There are approximately 22.5 million gardens in the UK. They come in a huge range of sizes and extravagance, anything from a hectare in size to a few square metres and whilst some support orchards, rockeries and ponds, others may be completely bare and devoid of any life at all.
Gardens are undoubtedly one of the most widespread habitats in the UK, if indeed you can classify them as a defined ‘habitat’, given the variety of features found within them. Even within the most urban environments, gardens are able to create a small green oasis amongst the tarmac and concrete sprawls of our major cities and whilst garden numbers diminish outside of towns and cities, this usually makes way for an increase in semi-natural habitats such as woodlands, hedges and other small spaces that haven’t been turned by the plough. This increase in garden habitats moving from the countryside to the towns and cities therefore presents an opportunity to provide a ‘buffer’ against the effects that urbanisation has upon wildlife.
According to the RHS, gardens cover about 270,000 hectares in the UK. To put that into context, there is less than 15,000 hectares of unimproved meadow grassland habitat remaining in the UK (a 97% reduction since the 1930’s). With this in mind, consider that if everyone with a garden converted just 10% of their garden to a wildflower meadow, then the total amount of meadow grassland habitat in the UK could effectively treble!
Whilst many gardens can only ever be ‘islands’ of green space, cut-off from the wider countryside and unable to support less mobile wildlife, they can be incredibly important for some crucial declining species, such as bees. By making our gardens into a snack stop for bees, butterflies, hoverflies and birds, their mobility and range means that they can make a home even in the the most urban landscapes.
There is a huge amount of potential for wildlife in that green or grey space next to your house and not just for common species, but those that are in a serious state of decline. Below are some top tips on how to improve the value of your garden for wildlife:
- Establish a pond! Any pond will do, even one that is no more than glorified puddle has value as long as it holds water for at least 9 months of the year. Ponds are the most biodiverse habitats in the UK (they are capable of supporting a greater variety of life per square metre than any other habitat). If possible, the more natural the pond the better and The Ecology Co-op can establish natural ponds for you if necessary – just Contact us.
- Go native! Ornamental shrubs, flowers and trees may look pretty and indeed when in bloom a variety of pollinating insects may visit them, but nothing beats native plants, which offer a food source for a much wider variety of birds and invertebrates that have evolved alongside these plants for potentially tens of thousands of years. Some great native shrubs include guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), Wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana), dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) and if you live near to the coast sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) can make a colourful and locally relevant alternative.
- Sow a wildflower meadow! Wildflower meadows are hugely valuable to declining bees and butterflies. This is due to the flowers that are produced by different plants within the sward across a broad range of the spring and summer. The key for establishing a wildflower meadow is that the ground must be reasonably infertile – a great way to use up a sandy, stony or other area of poor ground that will not support a traditional lawn or flower bed and at very little cost. Wildflower meadows should be established using only native seed mixtures and at the right time of the year. A good seed mixture and establishment guide can be found at wildseed.co.uk however if you wish to establish a large wildflower meadow and require assistance, the Ecology Co-op has considerable experience in this process, so please contact us.
- Rewilding! The process of re-wilding is an alternative to a designed ecologically beneficial habitat. It is simply to mark off a section of garden space and leave it to grow as it pleases. It is often not popular because so many gardens will simply establish large bramble patches, which are considered unsightly, however dense cover such as this is a haven for nesting birds.
- Break down barriers! The fences and walls we build may provide us with with our privacy in our own gardens, but there features are a barrier to the movement of some declining species, such as hedgehogs and reptiles. As some wildlife is squeezed into ever smaller spaces, the ability to move and forage across successive gardens can be crucial, particularly for hedgehogs. By cutting out a small access in the bottom of your wooden panel fence that is just 10cm wide and 10cm high, you may be able to provide access for hedgehogs, whilst still preventing the neighbours German shepherd from getting at your pet rabbit….
- Plant hedges! Hedges are a great alternative to fences and walls, in part because they are better as a wind break (the wind will simply swirl as it pushes over the top of a wall or fence), but also because of the colour they can provide, the nesting birds they can support and the invertebrates that feed upon them. As ever, native is certainly the best and a good native hedge should ideally consist of at least 50% hawthorn (Crategous monogyna) or blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). Good suitable hedge mixtures can be ordered from here – http://www.hedgingplantsdirect.co.uk. If possible, hedges should be planted at a density of five plants per linear metre.
Hopefully the above has inspired you to look at your garden a little differently and consider it as not just a refuge for your own leisure, but as a home for wildlife as well.