How to Create a Wildlife Friendly Garden [In 12 Steps]

By Claire Mitchell. Originally posted in the Gardener’s Corner of the Job Prices website. Published: 27th July 2019.

Making your garden a haven for wildlife doesn’t mean that you have to let it grow uncontrollably into a wild jungle.

In fact, you can take steps to make even the smallest of gardens into a wildlife-friendly zone.

Whether you own a huge estate or a typical family garden, you can give nature a space to thrive.

With a few simple steps, you can make your garden a friendly space for you and nature, where you can live in harmony.

Creating a garden that is friendly to wildlife and humans is much easier than you think.

Here are a few steps on how you can get started on this wonderful journey.

1. Install A Garden Pond With Shallow Sides For Animals To Safely Drink Water

Pond with plantsA small pond, even a shallow pool of water that is just a few centimetres deep, is a great way to attract wildlife to your garden.

With a shallow pond, you can expect your garden to attract dragonflies, frogs, newts, and even birds which will flock to it.

The best time to come up with your pond is during spring. In the next few months, you will quickly see it grow into a full mini-ecosystem.

Ensure your pond is in a location that receives enough sunlight but also has partial shade during the daytime, especially during the summer months.

We recommend all garden ponds should have shallow sides so animals that aren’t good swimmers can escape easily. This also makes the pond more suitable for animals to drink from.

Thinking of getting a pro to install a garden pond for you? Explore our guide to garden pond prices here.

2. Make Changes To Walls And Fences So Animals Such As Hedgehogs Can Travel From Garden To Garden

The humble hedgehog is a good example of the plight that many wild animals face.

In the UK, the number of garden hedgehogs is estimated to have fallen by almost 30%.

A major reason for this is the over-management of parks as well as fragmentation of their home ranges by fencing.

Any species would have a hard time thriving if faced with such odds. However, you can make a difference by simply cutting small holes in your fencing or simply using staggered planks when creating your garden fence.

You and your neighbours can cooperate on this to increase the home range of hedgehogs in your neighbourhood. The result is that they will have more room to breed and find food.

Some worry that leaving holes in the fence could provide an escape route for their pets as well. However, a small hole of just 13 by 13 cm will be enough for a hedgehog to get through. At the same time, it will be too small for most pets.

If you are feeling particularly altruistic about the plight of small garden wildlife, you can opt to swap your wall for a hedge. The hedge provides shelter, food, and an easy path through the garden.

Other creatures like birds and bees would also benefit a great deal.

Read more about hedgehogs and why they need our help over at Hedgehog Street or by reading our guide to helping hedgehogs.

3. Grow A Hedgerow, Use It To Replace A Wall Or Fence If You Can

In recent times, the trend has been to pull down hedgerows in favour of more secure fences and walls.

However, doing this divides the miniature wildlife habitats that so many small creatures depend on. It also impedes the flow of wildlife traffic, which can lead to inbreeding and eventually decimation of wildlife numbers.

Rather than using a wall or fence, opt for a nature-friendly hedgerow. Unlike a hedge, which consists of one type of shrub, a hedgerow comprises of various plants. This entails using tall and short species of shrubs to create diversity.

These species can come with various berries and leaves, which garden wildlife depend on to thrive. They can also create little nooks and crannies where wildlife can nest and shelter.

You’ll end up creating a diverse little ecosystem where birds can nest and bees can collect nectar. Besides that, these hedgerows can be grown quite thick and wide so they act as an effective eco-friendly barrier.

Since they are comprised of various shrub species that thrive in various times of the year, they do not require much maintenance. You will never have to worry about your entire hedgerow drying up or shedding excessively during any month of the year.

This website explains the importance of hedgerows to wildlife and which native species you should choose.

4. Build A Hedgehog Hut And Optionally Install A Camera To Keep An Eye On The Occupants

A fun way to encourage and help the hedgehogs roaming your garden is to provide them with accommodation.

You can build one yourself or buy one that is ready-made. You can make the hog home whenever you like. However, if you place it in the garden during the summer or spring, it means that the hedgehogs will be accustomed to it when house hunting starts in autumn.

Once the home is in the garden, do not worry if the hedgehogs do not immediately move into it. Their population has fallen sharply from 30 million to barely a million in the span of about 50 years. Thus, keep in mind that they are scarce and may already have a home in which to live. Eventually, one will come in during the colder months, when it comes time to hibernate.

When you set up your box, made of wood or plastic, ensure it is waterproof but that it has ventilation holes near the top. Otherwise, it might explain why there are no hedgehogs moving into it.

Likewise, the home should also be predator-proof.

Hedgehogs make an interesting subject in photography. You can set up a motion-sensitive camera at the back of the box, to capture any hedgehogs that show up.

Check out these examples of hedgehog houses you can buy online.

5. Install Bird Water Bowls To Encourage Birdlife

A bird water bowl is a great way to encourage the local bird population to visit your garden.

However, you need to remember a few things. For one, the bird water bowls need to be kept low. The reason for this is that most of the water sources that birds use in nature are found close to the ground or on the ground. You may place it on the ground or on top of a cinder block to encourage birds to quench their thirst.

Additionally, ensure that it is shallow. Birds love to bathe in shallow ponds that occur naturally in nature. The water bowl should never have more than a few centimetres of water. If the basin is too deep, add pebbles and gravel into it. This does not just lower the water level but it also acts as the footing for birds.

The last thing you want is for birds to struggle to try to get out of your ceramic bowl.

While it looks enticing, it could leave the smaller bird species stranded, causing them to starve to death in a bowl of water.

There are thousands of drinking bowls and birdbaths to choose from. There’s a good selection here to get you started.

6. Install Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeders

Bird feeders are cheap and easy to install, they can quite literally bring your garden to life.

However, if you like seeing squirrels in your garden, keep in mind they consume more food than birds.

You can quickly burn through hundreds of pounds of bird feed as you try to keep them coming back. To avoid this, ensure that some of your food is in a squirrel-proof bird feeder.

A carefully placed feeder can lead to endless hours of entertainment. Squirrels are more than capable of foraging for themselves, but they will not pass an opportunity for an easy meal. If you place it near your window, it can lead to hours of fun as squirrels try to get into the feeder and get a free meal.

One of the most entertaining options is the spinning bird feeder.

7. Build A Log Pile For Insects

Log piles are a great way to create a thriving wildlife community in your garden.

Dead and decaying wood occurs naturally in nature and attracts a thriving insect community. They provide shelter for animals that hibernate in winter and are a source of food for various insects.

Within a year or two, you will have a thriving community based around the log pile. If you plan to create a log pile, use a mix of native species. Different types of species attract different insects and animals. Do not take the bark off the logs. Instead, lay them as they are.

Avoid pinching wood from woodlands since it is a home for wildlife there. Instead, talk to the local forestry officials or tree surgeons.

To ensure a thriving community, bury some of the logs into the soil. Ground hibernators will find this quite appealing. It will also ensure the logs are dump enough to attract small creatures all year.

Place the big logs in the middle of the pile and the small ones on the edges. It ensures that curious onlookers can look at the wildlife without having to disturb this habitat for various garden creatures.

8. Build A Bee Sanctuary Or Buy A Bee Hotel

Log pile

A log pile suited to insects and bees

Besides honeybees and bumblebees, there are more than 240 bee species in the UK. Most of these other species are solitary and they prefer to nest in small holes or tunnels. Some solitary wasp species also nest this way. While they are harmless to humans, they predate on small insects.

While some bees are solitary, they love to group their nests close together. Some solitary bee species are quite useful in pollinating trees and fruits in the garden.

Gardeners can encourage them by creating bee hotels.

When you buy a bee hotel, it has to be maintained often. Ensure that at the end of summer, any cells that are still walled up are emptied. The contents of such a cell are dead and need to be removed to create space for new bees.

Instead of buying one, you can also create one yourself. Simply drill block of wood and create holes. If possible create holes of different sizes to accommodate different bee species. Ensure that the back of the block is lightly covered with plywood.

You should consider replacing the drilled blocks after two years to avoid a build-up of fungus, mites, and other pests that might harm the bee larvae.

Explore our guide to attracting more bees to your garden.

9. Avoid Covering Excessive Areas Of The Garden With Tarmac, Patio, Decking, And Other Solid Manmade Materials

In the UK, there are over 15 million gardens, which combined occupy more space than all the National Parks.

If you want to make your patch a thriving environment for wildlife, you should avoid covering the garden with hardened manmade materials.

For one, this will increase surface runoff, which prevents water from reaching underground creatures like worms, which are essential for a healthy garden. It also makes it hard for small burrowing creatures to make homes in your garden, which will cause them to move to softer grounds.

You should also note that hardened surfaces increase heating in the soil just below the surface. In the summer, these can create a hazard for small insects and other creatures you are trying to encourage to thrive.

Whenever possible, use a gravel pathway in your garden. It lets water sip into the ground, which is great for all the small, sub-surface creatures. With time, it will create a thriving ecosystem where small creatures are free to roam.

10. Allow An Area Of Grass To Grow Tall And Also Sow Wildflower Seeds

Wildflowers

Wildflowers add beauty add much more to a garden. Besides adding a spectacular mix of colours to the garden, they have a very important ecological role to play. They create a diverse sanctuary for various birds and insects, which are crucial for a thriving ecosystem.

If you plan to sow wildflower seeds, it is important to choose a patch of the garden with poor nutrition. This is where wildflowers thrive best. To do this, simply strip away the top 10 cm of the soil in the patch you pick. Clear all existing glass and plants by yanking them out by the roots. Dig the soil over and then rake it to create a level seedbed. Now sow the seeds by hand at about 5 gram per square meter. Rake the seedbed and moisten it. During dry days, try to moisten the soil a bit.

You can also opt to let an area of your garden grow long grass. With time, this patch will attract various creatures that love to nest in the long grass. This will include insect species, which will then attract birds that love to feed on them.

By the end of summer, you will have a beautiful patch of wildlife thriving in your garden.

11. Install Bird Boxes To High Areas, Such As Trees Or At The Roof Eaves

Bird house

Most bird boxes are built to great dimensions but placement is usually an issue. Many of them come with a back wall that is supposed to be used for mounting with screws. However, this makes it difficult to remove the bird box for cleaning once the birds fledge. The result is that no birds will use it in the future.

Some bird boxes come will a bracket that does not need screws. It makes it easy to remove them and clean them. These are the best option. If there are no birds in your current bird box, it might be time for you to move it. This is a sign that birds do not like the location.

One of the best places to mount a bird box is under the roof or eaves. These places receive little moisture and birds prefer them. They will like them more if it is hard for predators to get to them.

When placing your bird box, whether high up on a tree or at the roof eaves, ensure they face away from prevailing winds.

You should also note that some birds, like wrens, are territorial. They will create dummy nests to keep other birds away. Make it a habit to check for dummy nests to encourage other birds to use your empty bird boxes.

To get you started, check out these pre-made bird boxes.

12. Sow Or Plant Wildlife-Friendly Plants

If you wish to attract wild creatures to your garden, you do not need to create a crazy overgrown wild garden.

It is all about picking the most effective plants to attract garden wildlife.

If you manage to find the right plants, this will be a mutually beneficial relationship. They will thrive while helping to keep pests out of the garden.

When looking for the most suitable plants to buy, remember that wildlife needs food, shelter, and a place they can breed. Thus, shrubs, tall grass, flowers, and water are basic needs for many animals. Hedges and bushes are the perfect nesting ground for birds. At the same time, they provide food such as insects and berries.

We suggest you pick some flowering bushes, which will provide nectar for the bees. Ensure you plant a few native species of trees if you have space. Even one tree can make a huge difference. Squirrels and birds will certainly flock to it.

The grass is another essential element when creating a wildlife-friendly garden. If you want to see colonies of butterflies, worms, and caterpillars thriving, let the grass grow. Meadow grass, dandelion, and buttercup often grow in garden lawns that are not cut frequently. They will provide food and shelter for the wild species you wish to see in your garden.

Summary

There you have it; you now have the skills and knowledge to create a sanctuary for wildlife in your garden.

It does not take much effort or resources to attract wildlife to your garden. However, it is worth noting that city dwellers might not have much variety in their gardens. Despite this, you will still have more wildlife than most of your neighbours.

By creating a small patch where wildlife will thrive, it will provide a peaceful and tranquil environment.

You can stay out in your garden and watch all the happy little birds and hedgehogs running around. It can provide a lot of fun while creating an opportunity to teach your kids about nature.

Besides that, you will be making a huge contribution to the preservation of diversity for the whole country. Every flower that blooms in your garden provides a meal for bees. These bees play a crucial role in pollination farmlands and nature reserves. While it might not seem like much now, every bee that you save helps to ensure a better future for everyone.

Bees are quite literally disappearing from nature and without human help, things will only get worse.

No matter the size of your gardens, you can always make a small contribution to protecting biodiversity with these few tips. More already mentioned above, there is more garden space than all the acreage of nature reserves in the UK.

This guide to creating a wildlife-friendly garden was created by Claire Mitchell and was originally posted in the Gardener’s Corner of the popular Job Prices website.