Challenges such as climate change, habitat destruction and invasive species are pushing our native ecosystems to the edge, making urban and suburban spaces into critical resources. There are 22 million private gardens in the UK, an astonishing potential that, used carefully, might just make the difference between success and failure for the Nature Recovery Networks proposed by the new Environment Bill.
We must learn to share our gardens with all our wildlife, not just with the pretty butterflies, bees and song birds. We have to learn to love, or at least tolerate, the many-legged things that eat our plants or invade our houses and make us jump, the unseen, unnamed creepy crawlies that till the soil for us. Let’s not worry about the beetle larvae that make brown patches on your lawn; if we are lucky, they will attract badgers that will dig up all the brown patches as well as the smooth green bits in between.
Beetle larvae and badgers
We can share our vegetable patches with caterpillars and beetles; the holes in the leaves show the sparrows where to look. Leave the slugs and sails alone and hope we’ll get hedgehogs and thrushes. Do we know how many garden infestations are the result of too few predators?
We need to see the plants in our gardens as part of a system and not just decoration to be kept as pristine as possible. When the flowers in your pots or beds die back at this time of year, there may be all kinds of invertebrates preparing to hibernate inside the drying stems or under the falling leaves. What looks untidy to you may be the perfect hibernaculum for the eggs or pupae of a rare species of beetle. Almost any pile of forgotten pots under the hedge provide shelter for an overwintering toad or frog.
Untidy bug hotel and upturned flower pots
Gardens are too important to be just an extension of our houses, another room to furnish and sit in. We have to begin to garden for ecosystems, to show off the caterpillars of native species of butterfly rather than the blossoms of some alien imported climbing plant, to plan habitat for wood mice and toads, to welcome the moths in our apple trees and the wireworm in our potatoes.
We have created an emergency for our native wildlife and now we have to plan their rescue.