[GUIDE] How to make your garden wildlife friendly

Fox

Wild gardening – how to make a wildlife garden

In this post I’m going to run through some of the best ways to help wildlife thrive in your garden or outside space. Our natural surroundings have been in crisis for quite some time. Due to some recent events around the world like the Coronavirus (COVD-19) people are starting to pay attention.

“A third of British wild bees and hover flies are in decline, according to a new study.” (1)

Lavender

During a period that is known as the next ‘mass extinction’, you may wonder how you can help? It has been the collective behavior of humanity that has got us into this mess, it can get us out of it.

This time we need to make positive impacts to our local environment instead of negative ones. A great way to do this is in your garden.

Not only does creating a garden for insects help the planet, it also creates a beautiful area bursting with life that you can enjoy.

Bee's pollinating lavender
Bee’s pollinating lavender

Making a wildlife garden is not as difficult as you might expect. Like anything the more effort you put into your wildlife garden, the more rewarding the experience will be.

We will be covering some ways to attract and promote wildlife in your garden using eco friendly methods.

Techniques like:

  • Building bird boxes and using bird feeders
  • Letting your garden grow wild
  • Growing climbing plants that help wildlife
  • Building an insect habitat/hotel
  • What a pond can do to help bring wildlife to your gardening
  • Composting
  • Supporting nocturnal wildlife
  • Growing flora & fauna that support insect populations
  • Leaving areas of your garden ‘untouched’

Are great ways to help wildlife in your garden, yard or other outdoor space.

Composting
Composting

Using a combination of these methods you will help support your local ecosystems & build a nature friendly garden. If everyone practiced these methods we could make a huge positive impact & learn to live with nature rather than destroy it.

Building bird boxes ans where to put them

New bird boxes about to be put up

Birds are great creatures to bring to your garden. They are not only wonderful to watch and listen too, they are also very effective at keeping insect populations under control. They can come in particularly handy when growing vegetables as they will pick off any intruding slugs, snails and other insects!

When to put up a bird box?

The best time to put up a bird box is during the autumn months. It is during these months that the majority of birds are looking for a suitable place to roost or feed.

This is especially so in the winter months when the cold sets in and shelter is paramount.

Autumn bird box
Autumn bird box

How to attract birds to your nesting box?

How to attract a bird to a bird box depends on some overall factors, and some special ones if you want to attract certain species. There are generally two types of nesting boxes; open faced and small hole nest boxes. The height and location to hang these then depends on the type of bird you would like to attract.

Should I put anything in the bird box, like nesting material?

No, birds can be quite fussy about what goes into their nests. They will spend a long time picking out the right material for the right job. Adding anything to the nest box will likely disrupt the bird, possibly making them move to another nesting site.

Nesting birds
Nesting birds

What kind of wood is used for bird boxes?

In the UK you should use untreated FSC (2) wood. FSC stands for Forestry Stewardship Council and this means the product you are about to use has met the requirements of the FSC. Meaning it is safe for use in things like birds boxes.

Provided the wood is also thick, in good condition and untreated you can use it to build your bird house. Always stay away from pressure treated wood as the chemicals used during manufacture are harmful to birds.

Where should I place the bird box & in what direction should it face?

You should not place a bird house just anywhere! There are some specific requirements you can stick too that will help your chance of having some birds settle in your home made nest box. After all, if the nest box is not correct birds will not want to stay there.

compass
compass

The direction a bird house should face is between North and East, facing it at this heading will keep the entrance from direct sunlight, wind and rain.

You should place your nest box according to whether or not its a:

1: Open faced nest box

Open face bird box
Open face bird box

An open faced nest box is best situated around one to two meters from the ground. You can hang these from a wall, fence or tree that has some vegetation to offer protection from predators. Open faced nest boxes are usually used for Robins, Pied Wagtails or sometimes Wrens too.

2: Small hole nest box

A small hole nest box is used to attract a wider variety of bird, you can adapt the design to suit many specific species. The main factors that determine what species it attracts are the size of the entrance hole & the height its placed at.

Small hole bird box
Small hole bird box

If you have a specific bird in mind, try checking out the website for the RSPB, the British authority on Wild Birds.

What colors attract birds to bird boxes?

Colours that attract birds to a nest are colours that keep them and their young safe! If you want birds to take your nest seriously, you will have to refrain from painting it too brightly. A bright nest stands out and can be identified by predators more easily.

Unless otherwise specified for a particular bird, you always try to paint your water based exterior latex paint as this is not toxic to animals. The best colors are browns or greens, this should only be applied to the exterior of the bird house. The interior of the bird box should be left unpainted.

Can you use treated wood for bird houses?

No, you should only ever use wood that has the FSB certified logo. The majority of wood treatments are toxic to animals.

Why birds might not be using your bird box

There are many reasons why birds may not be using your nest box, have a look around and try to put yourself in the mind of the bird. Is the nest box well hidden and safe? Does the paint job make it stand out?

Like any animal, birds are looking for somewhere safe, dry and comfortable. If your nesting box doesn’t meet one of those requirements then birds are not going to nest there.

Cautious bird
Cautious bird

Should bird boxes be cleaned out?

Bird boxes should only be cleared out once the birds have finished with it for the year. Any other interference will likely result in the nest being abandoned. This is especially tragic if the nest has young in it as they will be abandoned along with the bird box.

Can you put bird boxes next to each other?

Yes, you can put bird boxes that is attracting another species close to another nesting box. There are some exceptions to this like Blue Tits. These are highly territorial birds and another nesting site should ideally not be within a 25ft radius.

Use your common sense, before you build your nest, a quick google search will quickly tell you if the species you want to attract to your garden are compatible.

Bird box summary

Birds are one of Britain’s treasured wild species, there is a great community of bird watchers across the country who are often involved in tracking birds and logging data in their own time, for the good of the bird populations.

They are also handy creatures to attract to your garden, especially if you grow produce as they will help you along the way. Birds make great pest control and are also great to watch when they are going about their business.

Let your garden go wild!

Wild flowers
Wild flowers

Letting your garden grow wild entirely, or partially can be very rewarding. Letting your garden go is a bit like letting your hair go, there is that awkward stage where it looks terrible! Then it drops and becomes flowing locks. It’s the same when you let your garden go wild and form naturally.

At first, it may just look like a mess of weeds and that’s because it is! It can take a while for a mini eco system to re-establish itself after years of being maintained and pruned. There are great benefits both to the wild life in your garden, and it’s aesthetic value.

Once wild flowers and insects establish their roles once more, you will begin to see a return of wild life. This environment is fantastic support to our pollinating species. Like, the bee who have seen a hard time over recent years.

Bee
Bee

Grow climbing plants

Climbing plants can offer shelter and protection for many species of birds and insects in Britain. The seeds and pollen offer a great food source for passing insects and the autumn leaves are a useful fertilizer.

Grow flowers and promote the growth of wild flowers

Growing pollinating flowers can help a garden flourish. This is because insects move from plant to plant carrying a plants pollen with them. This will pollinate many species of plant life allow the next generation to develop.

Stop weeding, for the most part

The attitude towards ‘weeds’ is changing but there are many plants that still suffer some stigma. There are some plants that are considered weeds that are not only beneficial to nature, they can also be utilized by humans.

dendelion
dendelion

One great example would be the humble dandelion because this plant is still shunned and removed from most gardens. It is a plant with some surprising properties. It is entirely edible, extremely nutritious and they are crucial to the bee population as a food source.

How to build an insect habitat/hotel for your gardening

Insect hotels are a past time for many people in Britain, whilst back in the day it was more of a cheap time killer to keep the kids entertained, today it holds a little more importance. The more we can help our insect community the better.

Insects are part of the foundation of the worlds ecosystems, if they go, we go…

With this in mind let’s explore how you can help insects in your garden. Offering them a place to stop over or even stay the night can help insect life, this is because something like a bee can take shelter during bad weather.

Something like this is usually described as an insect hotel or an insect habitat. You can experiment and create your own insect hotel, or you can follow a plan the choice is yours.

There are some methods and materials that are used often. We will cover some of those here to get you started helping the wildlife in your garden.

What materials should I use for my insect habitat?

Be resourceful, insects are not fussy creatures but remember to avoid plastics! There are no do’s or dont’s, get creative. The idea is to create a mix of nooks and crannies so that insets can take shelter in. Some popular things to use for insect hotel are:

  • Bamboo cut into short lengths and stacked
  • Old bricks, stones & fag stones
  • Piles of bracken & sticks
  • Logs of various stages of decay & size
  • Pile of dad matter like leaves
  • Old bird boxes

If you want to support bee’s then bamboo is your best option. This is because bee’s like to shelter during rain and wind and bamboo offers great protection. Different bee’s have size requirements, for example

• The leafcutter bees need holes to be approximately 1/4″ wide and 2 1/2 -4″ deep

• A Mason bee, needs holes that are around 6″ deep and about 5/16″ wide

Insect hotels can either me on the ground or suspended in a bush or tree

Where’s the best place to put an insect hotel – there isn’t one! You should make a few boxes and put them out in different places. This is because not all insects live at the same level, varying where you put them will help more wildlife.

A good technique is to get an old bird box & remove the front panel. Then fill the empty space with bamboo and bracken. Hang this in a tree or bush as a temporary hotel for bee’s and other flying insects.

Placing the insect hotel on the floor will provide shelter for a host of other insects and creepy crawlies! Any empty wooden item can be used to fill and stack in your garden space to provide safety and shelter.

What insects & bugs am I helping

By building an insect habitat, you are providing a source of safety and shelter for:

  • Bee’s (these guys really need out help right now!)
  • Beetles
  • Spiders
  • Ants
  • Caterpillars
  • Grubs
  • Worms
  • Centipedes
  • Millipedes
  • Butterflies
  • Green Lacewings
  • Crickets

Build a pond in your outside space

Supplying the environment with a water source can bring a larger variety of wildlife to your garden. The size of the pond will dictate what wildlife will turn up. Even building a small pond could see a huge increase in insects, birds, amphibians and mammals!

A moving water source is always preferred by most animals because it remains fresh, flowing water tends to contain more oxygen. A good size pond with a water feature to keep it moving could even bring a Heron or Crane to your garden.

How composting can help wildlife in your gardening

Composting helps wildlife by providing shelter and a food source for the insect world. A compost heap will attract worms, beetles, woodlice and a multitude of other insects. These insects provide a great food source for birds, frogs and even slow worms in some parts of the UK.

Composting also provides the environment that helps support other vital life forms such as mushrooms and other fungi. These are again a food source for birds and wildlife.

Leave an entrance clear for nocturnal wildlife

At night your garden comes alive with a hedgehogs favorite tasty treats! Before you go to bed spare a thought for the hungry night life that’s trying to support it’s family and leave an entrance or two into the garden for them.

By leaving a little entrance for natures nightlife you can eliminate annoying pests like slugs from your garden. Hedgehogs love slugs, badgers too and they will relish the opportunity to get into your garden and clear you gastropod problem!

Sources

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/nine-ways-to-build-a-wildlife-friendly-garden

https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/activities/build-a-birdbox/

http://www.birdhouses101.com/materials-used-building-birdhouses.asp

https://community.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/homesforwildlife/f/nestboxes/114247/how-close-can-bird-boxes-be

Fred

Author and Co-coordinator of The Back-Yard Farm. Hoping to change peoples attitude towards food consumption by documenting this journey right here. Join the Foodscaping backyard revolution

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