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TOP TEN TIPS FOR MAKING YOUR GARDEN MORE WILDLIFE FRIENDLY

There's much to see here.   So, take your time, looking below, and find a useful contribution to thinking  about WILDLIFE. We hope you value our thoughts and take a moment to tell us what you think at our next meeting.

1 - LOOK AT YOUR GARDEN

Take a few minutes to look at your garden. Is there anywhere for wildlife to feed and drink, shelter or nest and raise a family?  Are there any flowers or small bushes, a hedge or even a small tree? Adding flowers, shrubs, trees and even a pond to the garden could provide wildlife with what they need and you will have a more colourful and varied place in which to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

2 - Provide a fuel stop for bees and butterflies

Flowers provide vital food for bees and butterflies. Bees gather pollen and nectar from flowers between March and October each year. You can grow cultivated varieties of flowers in your garden from seed, buy pot grown plants from garden centres or supermarkets or swap plants with friends. If you buy flowering plants try to find plants that are in biodegradable pots rather than plastic ones.

When you see a flower you like, check that if you were a bee you could fly into the centre of a single flower where that all important pollen and nectar will be! Bees can't access double flowering varieties. 

Think about growing wildflowers in your garden too. Again, you can buy wildflower seed mixes or single varieties in packets to suit gardens in all sorts of situations - sunny, open sites or shady ones. You can find out more about this in the 'Lazy Lawns' section

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3 - A HOME FOR BIRDS

Many birds like robins, blue tits or blackbirds  visit gardens between March and July each year looking for suitable nesting sites so they can lay their eggs and raise young chicks. You can help them by buying a nest box online or at a garden centre. 

Robins and blackbirds like open fronted boxes but blue tits and great tits need the right size hole so they fit through (slightly larger for the great tit).  There is information online.

You could also make your own bird box: https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/activities/build-a-birdbox/    

Fix your bird box 2-4 metres up on a wall or tree, facing between north and east to avoid strong sunlight, wind and rain.  Boxes are better on a tree as when the chicks emerge they will have small branches to perch on as they take their first flights.

4 - LAZY LAWNS - Give up the close shave

Leave your lawn grass to grow a little longer and try not to mow it so often. Longer grass means less work for you and the grass will thrive, even in long spells of dry weather or extreme rain. You may also get spring & summer flowers on the lawn by leaving it to grow naturally from April and not mowing again until any flowers have set seed, by August. Over time as you mow and remove cuttings more flowers will appear.  Alternatively, only mow an area you need for activity or to sit in and leave longer grass around that.       

Before you mow, walk around the lawn to check that no small animals like frogs or small toads are hiding in it. If possible leave the edges to grow longer. Strimmers can shred small animals and destroy the eggs and caterpillars of emerging butterflies as well as bee nests in the ground. Leave longer edges and hand cut with shears where you want an edge. Crickets and grasshoppers need a variety of lengths of grass to live in so they too will like an open lawn with some longer grass left at the edges. https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/giveyourmowerarest/                                

Consider planting wild meadow flowers in a small area (1 metre x 1 metre) and see what grows. British meadow flowers that will come back each year (perennial flowers) and grow well in this area are common knapweed, meadow cranesbill, birds foot trefoil, cowslip and ox-eye daisy.                   

 A wildflower called yellow rattle will reduce the vigour of grasses to make room for
others but it can be a challenge to grow. The seed needs a cold spell (minus 6 degrees to germinate or start growing) and it may not do well in every situation. Don't worry if seed doesn't take you can then try planting small plug plants of yellow
rattle or other wildflowers that you can buy online from specialist suppliers. Plug plants will give your meadow a head start.  https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/discover-wild-plants-nature/how-to-grow-yellow-rattle-rhinanthus-minor  

Mow annually, once the seed has dropped, in August and then remove the cuttings each year (just as farmers used to cut hay from meadows). If the meadow area does well then extend the patch each year - the bees and other pollinators will thank you for it!

5 - WANTED - MORE TREES IN AVON!

You can plant small trees, like this hawthorn, in a medium sized garden. Trees provide much needed shade in summer and protect valuable soil beneath them. Hawthorn has prickly stems so plant it in a less used space in the garden. It has white blossom in spring that the bees will love and produces deep red high-energy fruits for birds and small animals in autumn.  

Why buy fruit from a supermarket when you can grow your own! Productive trees that you often find in gardens are those that produce hard fruits like apples and pears and softer fruit, like plums. There are many varieties of apple trees, some produce apples early in the autumn season and others right up to late winter!     

If you plant a young plum or pear tree it might take four years before you get a good crop of fruit but if you are patient you will be rewarded and so will the wildlife that visit your garden! From then on for decades you will have plentiful fruits every year. You can also grow crab apple trees. Crab apples are loved by birds that visit your garden and bees like the pollen.  All these trees do well in West Country gardens.      Other small hardy trees that produce wonderful berries might be rowan, hawthorn, or holly.  There are varieties of self-fertile holly trees that mean you don't need to have two holly trees near each other - a male and female tree - to produce good berries. One popular self-fertile variety is J.C. Van Tol. All these trees will generally not grow more than 15-20 feet high. The native hawthorn you can plant in your garden has a long Latin name of-  Crataegus monogyna. This is the variety that produces white blossom in spring and deep red berries in autumn. It grows in many of our hedgerows and provides pollen for bees and other pollinators and its berries provide a food source for birds in autumn and over winte

6 - WATER FOR WILDLIFE

Even in the smallest garden you can add water for wildlife. If you don't have room for a pond then filling a large, shallow terracotta pot holder with water and adding some small stones (so that wildlife can gauge the depth) is one way to help. It's important, as the water is static and there is no fountain to bring oxygen to it, that you change and refresh the water once a week. This way of bringing water to wildlife is particularly helpful in hot weather. I've often seen blackbirds bathing in this way.  

Create Your Own Pond: Where ponds are concerned the larger the better for wildlife.  A pond that is 1 metre wide, 2 metres long and 0.5 metre's deep is likely to support frogs, newts and other wildlife.  Do line it so the water doesn't seep away. You will need some 'oxygenating' plants that grow in the water to help keep it healthy.  Hornwort is good as it is found in the wild in the UK.  

If you dig a shallow ledge (15 cm in depth) right round the pond then this shelf will be perfect for plants like marsh marigold, sedge or water-forget-me-knot.  Leave a quarter of the shelf free of plants, with some gravel or small stones so birds at the surface can access it to both drink and bathe and so keep their feathers in good condition by loosening the dirt in the water. Make sure that there are a series of large stones in the deepest part of the pond that reach the surface so that any wildlife that should fall in (i.e. hedgehogs) can get in and out of the pond, if necessary.

Finally, plants that can be planted direct into the soil around the pond might be ragged robin, purple loosestrife and yellow iris.  They will help to shade the water a
little and provide leaves for dragonflies and damselflies to bask in the sun. If you are
lucky dragonflies may lay their eggs in the pond and hatch out again next year!  There is plenty of advice on how to create ponds of all sizes online: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-pond

7 - GREEN YOUR GARDEN

If you have a small space grow climbing plants that flower, near walls and fences. This will help soften the look of your garden and attract bees.  Plants like honeysuckle or clematis will do well against a sunny wall and flower in late spring and summer. If you have a shady wall then plant a shrub version of ivy, Hedera helix 'Arborescens'.  This plant will not climb but grow to a bushy three feet tall. Its glossy evergreen leaves will provide shelter and food for birds and insects. Ivy has yellow-green flowers in autumn and winter that provide much needed nectar for insects like honeybees and red admiral butterflies. Moths may hibernate in it in winter.                          

 If you have room, plant shrubs/trees that wildlife have been using as a food source for centuries. Plants like hazel and hawthorn would normally grow in hedgerows but need to be seen in our gardens too. Hazel has lovely pollen-filled catkins in late winter/early spring and bees will be grateful for this food source so early in the year.                                                                                                        Finally, add a wild dog rose to scramble over a quiet corner too.  Wild roses have a delicate scent and pink and white flowers and are the traditional summer food of many British bees.

8 - bUGS DESERVE HOMES TOO!

All kinds of bugs from beetles to spiders have a part to play in a healthy garden. You can help them by making sure your garden has a pile of old wood or autumn leaves in it so they can find somewhere to hibernate over winter. You can even build a 'bug hotel' made from reused plastic, old cardboard, old wood, bricks with holes, old canes, and dried grasses or hay - offering places for hibernation, shelter and egg laying. 

Clear paths of autumn leaves for your own safety but try to resist being too tidy in the garden. Don't mechanically blow leaves away, let leaves stay where they fall; they are nature's compost and will rot down over winter and help fertilize the soil. Piles of logs may provide a winter home for a toad or frog. https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/build-a-bug-hotel/

Make Compost: Insects and worms play their part in recycling plant materials in the garden.  You can start collecting plant based food waste from the kitchen like old vegetable peelings and add twigs, some old leaves and annual weeds from your  garden to and make your own compost heap. 

When the worms and insects have done their work and it is fully rotted down (this usually takes until the following year) you can spread it on it your garden beds and it will provide great nutrients for new planting and ensure your garden is healthy far into the future. https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/Resources/Info-Sheet/Top-tips-for-making-compost

9 - SAY NO TO CHEMICALS AND SLUG PELLETS

Having your garden free of slug pellets will help wildlife and make you feel better too.  By providing shelter, water and food for our wild pest controllers you will create a more natural balance in your garden. 

Some of our British wildlife love a diet of slugs and the toad is one. You can encourage toads to stay in your garden if you leave a pile of logs and autumn leaves about. Toads will hibernate over winter and emerge in spring to eat those pesky slugs! 

Forget all chemicals and chemical sprays, like weed-killers and you are on your way to saving the planet! Try instead having your garden beds brimming with permanent plants you do like, leaving less space for ones you may consider weeds and do not want. 

If you are a vegetable grower, instead of using chemicals, another trick you can employ is 'companion planting'. 'Companion' plants often have strong scents and can confuse insects by either attracting or repelling them. It's said that marigolds and nasturtiums grown near beans will deter aphids from attacking beans; garlic, onions or thyme grown near carrots will release odours that keep insects at bay. Lots more trials need to be done but you can read up online and try experimenting in your own garden. 

Why not try leaving small weeds and grasses if they happen to grow in your driveway.   Try not to reach for weed-killers. It's these tiny plants that many insects will have as a source of food. If you zap the weeds you are zapping the insects too - even those that insects that live in the soils below the paving. 

Recent reports that have assessed how British Wildlife is doing found that we have lost 60% of our insects in the last decades. Say no to pesticides! https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/State-of-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf). it's really important that we make our gardens pesticide and chemical fertilizer free now! Grow your own fertilizer from comfrey or nettles, instead of using artificial ones. 

See your garden as a place where all life is welcome.

10 - WELCOME TO HEDGEHOG STREET

The much-loved hedgehog can find itself stranded in a garden if it can't move through to feed elsewhere. Hedgehogs feed at night and can walk over a mile to find food like slugs, insects and worms. Like toads, they are the gardener's friend! 

Radio tracking studies have shown how far hedgehogs have to go to find food. Let's not be the generation that starve our hedgehogs out of existence. 

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society now think that to have a sustainable local population they need at least 220 acres of connected land to survive. This is many times the size of the average garden (150m) and why 'hedgehog highways' are so important. 

The Society advise that you can help hedgehogs move freely through your garden and create a 'highway' for them by making a hole 13cm x 13cm at the bottom of a wooden fence allowing hedgehogs to move further to find food. Talk to your neighbours about doing the same thing and make yours a Hedgehog Street! https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/link-your-garden/  Photos of blue tit and blackbird courtesy of Somerset Wildlife Photography.

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Written by Sarah Pitt

Written by Sarah Pitt

Written by Sarah Pitt

 Wildlife Gardener for 30 years, with thanks to the Carbon Capture and Biodiversity Group in Pill. 

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Written by Sarah Pitt

Written by Sarah Pitt

Photo courtesy of Somerset Wildlife Photography

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Written by Sarah Pitt

 Photo courtesy of Somerset Wildlife Photography .