Song thrush Turdus philomelos, bathing in garden pond, Warwickshire

Dig a damp ditch for diversity

Activity time:
Less than 2 hours
Difficulty level:
Medium
Suitable for:
Large garden
To help:
Hedgehogs, Frogs, toads & newts, Lizards & snakes, Dragonflies & damselflies, Butterflies & moths, Small mammals, Birds

Many of our gardens are flat, unlike our rising and falling natural landscape.

By adding a shallow ditch – (or what’s called a ‘rill’ on our nature reserves), you can create a wider variety of homes for nature. 

It will mimic natural features in our countryside, and give hedgehogs and reptiles a lush byway to travel along, and song thrushes a perfect hunting ground.

 

Its also a great way for dealing with any drainage problems, run-off from patios and surplus water from your water butt. 

If you have clay soil, your ditch may form a temporary narrow pond during part of the winter. But don’t worry if it never holds any water, as it’s always likely to have a rather more humid microclimate than open, sun-scorched, flat land around it. 

 

You can, of course, start digging when you like, and indeed in autumn the ground may not be so wet. But it's in winter that you'll be able to see most clearly where you are going.

  

Are you doing this activity as part of your personal plan? Either take a look at your progress or create your own easy-to-follow personal plan to help you give nature a home where you live.

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What you will need

  • Garden fork
  • Optional: plug plants
  • Optional: tent pegs, a piece of garden hose or a small bag of sand to mark out your feature
  • Spade
Trowel in soil

Step-by-step guide

  1. Choose where to dig your ditch. Make sure you’re not digging along the line of any services, like electricity, sewage or water pipes!

    It’s really up to you to decide where to put it. You could create it at the far end of your garden. Or be brave and put it alongside a lawn or flowerbed. Just be careful it’s not where someone could trip. You could use it to capture and channel run-off from your path or patio or deal with a drainage problem.
  2. Mark out the line of your ditch before you start digging. Make it as long as you can - a good minimum length is one metre. You can use tent pegs or piece of garden hose or small bag of sand to mark it out.
  3. Start digging! It’s up to you how deep you go. About 30 cm (1 foot) is plenty, remember the deeper it is the wider it will need to be. Make sure the sides are gently sloping (30 degrees or less) so that creatures can get in and out and across your ditch.

    You can use the excavated earth as a bank on one side of your ditch - it creates another microhabitat. 

  4. Planting your ditch. If you want, you can add some wetland-edge plug plants or sow a suitable wildflower seed mix on your freshly excavated diggings. Good flowers to try include lady’s-smock for orange-tip butterflies, ragged robin, marsh marigold, gypsywort and greater bird's-foot trefoil. 
  5. Now just leave it to do its thing! It will probably grow lusher than the surrounding vegetation, a damp jungle that creatures will really feel the benefit of in dry weather. Look closely and you'll probably notice that some creatures come to prefer it to other parts of your garden.To make it more of a feature, you could put little timber bridges across it. Get creative and share your pictures with us!

Watch our video guide to digging a damp ditch for diversity

Watch the video on how to give your garden more variety and provide desirable ditches for wildlife.

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