Britain’s gardens make up two million acres of land – a huge potential resource for wildlife. In Devon, it is estimated that 800,000 people have a garden or at least have access to one. With over 2,500 species having been recorded in gardens from foxes and badgers to millipedes and snails, as well as a myriad of flowers and trees, gardens are much richer in wildlife than one may at first think.

Gardens provide essential havens for wildlife both in large cities and in the countryside, where land may be intensively farmed and offer little in the way of food or shelter. There are many ways of encouraging wildlife to our gardens. Some are very simple like putting up bird feeders or planting nectar-rich plants whilst others are more ambitious like putting in a pond. Wildlife friendly gardens can still look good, are often low maintenance and are much more interesting, with the added bonus of having more predators eating those aphids, caterpillars and slugs that many gardeners dislike.

All your garden visitors need food, water and shelter. It is important to provide all of these in your garden if you wish to attract lots of wildlife. Your ‘wild bit’ does not have to cover the whole garden. Many people prefer to create a wildlife area within their garden and keep the rest of the garden for the more traditional garden plants.

Here are some ideas for making your garden more wildlife friendly:

  • Build a pond. Even a tiny pond provides water for drinking and a home for frogs, toads and newts and insects such as dragonflies, water boatmen and water beetles.
  • Upturned flower pots, a rock pile or a log pile will provide sheltered damp hiding places for slow worms, lizards and insects.
  • Bird feeders with mixed seeds, sunflower seeds or peanuts provide valuable energy-rich food sources for birds such as blue tits, woodpeckers and greenfinches, especially in the winter. A garden alive with birds helps keep down caterpillar numbers and adds interest for its human owners.
  • Providing a low dish or bird bath will provide water for drinking as well as a place for birds to bathe.
  • Bird nestboxes suitable for different birds such as blue tits, robins, house martins and even owls will encourage more birds to the garden.
  • Scrubby long grass for small mammals such as voles and shrews and wild flowers for butterflies and bees.
  • A nettle patch, even a small one, provides a good food source for peacock and small tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillars.
  • Fruit trees provide nectar for bees and later valuable fallen fruit for wintering birds such as blackbirds and fieldfares. Plant a butterfly border containing colourful nectar-rich flowers. Not only is it attractive but with colourful butterflies and busy bees visiting it is a real asset to the garden. Flowers such as Michaelmas-daisies, marjoram, rosemary, lavender, sedum and buddleia are real favourites.
  • Compost your kitchen scraps, grass cuttings and other garden waste whilst at the same time providing a habitat for worms and other invertebrates which in turn feed birds and mammals such as hedgehogs.
  • Create a wild flower area, our native wild flowers such as primrose, ox-eye daisy, knapweed and red clover are really attractive.

Remember that native wildlife relies on native plants and habitats, so try to keep your garden as natural as possible. Avoid the use of pesticides, slug pellets and other dangerous chemicals. If you have a pond, make sure it has a shallow end to make it easy for animals to get out if they fall in accidentally.