Gardening for wildlife
Recent research has found that our private gardens cover an area bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves put together, an estimated 10 million acres. Our individual gardens may be small but there are more than 22million of them and together they create a system of green spaces and wildlife corridors that we must treat as an important part of the effort to increase our beleaguered biodiversity.
But gardening for wildlife has been presented to us by the media as an opportunity to avoid the hard work of digging and mowing, to let everything run wild, and there are avid gardeners among the wildlife watchers for whom this would be anathema. Tell them not to despair, owning a neatly mown lawn need not make them a conservation villain. There are counter arguments to be made in favour of managed gardens.
Wildflower meadow and a beautifully managed garden
It is hard to see how plants that are neatly laid out would be any better or worse for wildlife than the same plants randomly arranged. Wildlife does not concern itself with symmetrical design; bees don’t care if the flowers come in straight lines or scattered across a wildflower meadow. A garden without the self-seeded things we call weeds need be no less biodiverse if we choose the seeds and plant them in rows.
A well-groomed lawn can be habitat too, particularly if it surrounds an area of long grass. Beetle larvae are just as happy to feast on the roots of short grass as on the roots of long meadow grasses. Blackbirds and robins will find just as many worms under a lawn as under one of the reserve’s hayfields.
Slow worms in your compost bin and frogs in your water feature
Why would neat piles of logs have less value as wildlife habitat than those just thrown down in a heap? Why would slow worms be any less happy in an orderly compost heap than in a pile of garden rubbish, or frogs less likely to spawn in an ornamental water feature than in an overgrown pond?
There are, undoubtedly, ways in which tidy gardening can damage wildlife habitat and reduce biodiversity: if raked up garden waste is binned or burned instead of composted, if seed heads are cut down instead of left standing as food for seed eaters, if shrubs trees and hedges are pruned during breeding season or removed altogether. Herbicides and insecticides are never going to add to biodiversity; installing hard landscaping or artificial grass will always be at the cost of wildlife habitat.
Shelter for a great tit and a balcony garden
With a little planning, even the smallest of terraces or balcony gardens can offer our wildlife habitat, food, breeding territory or just shelter on a cold night. No matter what kind of gardener you are, your garden can make a difference.
Header image: wildflower garden by Kotomi (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr.com