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Nestbox  Gardening for Wildlife

Great Spotted Woodpecker on Feeder - Photo  Copyright 2000 Gary Bradley Photo: G. Bradley

UK Safari Tip:
Get help identifying birds with the superbly illustrated "Top 50 Garden Birds" identification chart - click here

Create Your own back Garden Nature Reserve

As the human population grows, and the demand for more new houses and roads gradually eats away at our countryside, the value of urban gardens as a safe refuge for wildlife becomes ever more important.

It doesn't matter whether you have a large garden or just a window ledge, you can create an area that is pleasant to look at, easy to maintain, and attractive to wildlife.

How to Attract Wildlife

There are just three magic ingredients which any wild creature visiting your garden will be looking for:

1. Food
2. Water
3. Shelter and a place to raise young

They can turn an ordinary lifeless backyard into a habitat abounding in songbirds, butterflies, squirrels and a myriad of little creatures. These ingredients probably already exist in your neighborhood. All you need to do is enhance the supply, or add the missing basics to create an active wildlife environment. Read on for more info.

 Peacock butterfly on budleia

1. Food

The easiest way to attract birds to your garden is to put food out for them, especially in the winter months when natural food is scarce. Once you start feeding it is important that you don't stop, or the birds could starve. Once they learn where to find food they'll keep coming back.

Birds will take a variety of food, depending on the species, including; bread, nuts, sunflower seeds, fruit, tinned dog food and cooked potato.

You can leave the food on the ground, hanging from a tree, or on a purpose built bird table. You might find that this food will also attract other animals such as red / grey squirrels, foxes and possibly badgers (depending on what lives in your area).

A hedgehog in your garden makes an ideal pest controller. They eat creatures which most gardeners view as enemies such as slugs, snails, beetles and caterpillars. They are cheaper, safer, and a good deal more attractive than slug pellets. You can attract them by leaving out some tinned dog food.

Many of the native wildflowers, which most gardeners view as weeds, are not only beautiful to look at, but are vital food plants for many species of butterflies and other insects. If you can, set aside an area of your garden for plants such as foxgloves, campion, thistles and willowherb. If you have limited space you could try growing them in containers.

Here are some more flowers to attract butterflies:

Buddleia (Buddleia davidii)
Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile)
Lavender (Lavendula var)
Michaelmas Daisies (Aster-novi-belgii)
Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)
Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis var)
Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
Ivy (Hedera helix)


2. Water

Birds and animals need to drink water all year round. A shallow dish or tray is sufficient, but birds also like to bathe in water, so the larger the container is, the better.

An ideal way to provide water is to create a pond by digging a hole, and lining it with plastic held down at the edges with stones. Make sure that it has shallow sides (not steep), so that if any animals fall in they can easily walk back out again. If you are keeping fish in the pond, it will need to be deep enough for the fish to swim well below the ice when the surface freezes over in winter.

A pond will also provide a home, and a place to raise young, for many other species such as frogs, newts, toads, dragonflies, damselflies and other insects.


3. Shelter and a Place to Raise Young

Trees and shrubs are an excellent and natural way to provide shelter for wildlife. Try to use native species where possible. Hedges made from hawthorn, holly and yew also produce berries which are a good source of food for birds in the colder months.

A pile of logs will provide shelter and homes for insects and many creepy-crawlies. Although these may not seem like desirable things to have in your garden, they will in turn provide food for other visiting animals.

Log piles make an excellent place for frogs, toads, lizards, hedgehogs and other wildlife species to shelter, find food, and raise their young. Build a permanent log pile in a shaded area, and let it decay naturally. 

If you lean a sheet of wood at an angle against a wall, and stuff it with dry leaves this will provide a suitable nest for hedgehogs. They will also nest under raised sheds, and beneath hedgerows, as long as there are plenty of dry leaves for bedding.

A good way to provide shelter for birds is to put up a nest box. These can be bought from most garden centres and pet shops, but if you want to have a go at making one yourself, Click Here for a printable plan.



How to Keep the Neighbours Happy

Some people worry that if they set aside an area of their garden for wildlife, it will look untidy or just neglected. A simple way to avoid this is to put a border around the area. This will make your wild space look like an intentional project.

The border could be a narrow path made of gravel, woodchip or grass, or it could be a hedge made of privet or holly. Putting a border around it will make it look controlled and contained.

Track Down More Info

How to Attract more Butterflies to your Garden

UK Safari Members Area - factsheets on attracting butterflies, bats, bees and more.

  2006 G. Bradley. All Rights Reserved