Garden Wildlife Week is taking place from the 6th to the 12th of June and provides a perfect opportunity to get stuck in and turn your garden into a haven that encourages, supports and protects your local wildlife. Garden wildlife expert Sean McMemeny, the founder of Ark Wildlife, has collated some top tips to help do just that.
Feed the birds
By providing food for birds in your garden, you can help ensure local species continue to thrive. When it comes to bird food, it is best to start by filling one feeder with sunflower hearts and another with peanuts. But bear in mind that diets vary greatly across different species. For example, sparrows and goldfinches enjoy seeds whereas woodpeckers aren’t seeded eaters at all – they prefer peanuts, fat, and even mealworms. While many birds will visit a seed feeder, they all have their preferences. Blue tits will seek out fat and suet, while great tits and robins opt for mealworms. Then again songbirds such as blackbirds and thrushes prefer fruit.
A bird box is a great option for all, as no garden is too small for one. Blue tits and house sparrows will flock to a bird box attached to the wall of a house.
Once you have set up your initial feed, and if you have the space, you can begin to offer a wider range of quality bird food set up at varying heights, such as ground, table and hanging feeders: this is known as ‘tiered bird feeding’, and will attract a higher diversity of species.
Plant flowers to help queen bees
Spring is when queen bees come out of hibernation, and begin to build future colonies. Queen bees use nectar and pollen from flowers to feed both themselves and their offspring. So by providing them with the right flowers, you can aid them in the pivotal role they play in nature’s life cycle.
Every garden regardless of size can be both bee-friendly and beautiful. Bees have a similar taste to humans, in that they favour flowers with bountiful open blooms and long flowering seasons. Examples of flowers generous in pollen and nectar include geraniums, lavender, open dahlias and globe thistle. Also, herbs such as marjoram, sage and chives and flowering shrubs like buddleia, cotoneaster and apple blossom.
A nice idea would be to make a bee ‘nectar filling station’. It’s simply a pot or pots filled with nectar giving flowers and a shallow dish of water (many may be surprised to know that bees need hydration too). Make sure you keep flowers blooming in the pot from March to September by changing them as they fade.
Help hedgehogs out of hibernation
In the UK, hedgehogs tend to come out of the hibernation between March and May. This can be a dangerous time for them when it is critical that they have access to food and water, and are protected from predators. Their most urgent need when emerging from hibernation will be fresh drinking water. To help with this, set up some water in a sturdy dish at ground level, as well as dry hedgehog food.
In the weeks after coming out of hibernation hedgehogs should begin to breed. After a 32 day gestation period, hoglets are born, and there are measures that can be taken to protect them from hazards. Firstly, if you have a garden bonfire, always check for nests of hoglets or hedgehogs before lighting it. They are also prone to get stuck in pea netting and goal nets, so ensure these are at least 8 inches off the ground to allow hedgehogs to move under them safely. As well as this, a hedgehog house or woodpile in a quiet area, ideally protected from the weather, can provide comfortable sleeping space for them.
Integrate exotic plants to support butterflies
The more wildflowers that are flourishing, the better our butterfly populations will fare. By taking simple steps to transform your own garden though, you can support the rise of pollinator species numbers whilst boosting your own wellbeing by engaging with nature. Look for big open flowers with a strong scent, as these tend to have more nectar and the pollen is more accessible in open flowers.
Many beneficial insects such as butterflies can be attracted to gardens and helped in many ways. Lots of fragrant flowers are a given but they also need water, so put out a shallow-sided dish of water in the garden and make sure it doesn’t have slippery edges. A terracotta plant saucer is ideal. Another tip is to watch out for cold spells, as many flowers will close to protect themselves, but this prevents butterflies from feeding. During such times (or whenever natural food is scarce), make a mix of sugar water and soak it in a sponge or cloth and put it out in a shady spot. Butterflies and bumblebees will sniff it out for a quick ‘pit stop’ when needed.
Add a water feature or pond
For those looking to embark on a bigger project, installing a water feature or even a pond in your garden is a really effective way to support and encourage wildlife. Sources of water can act as a habitat for a wide range of creatures such as frogs, newts, dragonflies and bathing garden birds. The best spot for a water feature is in a warm area that gets a good amount of sunlight. Plants, flowers, stones and logs make great additions around the edges of a pond, as well as having the added benefit of looking lovely!
If you are looking for a cost-effective and lower maintenance option, it is possible to create a pond using a buried bucket or trough, with stone steps or a wooden ramp for in and out access – it will essentially serve the same purpose as a more lavish pond.