Wildlife-watching has an obvious appeal for kids, but it’s sometimes thought that you need a big garden to be able to create the right sort of conditions to give you much of a chance of seeing anything interesting. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although it’s obviously easier to leave an area to go ‘wild’ in a large plot, the smallest space can also be arranged to help provide a useful habitat for some of our native plants and animals. Even if you’ve got little more than a window box or a few pots in your back yard, you can still do your bit and enjoy watching wildlife from your own window – though you’ll probably have to work a bit harder to encourage it to visit in the first place.
Fortunately, whatever size of ground you can afford to turn over to make your own little nature reserve, there are a few sure-fire tips to improve your chances of success!
What are the Best Plants for Wildlife?
Picking your plants wisely plays an important part in encouraging wildlife into your garden – and don’t forget that wildflowers count as wildlife too! Growing sunflowers with your kids can be great fun for its own sake, but once the flowers have died, all those seed-filled heads make fantastic snacks for a wide variety of birds – and they’ll visit in their droves to get at them.
Bees will be attracted to most colourful or scented flowers, but they seem to find a number of plants, including rosemary, lavender, hollyhocks and godetia – along with wildflowers such as cornflowers, foxgloves and marsh marigolds – particularly irresistible. Buddleia is a classic plant to include if you want to bring in the butterflies, and most of the varieties of mallow will do almost as well, while honeysuckle and night-flowering stocks will attract moths to your garden.
What Makes a Good Wildlife Habitat?
First and foremost, leaving an area undisturbed – which is why things do tend to be easier in large gardens. However, in smaller spots, it should still be possible to leave a corner to go wild – and you can improve things for the wildlife by adding some old logs or branches, or leaving a pile of last autumn’s fallen leaves. These will make great places for a whole variety of things to hide.
Ponds make another really useful kind of habitat for all sorts of wildlife – and not just the obvious ones like frogs – since everything needs water and in most parts of the country, there aren’t anything like as many natural ponds as there used to be. Even the smallest water feature can be an important place for a range of creatures to live or visit.
Trees, shrubs and hedges can also provide valuable shelter for a large number of different kinds of animals as well as providing temporary perching accommodation for visiting birds. If you do want to really encourage birds, adding suitable nesting boxes and a well stocked bird-table usually does the trick; our feathered friends are never slow to spot the chance of a free meal!
What About Pests and Pesticides?
If you want to encourage wildlife into your garden, then the first thing you need to do is take a long, hard look at how you deal with pests; after all, there’s not much point in setting out to poison the very things you’re trying to encourage!
Cutting back on pesticide use will mean an increase in the numbers of slugs, snails and other pests likely to be found, but it’s worth bearing in mind that these creatures tend to form the diet of a whole range of more welcome animals – including toads, hedgehogs and many birds. Although you will be supporting a larger pest population, you’ll also be providing a great potential home for a lot of the local wildlife as a result.
Many parents choose to reduce their use of pesticides – or abandon them altogether – especially around young children, and if that’s the approach that you’ve taken, then you’ll obviously not notice much of a difference.
You don’t have to let your garden turn into a wilderness; only lazy gardeners would pretend that a horribly overgrown and weed-choked patch is a ‘wildlife habitat’! With just a little thought to how you plant your garden and manage it, it’s perfectly possible to keep a tidy-looking plot around your home and still encourage plenty of different kinds of birds, insects and other wild creatures to visit – which should keep all the family happy.