Our bugs, birds and beasts need you!

Wildlife gardens

We realise that we need to do our bit to help native wildlife but not many people know we need to protect their food sources too.

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When I was a kid, a drive in the summer with my parents would produce a dazzling array of bugs splattered over the windshield.  Have you noticed that doesn’t happen any more?

If you have then your not the only one, there are less bugs about.  It’s called the windshield phenomenon and it’s caused by factors like climate change, pollution, overuse of pesticides and loss of habitat.  It’s a difficult time to be a bug but our creepy crawlies are the little things that run the world.  They fulfill many roles in nature and most importantly they sit at the foot of the food chain which makes them vital.

Without insects, species face starvation and ornithologists believe this is already causing declines in bird numbers.

Bugs are easy to miss in winter when most insects hibernate to escape the chilly temperatures but when summer rolls around, our insects need a helping hand and now is the time to prepare.

The easiest way is to simply leave all the fallen debris on the ground that fell in autumn and winter.  Underneath all that mulch is the perfect resting place for insects looking to lay low.  There’s a range of minibeast homes you can buy to place around your garden later in spring but they are easy and cheap to build yourself.  Using simple materials like spare wood, bricks, pine cones and twigs you can easily construct a multi-layered bug hotel that will provide shelter for insects.

You might think your small urban garden can’t help much but a small patch of grass left uncut will be home to thousands of insects. Our ideal of a nicely mown lawn destroys so much habitat.

If you have the space then why not turn a patch of lawn or roadside verge into a wildflower meadow? Meadows are not only visually stunning, they support the pollinators and offer habitat to bugs and creatures further up the food chain.

However creating a meadow is not simply scattering some seeds over a lawn.  Seeds are in competition with an already established lawn and they have no hope against thick tufts of grass.  You’ve got two options really, the cheapest is to grab a rake and start ripping a patch of lawn to bits.  Go for it, start breaking it up and the little patches of soil you expose are the best chance for your seeds to gain a footing.  The more expensive way is to plant established plug plants to give them a fighting chance.  Prepare and plant early though because once your grass starts to grow the chance of success become considerably slimmer.

Plant plenty of flowers, urban gardens are generally sheltered and a bit warmer so the flowering season will be longer which will provide food longer for wildlife preparing for winter.

Water is essential to everything.  If you’ve got the space then get digging and create a pond,  you’ll be amazed at what will make your backyard their home.  If your garden is small, you can still help.  Fill buckets, pots, an old bathtub, add a water feature, anything really.  Stick some water loving plants in there and they’ll oxygenate your mini-ponds, you’ll provide habitats for bugs and possibly drinking water for birds and mammals.  Don’t forget to top them up regularly over summer though.

Avoid fences and opt for hedges as they harbour all manner of insects, invertebrates, birds and mammals.  Hedges also allow a space for hedgehogs to access your garden.

There’s only so much we can do as individuals but every bit helps and with a few small changes you’ll be blown away by the diversity of life you help sustain.

Finally there’s one very important point to make, if you have children then involve them in the process.  Let them help build a bug hotel and point out the creatures they’ve given a home to when you can.  Our children will soon be caretakers of the planet and time spent educating them can be fun and will create something that may stick with them for life.

A huge range of information on creature friendly gardens can be found at www.rhs.org.ukwww.rspb.org.uk or at www.wildlifetrusts.org


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