Some of us might have a bit more time on our hands due to the lockdown, so here are a number of things you can do for wildlife around your home and garden if you do have the time. You can download the PDF of this post here (including images!).
To do in the garden
- Choose the right flowers
- Grow a mix of trees and shrubs
- Build a bug hotel
- Dig a pond.
- Make a hibernaculum
- Build a bee bank
- Build a bee B&B
- Encourage movement of wildlife into and between gardens
- Construct a hedgehog home
- Compost, compost, compost
- Help reptiles out
- Create a hoverfly lagoon
To leave in the garden
- Don’t cut hedges between the months of March and August
- Adopt a no-dig approach in your flower beds and vegetable patches
- Leave at least a metre square part of your garden completely unmanaged
- Avoid cutting back dead stems and flower heads
- Leave fallen leaves in your garden
- Know your ‘weeds’!
- Refrain from using synthetic pesticides
- Resist killing slug and snails
To do at home
- Make wildflower seed bombs
- Make window boxes
- Build bird and bat boxes
- Make a bird feeder
- Report wildlife sightings
- Share your projects and wildlife experiences on social media
See below for more detail or download the PDF (including images!)
Choose the right flowers
Flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects that perform the vital task of fertilisation – seed and fruit production would drop dramatically without them!
Avoid too many highly-bred varieties with big and blowsy or double flowers, most of which contain little pollen or nectar or make it hard for pollinators to access them.
Also, try to choose plants that provide pollen and nectar for as long a season as possible. Here is a list on the RHS website of garden plants for pollinators throughout the year.
Grow a mix of trees and shrubs
Grow a range of trees, shrubs and climbers, or a mixed hedge to provide food and shelter. Getting hold of these may be difficult at this time but you could make a start by taking cuttings from local wild plants on your daily exercise. Climbers like honeysuckle can be very easy to propagate from cuttings.
Honeysuckle grows wild in woodlands and hedgerows and can be seen winding itself around the branches of other trees and shrubs. It’s flowers give off an unmistakable sweet scent on summer evenings.
Here’s a guide for how to take honeysuckle cuttings from the Empress of Dirt website.
Build a bug hotel
These can provide shelter for anything from hedgehogs to toads, solitary bees to bumblebees, and ladybirds to woodlice.
They can be made from any odds and ends lying around the garden including bricks, roof tiles, terracotta plant pots, sticks, straw, dry grass, pine cones etc.
They are often made using old pallets stacked on top of one another but feel free to get creative!
Dig a pond
Creating an aquatic habitat and water source can make a real difference to wildlife. Even the smallest ponds can be thriving little ecosystems, so something as easy as digging a hole to fill an old washing up bowl is great!
Making sure there is a sloping edge on one side using stones allows animals to get in and out. Ponds also act as important little carbon sinks.
Make a hibernaculum
These create a habitat for amphibians and reptiles, amongst other wildlife, to hibernate in the winter months. They involve digging a pit which is then filled with sticks, branches and/or logs. Bits of drainpipe or old tiles can be placed around the edge of the pit to make it more accessible to wildlife. The wood is then covered over with the dug out soil to create a roof which can then be sown with wildflower seed.
Build a bee bank
Build a bee bank for bumblebees, mining bees and solitary bees. A bee bank is simply a mound of loose soil, ideally with a south facing bank that receives plenty of warm sunshine and which provides at least 60cm of digging space. Mining bees might be attracted to dig into the loose soil and build a nest!
Build a bee B&B
Making a bee B&B can be as simple as using an old mug with a broken handle and filling it with paper tubes or bamboo!
Make sure the tubes sit slightly shy of the edge of the cup so they remain dry. Place your bee B&B in a sheltered, preferably south-facing part of your garden or where it will get lots of sun. We have over 250 species of solitary bee in the UK, some of which you may have heard of; leafcutter bees, mining bees and mason bees to name a few.
Bee B&Bs provide nesting sites for these fantastic pollinators, which, instead of forming hives, lay their eggs individually in tunnels, such as in dead wood or hard soil. A bee B&B mimics these conditions.
Encourage movement of wildlife into and between gardens
The number of wild animals such as hedgehogs is declining here in the UK. This is partially due to green spaces becoming too fragmented by roads, fences, walls and new developments.
Doorways in boundary fences or walls, for instance, can allow wildlife to come into the garden and potentially make a home there. Try to see your garden as part of a wider web of interlinked gardens and green space.
Construct a hedgehog home
These prickly yet adorable creatures are sadly becoming increasingly scarce in our landscape. Building them a home is a great way to encourage them into your garden and to help boost their numbers. It is best to have it ready before autumn so the hedgehogs have somewhere to move into before winter. Here is a tutorial from the Wildlife Trusts on how to make one.
Help reptiles out by laying sheets of corrugated iron, roofing felt, wooden boards, slate or tiles flat around your garden. Slow worms, lizards and snakes love the shelter and extra heat that these materials absorb and radiate.
Create a hoverfly lagoon
Some species of hoverfly such as drone flies need stagnant water to lay their eggs in and for their larvae to grow. These are made simply by filling a plastic container with grass, leaf litter, and rain water which will rot down creating the ideal habitat for these important pollinators to reproduce. Sticks can be placed vertically in the container to allow the larvae to come out of the water and form a pupa from which the adult hoverfly will eventually emerge.
Don’t cut hedges
Don’t cut hedges between the months of March and August. This will reduce disturbance of nesting birds and other wildlife. It could also allow your hedge to flower more, providing more nectar for insects.
Adopt a no-dig approach in your flower beds and vegetable patches. Not digging the soil means not damaging its delicate structure and disturbing the natural processes that go on beneath the surface. Instead, you can layer on organic matter such as manure, compost, leaves, grass clippings etc., allowing the soil organisms to break it down and incorporate it into the soil. This greatly benefits the biodiversity and health of the soil and, in turn, your plants! It can also improve the soil’s ability to store carbon and prevent it from being released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.
Metre square part of your garden completely unmanaged
Leave at least a metre square part of your garden completely unmanaged and allow it to express itself fully. Imagine what plants and animals might move in! This could mean leaving all or just a patch of your lawn unmown. The taller grass and other plants will provide shelter for mammals and amphibians and food for some butterfly caterpillars.
Avoid cutting back dead stems and flower heads
Avoid cutting back dead stems and flower heads. These provide shelter for slumbering insects like lacewings and ladybirds during the colder months. Leaving old sunflowers might attract goldfinches to your garden who are after the seeds!
Leave fallen leaves
Leave fallen leaves in your garden as they can serve as habitat for a wide array of life forms, from tiny gnats
and spiders to woodlice, springtails and newts. Some moths and butterflies overwinter as caterpillars hidden deep in fallen leaves, while others hide out as cocoons. If you clear them from your lawn perhaps consider moving them to a flower bed where they can also act as a mulch and will feed the soil.
Know your ‘weeds’!
Know your ‘weeds’! Many of our wild plants get a bad rap for being ‘messy’ looking. What people might not know is that they can be very valuable to our native wildlife. Perhaps the most notorious ‘weed’ is the dandelion.
These provide an important early nectar source to pollinators and can improve the health of lawns by loosening and aerating the soil with their wide-spreading root system, pulling nutrients from deep in the soil. They are also highly nutritious , every part of the plant being edible.
Knowing more about our wild plants will help you to appreciate them more and perhaps make some room for them in your garden. If they really aren’t where you want them, consider moving them to start a colony in a different place.
Refrain from using synthetic pesticides
Refrain from using synthetic pesticides. These can be toxic to more that the target organisms: so a non-organic greenfly spray is likely to harm bees and butterflies too. They are also extremely energy intensive to produce. By increasing the variety of plants in your garden, you can boost the general biodiversity which will include, amongst many others, insects such as ladybirds and lacewings which feast on aphids.
Companion planting is a great option for pest control and mostly means planting strongly scented plants such as mint, garlic chives and lavender which confuse pests looking for their host plant. Other companion plants might act as a diversion to pests such as nasturtiums which lure aphids away from your vegetables or flowers.
Resist killing slug and snails
Resist killing slug and snails. Molluscs, as they are collectively known, are an important food source for wildlife such as hedgehogs, slow worms and song thrushes. One way of managing your molluscs is to companion plant around your desirable plants. Plants like garlic and chives will repel them and plants such as lawn camomile and basil are irresistible to them, acting as bait for you to then collect them and move them elsewhere.
Other options include putting coffee grounds, crushed up egg shells/sea shells, or coarse grit around plants which the slugs find too irritating to navigate over.
Make wildflower seed bombs (native, locally sourced seed, sterile compost and clay @ 1:5:2-3 ratio). These can be thrown onto unmanaged bare soil somewhere close to where you live.
Make window boxes
Make window boxes for flowering plants, vegetables and herbs. These can be made from upcycled food and drink packaging like milk cartons and plastic bottles. Marjoram is a good example as it produces nectar rich flowers and can be be used in cooking.
If you aren’t able to buy seeds, you could gather them from wild plants on food shopping trips.
Build bird and bat boxes
Build bird and bat boxes to put up in your local neighbourhood or drop off in a friend or family member’s garden during your daily exercise. As our environments have changed, birds and bats have suffered from a lack of suitable natural breeding sites, so the addition of a nesting or roost box can be a welcome refuge.
An upcycled old boot can be an excellent alternative to a hole found in trees. Here is a guide for how to construct that.
Make a bird feeder
Not only do bird feeders bring more local birds close to your home so you can see them up-close, they provide an invaluable food source, particularly during times of year when resources might be scarce.
Local bird species change throughout the year, but there will always be some birds around looking for a tasty snack. A feeder can be great fun for getting to know different species and watching how they behave.
You can easily make them using upcycled materials like plastic bottles or drink cartons. If you don’t have a garden, secure one just outside your window and view the hungry birds up close!
Report wildlife sightings to organisations like the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) or the RSPB. This is a fun thing to do from inside your home and you could learn a lot about your wild neighbours and perhaps how to attract others.
All you need is a book on British birds and a pair of keen eyes. The BTO is currently offering free access to their Garden BirdWatch project during lockdown. You can access it here.
Share your projects and wildlife experiences on social media and maybe you will spark an interest in other people!