Though they may be small sanctuaries amidst an urban jungle, gardens play a significant role in supporting native wildlife species and helping ecosystems to thrive. Whether you have an acre of land, a balcony, or a window sill, there are a multitude of ways in which you can help to make your green space a haven for wildlife.
Our feathered friends are likely the most obvious visitors to your garden. Blackbirds are recognisable by their gold-orange beaks, and proud song. This common species is a perfect example of sexual dimorphism, where the males and females appear different: adult males have ink-black feathers, while females (and juveniles) have speckled brown feathers. Oat flakes, meal worms, raisins and sunflower seeds are healthy choices for your bird feeder, and will be heartily enjoyed by these modern dinosaurs.
Despite often hiding in the undergrowth, minibeasts are the most abundant animals in your garden! These include chirping crickets, creeping centipedes, silk-weaving spiders, slippery slugs and snails, and many more. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, help a variety of plants to grow by transferring pollen between flowers as they harvest energy-rich nectar. Grow bluebells, forget-me-nots and primroses for spring, and comfrey, foxgloves and heather in the summer to encourage these fairy-like pollinators. If you enjoy getting crafty, try your hand at building a bug hotel! Drill beetle-sized holes into the ends of logs, and pile them up with pine cones, bundles of sticks and old bricks. Soon it will be teeming with six-legged life!
Warm summer evenings, when the stars begin to twinkle, are perfect for looking out for bats as they track insect meals by echolocation. Are you a night owl? If so, you may have noticed twitching noses snuffling through your garden under the cover of night. Badgers, foxes and hedgehogs are also nocturnal hunters: while badgers and hedgehogs seek out slimy worms, foxes prey upon unsuspecting rodents. Tie a camera trap to a tree or fence post at a few inches off the ground, making sure to clear any vegetation in the way of the lens. With luck, you might capture some late-night footage of these charismatic creatures. You can encourage hedgehogs into your garden by making a hog-hole in your fence, to allow hedgehogs safe passage during their night-time travels.
Reptiles and amphibians
The UK is home to six reptile species, two of which are most likely find their way into your garden: the slow worm, and grass snake. Despite its serpentine appearance, the slow worm is a legless lizard! The grass snake is a non-venomous species, with beautiful olive green scales, and a yellow band around its neck. Reptiles brumate over winter - this is a similar natural process to hibernation, the difference being that reptiles remain awake but become inactive. As ectotherms, they depend on external heat sources for warmth, which increases their energy levels. You can support these animals by building a hibernaculum: similar to a bug hotel, but underground! Dig a 1.5 x 0.5 m hole (smaller is great too), fill it with bricks, logs and vegetation, then overlay wooden planks and soil, which you can then use to plant native wildflowers! Alternatively, lay down carpet squares along the sunniest border of your garden; the warmth and shelter will provide respite for reptiles, and possibly amphibians too, such as frogs and toads. If you have an old ceramic basin (or any large watertight container), fill it with gravel, logs and pebbles; rainwater; hornwort and water crowsfoot (oxygenating plants); water lillies, marsh marigold or irises, and Carex grass. Surround it with climbable logs, and it will become a paradise for these warty, web-footed critters within no time at all.
See the Wildlife Society's recent posts about Garden Wildlife Week on their Instagram account: @uoswildlifesoc. Discover more about our Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation Science degree here. Or Wildlife Conservation and Animal Management here.