Making a Space for Nature
& what's best is most things can be done for FREE!
Gardening for Wildlife
A lot of wildlife has come to rely on our gardens as home, foraging ground and refuge and this includes our native European Hedgehog where now it would seem the majority of the population lives. This sounds wonderful but the hedgehog population is in crisis with drastic population declines over the last few decades and it is continuing to fall.
The issues in the countryside are a topic on their own but our suburbs, towns and cities landscape have also changed and not in favour of the hedgehog or wildlife. Many larger properties with long rambling gardens have been snapped up and redeveloped into housing estates. There has been a move to slab, deck and gravel gardens to extend the living area into the garden. Many ornamental plants have no wildlife benefit, hedges have become unpopular replaced by 'low maintenance' fencing. Chemicals are the gardeners weapon against any pesky insects and any native plant 'weed' is immediatly pounced upon with chemicals or garden fork.
Some of the issues.
Gravel Boards. Most new housing developments result in smaller gardens which in itself isn't the main issue, the issue is (especially for hedgehogs) that the gardens are separated by impenetrable gravel boards. A great idea to stop the bottom of the wooden fence panels from rotting but a major problem to ground dwelling species such as the hedgehog as it cannot get into the gardens.
Loss of Hedges. The humble hedge has become rather unpopular.replaced by the 'low maintenance fence'. In truth I don't think wooden fences are that low maintenance and they certainly won't last as long as a hedge but more importantly a hedge provides home and foraging for a lot of wildlife from insects, to birds, to the hedgehog.
Regimented Gardening. Planning the perfect garden seems to be a bit of an obsession. Colour coordinating the plants, putting the pants in the most aesthetic spot, demarcating planting 'islands' amidst seas of gravel or fancy paving and then consequently waging a constant battle on nature incase something 'unplanned' rears its head through the pea gravel. Chemicals keep those pesky insects and slugs at bay (if the flowers even attract insects which a lot of 'cultivated' ornamental plants don't) denying food for wildlife and in the case of slug pellets poisoning hedgehogs.
Now we all have our own ideas of how a garden should look and I am not suggesting that everyone should just abandon everything and let the garden grow into a jungle. There is a happy medium
Kids, Adults (& hedgehogs).
Just one other thing before we look at some simple ways to benefit wildlife in the garden including the hedgehog. I visit lots of schools talking about wildlife and hedgehogs in particular and....Kids LOVE hedgehogs! I don't take live hedgehogs in but they get to see lots of photographs and videos of hedgehogs. They awww and giggle and eyes light up when they see a video of hoglets. We all try to make our kids happy right? Well the knowledge that a hedgehog is visiting or maybe even living in the garden is guaranteed to make eyes sparkly. I also talk to children about the decline in hedgehog numbers and ask them how they feel. The answers are always the same, 'sad, upset'. Oh and by the way, adults when they come and talk to us at awareness events always tell us how sad they feel that they haven't seen a hedgehog in years.
So lets make everyone happy including the hedgehog!
Simple things we can do.
Garden Access. All it takes is a 4 to 5" square hole in a gravel board or fence (you can also now get a hedgehog friendly replacement for a gravel board) to allow a hedgehog to get into the garden. That's it. The dog isn't getting through that gap, the cat goes over the top of the fence but its just right for a hedgehog to get through. A hedgehog will travel through around ten or twelve gardens in a night so we really need to get gardens linked. If you start in your garden that is the first step but if you can get some of the neighbours to put the gaps in as well then this creates hedgehog corridors helping them move around gardens to find food and nest sites and it keeps them away from the danger of the road.
We have been working very hard with building developers to get them to consider hedgehog/wildlife access routes in new builds and I am happy to say that a number of developers are now starting to do this.. but we need more and we will be continuing with this campaign.
Wild Patches. OK we aren't trying to create a jungle here (unless you want one). All we are trying to do is find a balance between human wants and wildlife needs. That is also an important point. We want a garden a certain way, wildlife needs certain habitat otherwise it dies out. Hedgehogs are a prime example, they are declining rapidly. Remember those kids reactions to hedgehogs? Well I don't want to be the one to tell them, 'you will never see a hedgehog, they are all gone'. The garden can still be 'designed' but with a space incorporated into that design for wildlife.
Simple things to do in the garden to create wildlife habitat.
Let an area grow wild. Select an area (maybe at the top of the garden where you have put that gap in the fence) and let the grass grow, let native flowers and yes 'weeds' grow. This provides great habitat for insects, invertebrates and ground dwelling mammals such as the hedgehog. We often plant butterfly beneficial plants but the larval stage needs vegetation such as clover, nettles, thistles, grass. Without the habitat no larva, without the larva no butterflies.
Sow some wildflowers. There are a number of companies now that sell seed mixes and seed 'bombs' that contain a wide variety of native wild flowers. Select an area and try one of these out. I find it far more exciting to go out and discover an unexpected riot of colour from a native wildflower mix than knowing exactly what is going to grow and where because I hand picked and planted it. Nature is fabulous and has spent a lot longer than us developing these plants!
Plant some shrubs (a mini hedge!). Cover is important for wildlife and shrub cover provides damp, dark areas for insects, a refuge and food opportunities for birds and home and foraging for the hedgehog. Shrubs and hedges also provide safe corridors for wildlife. Bats even use hedges as motorways- following them on their nightly routes as we would a road. Speaking of bats... bats such as the common pipistrelle- a bat which has adopted the urban environment feeds on all the small insects you find clustered around ponds, compost heaps and in swirling insect clouds above hedges. If you are lucky and attract bats they will visit nightly with their aerial acrobatics, swooping down for small insects.
Again along one of those fences (maybe the new wild area you have at the top of the garden next to the new hedgehog friendly gap in the fence) plant some native shrubs.
Front gardens seem to have become flat boring open grass areas, a sort of no mans (and certainly not wildlifes) land, so why not plant some shrubs along the boarders. Creating a hedge can be quite expensive but start with a couple of shrubs. We planted around 17 Holly bushes along our front garden which could have been pretty expensive at £15 a shrub from the nursery, an amount of money we hadn't got. But, we visited the 'bargain corner', the space tucked away in the nursery where sorry looking plants and shrubs go to die. We payed around £3 per Holly bush from this corner and every one of them is now a thick healthy bush.
While touching on flat open no mans land you could add your voice for wildlife and ask your local council to consider letting some verges grow wild (important wildlife corridors), and also ask them to leave some of the grass in parks to grow along with the wild flowers- not every inch of grass needs to be mown to look like a bowling green.
Have a log pile, compost heap. This one is simple and free. Simply stack and let a load of cuttings, logs, leaves slowly decay. Hedgehogs and toads may well make their home in there, you get lots of mosses, lichens and fungi on there (fascinating in their own right to see), damp dark areas underneath all attract insects and providing food for invertebrates, birds and hedgehogs.
Poisons and chemicals aren't good for our wildlife. Slug pellets poisen and kill hedgehogs. So please look for alternatives instead of using a chemical. Nature always has the solution! Slugs can be a pest, but frogs and toads eat slugs.. natural 'pest' control. We can encourage frogs and toads into the garden by providing suitable habitat. A pond even a small one & compost heaps and log piles provide habitat as well.
If you have a vegetable plot in the garden make sure that any netting is kept taught and off the ground. Hedgehogs get tangled in loose netting very easily and often sustain injuries or could even die if not noticed. Also that battle with wildlife for our veg, well maybe protect what we want and then plant a little extra for wildlife. Why fight when you can compromise?
Ponds are great for providing habitat for invertebrates and insects and a drink for mammals such as the hedgehog. But please always make sure that there is one shallow slope so if a hedgehog falls in it can get out again. Hedgehogs are very good swimmers but they cannot swim for ever and sadly we do admit pond accident hedgehogs suffering from hypothermia and exahaution.
Before you work in the garden please check for wildlife including hedgehogs before you start.
Be it mowing long grass, strimming, digging, removing old growth or bushes, cutting back, even turning the compost there could be wildlife that has made its home there.A few minutes checking first saves wildlife from stress, injury and often death.
The shed can pose as much of a danger to wildlife especially hedgehogs as strimmers or garden mowers. Sheds provide a dark, sheltered, inviting space that hedgehogs will explore given half a chance. Hedgehogs will rummage in them and even try to make their home in there.
Ideally always ensure that the shed door is closed. We have had experiences of emacitated hedgehogs coming in to us after being trapped in a shed that hasn't been opened for a while. The owners opening the door to find a very poorly trapped hedgehog in there.
Sheds also pose threats through their contents. Sharp tools and chemicals not stored properly can cause serious injury, poisoning and death to hedgehogs.
Please always keep tools off the ground, hung on the wall or in tool boxes. Chemicals, fuel, paint etc also pose threats to hedgehogs causing burns and poisoning. So please keep them off the ground and preferably locked in a cupboard.
A 15 minute audio Podcast from me on Garden Dangers
Man made homes & feeders. Even if we have the perfect garden there will be times when natural food isn't abundant and in smaller gardens maybe there isn't as much habitat as wildlife needs- fairly impractical to have large mature trees in a small garden. So we can provide nesting opportunities and some food. Bird boxes, Bat boxes, Insect Hotels, Hedgehogs homes can all be purchased or made. There are lots of different feeders and food products on the market. With a little elbow grease most can be made at home at little cost and as long as the house is watertight, not draughty and is about the right comfy size a hedgehog doesn't care if it cost £60 from a garden centre or is made from some wood you had lying around the shed. Bird feeders can cost lots of money, £1 from the pound shop or can be made out of things like empty pop bottles- again it only us that cares about the cost/appearance not the birds! Just remember to keep them clean. Water can be left out in something like a crock plant saucer.
We often applaud large organisations that carry out conservation work, or decry plans that result in the loss of green belt etc. We may feel powerless to affect policy which has a detrimental effect on our countryside and wildlife, but.... everyone who has a garden is a landowner and with a little thought can make changes that bring benefits to wildlife. It doesn't matter if you have a hankerchief sized garden or three acres, because pennies make pounds and lots of wildlife gardens when added together can make a real positive impact for our native wildlife.
This isn't intended to be an exhaustive guide to creating a wildlife friendly garden, just a start- food for thought.
There are lots of useful rescources on the internet and these are just a few handy starter links including information on gardening for; frogs, toads, bats, birds, insects & hedgehogs. Also some links to wildflower mix suppliers, wildlife food and home suppliers & Wildlife Gadgetman projects in the garden!
Spikes World, Ark Wildlife, Bill Oddie's Birdfood and Meadow in my Garden have all supported us with our Schools Wildlife Garden Willows Wildlife Corner project so good to support companies that support wildlife endevours.