Small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae, nectaring on mint, Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve, Staffordshire

Creating a wildlife-friendly garden

Wildlife can make it's home in our gardens in many different ways. There are lots of things we can do, from planting to maintenance, that will make them as welcome as possible.

A home for nature

Making our gardens wildlife friendly doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to leave them to grow into wild jungles. Every space, whether it’s a huge estate or a busy family garden, can give a home to nature. 

There are lots of simple things we can do to help the animals we share a space with, from making sure that they have access to different habitats, to nurturing well-stocked feeding grounds for them.

A wildlife friendly garden is accessible to everyone whatever space we’ve got, whether we’re maintaining an established garden, or creating a new one altogether.

Here are some key factors for a great wildlife-friendly garden.

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar Papilio machaon, perched on fennel, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Habitats

Even the smallest of gardens can offer up a huge variety of different habitats for wildlife. There are lots of ways we can introduce, or let nature create, a diverse range of homes for nature in our outdoor spaces.

It’s good to create as many habitats as possible without cramming too much in. Think about the space you have available and focus on making these microhabitats as good as they can be.

You may not even realise that some of the most common unassuming garden features can house thriving worlds of wildlife.

  • Lawns for example, especially areas of un-cut long grass, are an important habitat for all sorts of insects and minibeasts, not to mention a feasting ground for the hungry birds which feed on them.
  • Borders, filled with flowering plants and shrubs, give nectar rich food to butterflies and bees, as well as seeds, berries and cover for birds and small mammals.
  • Trees, and hedges offer roosting and nesting sites for birds and mammals, as well as valuable shelter and cover from the elements and possible predators.
  • Ponds and water features can be a habitat for a huge variety of animal life, from amphibians and invertebrates to bathing garden birds.
  • Even woodpiles, compost and trimmings, the decomposing and discarded off-cuts from your garden, can be incredible places for animals to live, feed and hibernate.

Our gardens can be busy worlds of wildlife heaving with nature.  

Pond for frogs built by girl in her garden. RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign

To breed and shelter

A basic need for all wildlife is somewhere safe to breed and shelter. A garden can give this in many ways to many things. 

  • Growing climbers against walls can provide brilliant shelter, as well as roosting and breeding sites for birds. 
  • Trees, bushes and hedgerows can also be great havens for the bird world, as well as small mammals like hedgehogs. As a place for cover from predators and a safe spot to build a nest, these can be invaluable. 
  • Providing bird boxes, bat boxes and hedgehog homes can be a great way of introducing good artificial shelters into nature. Natural roosting and nesting sites can be increasingly hard for animals to find and our gardens give us the chance to give them an ongoing safe alternative.
  • Butterflies need breeding sites too, and growing the right plants can give them a place to breed and lay their eggs. Honesty and hedge garlic can be good for orange tip butterflies and buckthorn bushes are favourites for breeding brimstones.
  • Dead wood, trimmings and old foliage can be a valuable hiding place for beetles and other insects and minibeasts, as well as fungi and moss.
  • Leaving areas of grass to grow wild can give all sorts of wildlife a place to hide and breed. If you are looking to cut back overgrown areas, or untidy borders, wait until late winter or early spring, to give any minibeasts sheltering from the cold winter month the chance to move on. 

To forage and feed

Another essential feature of a wildlife friendly garden is a variety of places for the different animal residents to forage and feed. 

Of course, we can provide food for some of them, such as birds and hedgehogs, but there are lots of ways which we can help nature provide too.

  • A range of plants which flower and seed at varied times throughout the year, will provide food for the animals and insects that are active and feeding over different periods.
  • Berry bushes and fruit trees will give another source of valuable and irresistible seasonal food. Ivy is a great source of autumn nectar for insects and late winter fruit for birds.
  • An array of colourful nectar-rich flowers will attract bees, wasps, butterflies and other insects.
  • If you create a garden which is full of minibeasts and insects, you’re also providing wealthy feeding ground for insect-eating birds, grub-hungry chicks and minibeast-eating mammals like hedgehogs and bats!
  • A source or clean safe water is as important as food, whether it’s a larger pond or a small dish.
  • One of the best things you can do to help butterflies and moths, is to make sure their caterpillars have the right plants to feed on. A variety of different host plants will attract a more varied range of butterflies and caterpillars.
Starling Sturnus vulgaris, adult male in hedge of Wild privet Ligustrum vulgare, Bedfordshire, England

Thinking sustainably

Being sustainable and thinking of the environment is another important part of wildlife friendly gardening.

So many of our actions have an impact on wildlife which goes beyond our gardens, and it’s important for us to think about this when choosing materials and creating our spaces. 

  • Peat extraction destroys vital habitats, so avoid using peat and find alternative forms of compost. You can even try producing your own, with a composter or compost heap.
  • Give the tap a rest and save rainwater in water-butts and barrels. Pond-life will much prefer natural rain water if you need to top up your water features. 
  • Buy FSC accredited  garden furniture or charcoal
  • When planting native plants, ensure they are of genuine native stock and not of continental origin. Also, ensure ‘wild flowers’ have been cultivated from legally collected seed and not dug-up from the wild.
  • Recycle wherever possible. Use reclaimed, old materials when building raised borders and other garden structures. Old pallets and scaffold planks can make great materials for building. 
  • Avoid using pesticides and use non-toxic, non-chemical alternatives.

How you can help

Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris, pollinating a Globe thistle Echinops

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