Provide as many habitats as possible and make the most of the ones you have
Lawns provide a home for many insects that are eaten by birds and other wildlife. You can improve your lawn for wildlife by simply avoiding the use of weed killers and artificial fertilizers. Providing areas of grass of different heights, which are cut at different times of the year, optimises food potential. Grow clover in your lawn. Clovers are of great value to bees, which will pollinate your plants, as a source of nectar.
Consider a hedge rather than a fence. For every foot of hedge height, there are ten horizontal feet of shelter, as well as food.
When planting anything the best wildlife benefits are to be found in native species. Sessile Oak (Dair) is Ireland's national tree. It is an excellent tree for wildlife. Over 300 species are associated with Oaks, including birds, invertebrate, mammals, mosses, lichens and fungi. The acorns provide food for small mammals, such as squirrels. The Hawthorn tree provides food for more than 150 different insect species.
Creating a rich habitat of trees, shrubs and flowers is the key to providing wildlife with year-round food. Include a variety of plants: evergreens, fruit trees, colourful cottage garden plants, annuals and wildflowers to prolong flowering and fruiting times.
Bats & moths
Attract moths by planting evening nectar plants such as evening primrose, greater stitchwort and night scented stock. You will also attract bats, that feed on moths.
Stinging nettles support more than 40 kinds of insects, for whom the sting can form a protective shield against grazing animals. Many nettle patches hold overwintering insects which swarm around fresh spring nettles and provide early food for ladybirds (who will then eat all your aphids). In late summer the huge quantity of seeds produced are food for many seed-eating birds, such as house sparrows, chaffinches, and bullfinches. Nettles are also a magnet for other insect-eaters like hedgehog, shrews, frogs and toads, at all times of year.
A tidy garden is of less benefit to wildlife than one that is more relaxed. Any maintenance should be planned with care. For example, if you tidy up and trim immediately after plants have flowered, birds can't use the seeds; so think about letting plants die back naturally and tidying them up later. Other ideas include allowing ivy to scramble up a fence, leaving piles of leaves, fallen fruit, and wood and letting a patch of flowers go to seed. This is especially true in winter as many insects will shelter in hollow flower stalks. Pruning is best done in stages to allow any wildlife to re-home itself. Only prune deciduous trees November to early March.
Consider the environmental implications of bedding plants. They may have been raised on an industrialised scale in huge heated glasshouses and shipped here from the continent. The containers they are grown in do not usually recycle or biodegrade well and the plants are usually grown in peat.
Compost all garden waste - it makes good fertilizer for your garden. It is also rich in micro-organisms which add life to your soil.
When selecting flowering plants, try to choose single petalled varieties. Many modern hybrids with multiple layers of petals or blooms look pretty, but are often of lower nectar and pollen value, and less beneficial to insects. Arable flowers, such as corn cockle, corn marigold, poppy and cornflower, provide an attractive splash of colour throughout the summer and are very easy to grow. They attract many beneficial insects that come to feed on the pollen. Their seeds provide a source of food for birds and can be enhanced by the addition of a small amount of spring wheat or barley.
Best trees: oak, ash, hawthorne, willow
Never ever plant invasive species and remove any that may already be on your land. These include: -
Giant Hogweed, Gunnera, Himalayan Balsam, Hottentot Fig, Japanese Knotweed and Rhododendron.
A water feature is of huge benefit to wildlife. Make sure the sides are gently sloping and provide stones or logs for easy access. Rich planting of different heights round the edges is important for shelter. In general, amphibians and fish do not mix well because fish will eat tadpoles.
Small fish, such as sticklebacks or minnows, can provide interest without eating too many tadpoles. The best time for pond management is late September and October. Tadpoles have gained legs and left the pond and adult amphibians have not yet gone into hibernation at this time. Ponds should not be disturbed in mid-winter as this might expose hibernating amphibians to severe cold. If you need to top up use water from a water barrel in preference to mains water. Mains water is richer in nutrients and likely to encourage algae blooms. Be careful when buying plants for you water feature as there are several invasive ones -
- Floating Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides)
- Parrot's Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)
- New Zealand Pigmyweed also known as Australian Swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii)
- Water-primrose (Ludwigia grandiflora)
- Water fern (Azolla filiculoides)
Feed the birds, especially over winter. Always buy food from a reputable supplier. Avoid wheat and barley, split peas, beans, dried rice or lentils. They are used to bulk up mixtures but are really only suitable for pigeons, doves and pheasants, which feed on the ground and rapidly increase in numbers, frequently deterring the smaller species. Any mixture containing green or pink lumps should also be avoided as these are dog biscuit, which can only be eaten when soaked. Never feed birds fat from cooking, polyunsaturated margarines or vegetable oils, milk, desiccated coconut (it swells once inside a bird and causes death).
Provide shelter for hedgehogs, bats and insects and do not disturb badger or fox sets. Hedgehog shelters can easily be made from piles of logs and leaves - just make sure that the entrance hole is about 15cms wide so they can easily fit in. Position somewhere quiet and away from the north wind. Bat shelters are better bought and should be positioned close to hedges and tree lines that bats fly along and be at least 4 or 5m above the ground. They should be sheltered from strong winds and exposed to the sun for part of the day. Keep an eye on your cat! A bell on the collar is a good idea to warn birds of their presence. During the summer you should bring them in about an hour before sunset to allow bats to fly out undisturbed.