous landscaping in every aspect of your outdoor space. Leave part of your grass uncut, don’t collect twigs so regularly, or simply put a small pile of small sticks at the back of your garden for red squirrels to use for the home building.
Lizards and other reptiles
Gardens have become an important habitat for reptiles, with compost heaps being one of their favourite environments. In autumn, they are known to hide in piles of logs or leaves.
A bit of rewilding is good for biodiversity; therefore, it is important not to tidy up your garden and remove the leaves, especially after October as reptiles shouldn’t be disturbed during their hibernation period. It takes them longer to recuperate if they have to become active during this time.
Some UK species of reptiles are also protected by law, including a sand lizard and the smooth snake, and by providing a suitable environment to their survival, you are protecting an important part of your local ecosystem.
The Hazel dormouse is seriously endangered, with its population decreasing in the UK by 75% over the last 25 years. This is mainly due to the fact that the increasingly warm winter months cause the dormouse to awake from the hibernation too early, causing distress.
To help boost their numbers, all you need to do is provide a safe and cosy environment for a long winter snooze. You can achieve this by allowing your bramble to grow, leaving ivy on trees and piling up logs.
Foxes have become frequent visitors in the gardens across the UK, providing a valuable interaction with wildlife and encouraging people to protect natural habitats for other animals.
It is estimated foxes only survive between one and three years in cities, with road accidents being the most common cause of death. With colder months, it is important to ensure they have an easy access to natural food sources to stop them from exploring further areas and potentially endangering themselves.
Winter berries, including juniper is a tasty food source for them. They are also drawn to safe water supply so having a pond or a fountain will attract some of those night-time visitors.
Rabbits have nutrient dense urine that can help revitalise soil, a contributing factor to the healthy food chain. When they can’t find their favourite foods like fresh grass, hay, leaves, vegetables or fruits during the winter, you will find rabbits nibbling on the bark of trees and buds of the bushes.
To keep them happy during the colder months, it’s a good idea to leave part of your grass uncut and stay away from any harmful pesticides.
Gardening and landscaping are perfect hobbies that can not only help you stay fit and healthy, but improve your mental wellbeing too. Moreover, making your garden a friendly spot for wildlife, including birds, mammals and insects will keep valuable green spaces thriving, protecting the natural habitats.
According to the UN, the square footage of all the buildings in the world will double by 2060, so by taking action now, you’re protecting our greenspaces around the globe, contributing to urban biodiversity.
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Guest post written by Ed Powell
Ed Powell is a landscaping expert and the founder and director of steellandscapingco.co.uk