Worried about insect decline? Tiffany Francis reveals the ways we can attract all kinds of wildlife to our gardens.
Nothing says spring like a fat, fuzzy bumblebee balanced on a flower, absorbing the sunshine as it gathers nectar for the busy season ahead. A world without bees and butterflies seems impossible to imagine, but a recent study suggests that 40 per cent of global insect species are declining and a third are endangered. Insects are the cornerstone of our ecosystems, and responsible for 70% of the crops we eat – so what can we do to halt their decline?
As vegans we are already easing pressure on pollinators by reducing global demand for intensive meat and dairy farming, but one of the easiest ways to take further action starts in your own back garden. According to the Wildlife Trusts, private gardens in the UK cover an area bigger than all the nature reserves combined, estimated at over 10 million acres. Can you imagine how much healthier our ecosystems would be if we transformed our gardens into wildlife havens? The power is in our hands! This season, try spending a few hours outdoors to create your own wild garden sanctuary for nature.
Plant a seed
Is there anything more beautiful than a garden full of flowers? Bees, butterflies and other pollinators rely on a good variety of pollen rich flowers to thrive throughout the year, so it’s best to grow plants with a range of flowering periods to ensure they never go hungry. Try to also include plants with varying colours, sizes and even shapes, as diff erent bumblebee species have diff erent length tongues!
In early spring, plant bluebell bulbs, foxglove seeds and honeysuckle vines for a burst of colour, while later in the season is best for clovers, comfrey and viper’s bugloss, all wonderful plants to kickstart the busy summer. In July, lavender is the perfect aromatic addition to any garden path, where it can release its beautiful scent whenever you walk past. In autumn, plant greater knapweed, stinking hellebore and wood anemone, ready to blossom and flourish after the winter frosts. Visit plantlife.org.uk for more information on planting native, pollinator-friendly flowers.
Ditch the chemicals
In 2017, research published in the journal Science showed how insecticides not only damage honeybee colonies and wild bees, but contaminate entire landscapes with a ‘cocktail effect’ of different pesticides. Supporting organic farms is a great way to tackle this on a large scale, but you can also help by reducing the use of chemicals in your own garden.
If you can’t bear an unmanicured lawn, kitchen cupboard ingredients like vinegar, salt, boiling water and bicarbonate of soda can all be used to starve, dehydrate and destroy weeds and troublesome plants, while cornmeal acts as an organic herbicide. Avoid using slug pellets at all costs as they can be fatally ingested by hedgehogs, newts, toads and birds. In fact, last December DEFRA announced the total ban on metaldehyde slug pellets across the UK from spring 2020 as they ‘pose an unacceptable risk to birds and mammals’. Great news!
Feed the birds
Attracting birds to your garden is not only a great way to keep pests at bay, but a great way to relax and unwind as you listen to their summer songs and watch them potter about in the dirt. The best way to look after your birds is by supplementing naturally available food with bird food. Hanging seed feeders are the most popular option, attracting robins, tits, goldfinches, sparrows, greenfinches and siskins.
Niger seeds will bring in beautiful goldfinches, and peanuts will attract starlings and chaffinches. Blackbirds and other thrushes prefer to feed off sprinkled food on the ground, while homemade half-coconuts and pine cones smothered in vegetable suet will help keep birds fat and warm for winter. Remember to keep feeders and tables clean so the birds stay healthy and disease-free, and position your feeders away from shrubbery where predators might be waiting to pounce.
Wildlife in urban areas
You don’t need to live in the countryside to help our birds, bees and insects flourish. Nature is everywhere, and the smallest garden or balcony can still help local wildlife stay nourished.
Plant a window box with nectar-rich plants like lavender, chives, thyme, marjoram or Mexican fleabane, or sow night-scented stocks for moths. Hang bird feeders from the windows, pop a bird box on the wall, and make a balcony bee hotel to provide a home for urban bees and insects. Visit wildlifetrusts.org/gardening for more tips on creating your own urban wildlife garden.
A fresh water supply is one of the greatest gifts to offer local wildlife – in the summer heat and winter freeze when water becomes harder to access.
A dish of clean, fresh water will keep birds, bees and mammals hydrated, but if you have space, why not build your own garden pond? Even a small pond can be home to local wildlife, including dragonflies, frogs, newts, birds, hedgehogs and bats. As wide as a lake or as small as a washing-up bowl – all it needs is a roll of liner, a few plants and a ramp to make sure animals can get in and out. Not only will you create a beautiful feature for your garden, but the influx of wildlife will help keep garden pest numbers down and enrich your local ecosystem even further. Visit wildlifetrusts.org/ actions/how-build-pond for a free step-by-step guide to building your own garden pond.
Keep it cosy
From sleepy summer afternoons to winter hibernations, all wildlife needs shelter to keep warm and protected. Try planting a shrub or two around the edges of your garden as a nesting place for birds, and leave a wild corner for insects and small mammals to hide in.
A compost heap makes a great hibernation place for hedgehogs, or you could buy a hedgehog home from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (£46.50, britishhedgehogs.org.uk) for the perfect winter hideaway. Hedgehogs will also benefit from a CD-sized hole in the bottom of your fence to let them pass into other gardens.
These spiky mammals have suffered huge declines in recent decades, mainly due to garden chemicals, loss of habitat, and not having enough territory to explore which forces them onto dangerous roads. Try encouraging your neighbours to create spaces for wildlife and connect them up to make a beautiful wildlife corridor in your local neighbourhood. Visit hedgehogstreet.org for more ideas and inspiration.