Before deciding what wildlife to attract to your garden, think about where you live. If you are close to woodland or hedges, there is a good chance there are many birds that could easily be attracted to your garden. If there other gardens have ponds or you are near a natural one, it should be easy to attract frogs and toads. Meanwhile, bees and butterflies will travel great distances to enjoy the nectar from the right sort of flowers. Decide what you would like to attract to your garden and then set about providing them with food, shelter and a place to breed if you can.
Birds, bees, butterflies, frogs and toads are probably the easiest to provide for. But you can attract hedgehogs by providing them with a log pile or specially made hibernacula to sleet and hibernate in. And a simple pile of logs allowed to rot down in a quiet corner will attract all sorts of useful creatures to your garden. Even leaving a small area of lawn to grow longer like a hay meadow can attract insects which might attract bats and house martens to fly around and eat them. But remember, a wildlife friendly garden does not need to be a messy or untidy place, unless you want it to be.
Bees & Butterflies
The first step is to create a border of plants that bees and butterflies can visit to gather nectar or pollen from the flowers. Both insects like flat flowers that are easy to land on and they will need flowers from February to October, so a succession of flowers is really useful. Start with snowdrops, then crocus, daffodils, foxgloves, sedums and much more to provide a flower for every day that bees and butterflies are on the wing. Download our guide to bee and butterfly gardening to find out more
Bees also need a place to shelter and breed. Honey bees live in large bee hives that are either human made or are natural shelters for them. While it is rare for a swarm of bees to attack people, it is probably not a good idea to deliberately attract them to your garden. However, bees that prefer to live on their own or in small groups are easy to attract. Just fill a cut off plastic bottle with lengths of bamboo and either hang it in a tree or rest it on the ground. You will soon have a colony of bees or other insects to admire.
Adult butterflies depend on nectar to survive, but caterpillars munch on their favourite plants. If you have room, attract caterpillars to your garden by growing their food plants. Young nettle leaves are attractive to many caterpillars, but just leaving an area of longer grass or growing wildflowers like jack-by-the-hedge will provide food for hungry caterpillars. And don’t forget the caterpillars will attract birds to eat them too.
Birds need food to eat and a place to nest and shelter. Most gardens can fulfil some of these needs for blackbirds, sparrows, great tits, robins and many more types.
You can build nest boxes for many sorts of birds. Closed ones with little holes in the front are good for great tits and blue tits and sparrows, open fronted boxes will attract robins and you can even make ones for tawny owls. You can also buy these from good garden centres or online. The key thing about a nest box is that it must be put a quiet place that is neither in full sun or always shaded. The birds need a clear flight path in and out and above all it must be safe from predators like cats and foxes, at least 2m high is best. You can provide natural nesting areas for birds by planting a hedge of native trees like hawthorn, hazel, holly and blackthorn. Individual shrubs and trees can also be used as nest sites too. The crucial thing is to provide cover and blackbirds, robins, dunnocks and other birds will soon move in.
Natural hedges also provide food at crucial times of year. They will be full of insects when the birds have young to feed and will provide berries in the winter. Pyracantha, cotoneaster, ivy and holly will also provide birds with a much needed winter feast. Teasel grown in a border will provide seed for bullfinches and sometimes rare visiting birds in the depths of the winter too. Your plantings of nasturtiums, wild flowers and longer grasses will be a source of caterpillars and insects for birds during the breeding season.
You can give birds a boost with a bird table and feeder. These are easy to construct, but can be bought from most garden centres. Place your bird table somewhere that cats can’t reach and put out seeds and sometimes bread for the birds. Fill your bird feeder with peanuts and you can spend hours watching the birds. And when it is frosty, make sure you provide them with water too.
Frogs & toads
Creating a wildlife pond is probably the most effective way of quickly attracting wildlife to your garden. Within weeks birds will be bathing, bees and insects will be drinking and with luck frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies will quickly make it their too. If you are worried about safety, a good compromise is to plant a wetland.
Download the step by step guide to find out how to create a wildlife pond, but these are the key things to remember. Locate your pond in a sunny place and remember that it’s a good idea to have a bench nearby so you can watch all the action. Use a flexible rubber liner to create a natural shape and make sure you have shallow edges. These will enable wildlife to get in and out and be safer for children. Fill your pond with native plants. Grow floating oxygenators in the middle with leafy water lilies and their relatives. Around the edge grow marshland plants to create a really natural environment that wildlife will thrive in. Pond plants are among the fastest growing of all plants, so remove about two thirds of the vegetation in your pond from late summer.
Allow wildlife to find your pond by itself, but if you know someone with a wildlife pond, collect a bucket of sludge from their pond and add it to yours. It will really get things going. It is no longer recommended that you obtain frog and toad spawn from ponds because of the risk of spreading diseases among them. However, it is very likely they will find your pond under their own steam in most areas.
Hedgehogs and friends
You can make a place for hedgehogs and other small animals in your garden fairly easily. Hedgehogs eat beetles, other small insects and slugs, so they are really good to encourage.
Avoid using slug pellets containing metaldehyde and other pesticides as these have been shown to build up in a hedgehog’s body and may be harmful to them. Making sure your garden has plenty of places for hedgehogs to forage will also help. They will enjoy visiting your flower borders, snuffling about under hedges and trees and hunting for bugs in vegetable patches, so the less lawn you have the more they will like your garden. Field and wood mice will enjoy visiting these areas too. Remember that these mice are not pests and will not take over your home, but they are important food for kestrels, owls and other birds.
Hedgehogs need a place to sleep during the day. This can be in a compost heap, under a shed or among piles of old wood. You can also make or buy a purpose built hedgehog house for them to hibernate in during the winter. Remember that if you are going to have a bonfire, your wood pile could be a perfect hedgehog home, so check it first to avoid roasting a hedgehog.
Many people feed the hedgehogs that visit their garden. Putting out a small bowl of mushy, fishy flavoured cat food is a great snack for them.