Five simple ways to create a wildlife-friendly garden

Did you know, around 87% of households in the UK have a garden? According to The Wildlife Trusts, these cover a larger area than all our nature reserves combined.

But an increasing amount of garden space is being lost to hard surfacing, and some of the wildlife that typically visit our gardens are struggling. There are things we can do to help, here are five easy ways to make your garden a haven for wildlife.

Grow butterfly-friendly plants

Adult butterflies and moths will feed on almost any flower’s nectar, but their caterpillars are choosy and may only have one or two plant species they’ll live on. For example, brimstone butterflies will only feed and lay their eggs on buckthorn bushes.

Fruit trees such as plum and apple are good additions to the garden for animals that are active earlier in the year. Species that appear or are still active later in the year might be drawn to ling or ivy. Rotting fruit is also an excellent food source for butterflies.

Try to find out what butterfly and moth species are active in your area, and plant what their caterpillar’s food plants are to maximise your chances of attracting them.

Feed the birds

A seed feeder is a quick and simple way to make your garden more attractive to birds. If you’re up for some DIY, you could try making a bird feeder out of a reused plastic bottle.

If squirrels are a problem in your area, it might be better to purchase a squirrel-proof feeder instead. These only allow smaller birds access to the food.

The type of food you put in feeders will affect the species visiting your garden. For example, mealworms are popular with insect eaters like sparrows, whereas goldfinches are partial to niger seeds.

Help the creatures of the night

Plenty of wildlife are out enjoying your garden at night, even if you’re not awake to see them.

Honeysuckle and evening primrose are night-blooming flowers that release their scents after dark, attracting pollinating insects. There are 18 species of bat living in the UK, and night-flying insects are an attractive meal for insectivores.

You can also help bats by removing or reducing artificial lighting from your garden and around your property. 

Add some water

There are six amphibians native to the UK, including common frogs, smooth newts and common toads. All of them are good pest controllers, feeding on a variety of invertebrates. 

Adding a small pond to your garden is a great way to keep these animals happy and may even attract dragonflies in summer when they’re active. The insects that gather by water will also be popular with bats.

If a pond isn’t an option, you could keep a shallow, sloping-sided dish filled with water in the garden for birds. This offers both fresh drinking water and a bath. You will need to keep the water topped up and refill the dish every so often to keep it fresh.

Let things go a little wild

UK homeowners often go for paved patios, fake grass and over-manicured lawns, but sometimes just letting the grass grow is exactly what wildlife needs. But you don’t need to let it overwhelm you!

Some wild plants can take over – which we all fondly know as weeds – but these are an important part of the ecosystem. Dandelions are an excellent source of nectar for insects. Some caterpillars will only feed on plants such as nettles, thistles and ragwort, so it’s a good idea to keep some in the garden but restrict them to a small area. Nettles can even be planted in a pot to stop them from spreading.