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How to Turn Your Garden Into A Wildlife Reserve

hengistburyhead
Published on October 4th 2020
35
small birds perched on a mug in a garden
The presence of wildlife can transform your garden into a dynamic and exciting place to be.
At Hengistbury Head, a nature reserve on the South coast of England, we follow a management routine to help us care for our essential habitats and the wildlife within.
We do this by removing problematic species and encouraging native ones, and by promoting growth with help from our conservation grazing livestock.
Whilst working here, I have picked up a few tips and tricks to attract lots of wildlife into my outdoor space.
Here are my top five suggestions that you can try at home.

1. Create a “larder” for wildlife

Food is an easy and beautiful way to encourage visitors to your garden.
This could be as simple as leaving the seed heads from plants to overwinter, providing birds and mammals with a source of protein through the colder months.
thistles
Or perhaps you could plant fruits for both wildlife and you? There are some widespread plants seen in nature reserves that are overlooked for domestic environments such as Bramble, Dog Rose, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Rowan, Holly, Ivy and Elder!
But you don’t have to rely on “native” plants to provide a resource to wildlife. Many favourites of pollinators are non-native, such as Sunflowers and Michaelmas daisies.

Sunflower

Helianthus spp.

Michaelmas Daisy

Aster spp.

An exotic-filled garden will only support 20% fewer species than native, so why not mix it up and use a few non-natives too?
I’m sure we have all seen the devastation that whites’ caterpillars have on our brassicas! So how about planting some plants which are foodplants for the larval stage of many invertebrates?
There are species found in nature reserves, green spaces and gardens throughout the country which encourage invertebrates by providing them with somewhere to lay their eggs. You can easily incorporate these into your own garden.
For example, Stinging Nettle is the larval foodplant for many species such as Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies.
A peacock butterfly on a branch
Nettles also provide a safe space for other invertebrates like aphids, who in turn are a tasty feast for ladybirds and birds.
Hop is also the foodplant for the Comma butterfly and Buff Ermine moth among others.
Ensuring you provide these foodplants will also help alleviate the pressure on your other plants and crops from these critters!

2. Create connections between green spaces

So now you have all this wonderful wildlife in your garden. Amazing! But to take those next steps, you could increase the usable area for nature by creating connections between green areas.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Hedgehog highways; created by cutting a hole in your fence and allowing Hedgehogs to move freely between gardens.
A hedgehog by a fence
You can get more information about how to make your hedgehog garden friendly here:
While you're at it you may as well plant climbers, and speak to neighbours to organise planting hedgerows or similar species, allowing wildlife to breeze in and out easily.
This doesn’t just stop with plants. You could create mini habitats by creating shared water bodies, or perhaps a shared compost heap?
The possibilities are endless! Almost…

3. Imitate natural habitats for wildlife in your garden

Walking around a site like Hengistbury, it’s great to see such a diverse range of habitats within such a small space, so let’s recreate them in our outdoor spaces!
How many habitats you can recreate is dependent on substrate type, but a fun task nonetheless!
For example, bark chips and decaying matter such as leaves, and logs can help to create a wonderful woodland habitat in a small space.
This encourages detritivores (animals like works that feed on dead organic matter) to move in, and with the addition of some bulbs such as native Bluebells, Snowdrops, Wild Garlic and Wood Anemone, will produce a wonderful spring scene.
A close up of bluebells in the garden
Do you have acidic, sandy soil? You lucky people could imitate some heathland through planting a range of Heather species and some Cytisus species provide pollinators with some late summer-autumn flowers.
This provides a low-maintenance solution whilst adding a flash of colour and a food source for pollinators.
Got some spare garden space to imitate a beautiful grassland? Mixed with wildflowers or on their own, grasses are not only a great source of pollen and place of refuge for wildlife, they are also integral for invertebrate breeding.
Many species such as Froghoppers and Moths will lay their eggs on blades of grass.
Invertebrates also provide a food source for birds and wasps and a source of pollination for many plants.
To replicate management techniques found on nature reserves, it is recommended to cut and collect grass at the end of August to promote biodiversity!
A man and woman mowing grass in a nature reserve
As demonstrated here!

4. Don't disturb the soil

A great tip to encourage wildlife into your garden is to find plants which don’t need much maintenance and will come back year after year.
Perennials are a great, low hassle way to brighten up any outdoor area, and with your annuals and biennials, trim the stems - rather than uprooting them- to help you maintain and improve your soil health!
No dig is a popular method for crop gardening, which can be applied to other plants in your outdoor space. Disturbing the soil and removing whole plants can disrupt the soil ecosystem, and removes nutrients from the soil.
Ensuring low soil disturbance allows the countless soil invertebrates to create a healthy soil system for both themselves and plants!

5. Leave some wetter areas

We all know that wet areas such as ponds are great for our native wildlife. But how about leaving whole areas of your outdoor space for natural dampening?
a wet boggy part of a garden
If you are fighting with that boggy area at the end of your garden, just leave it!
Nature is a force to be reckoned with, and if you are blessed with a wet area then allow it to be. Birds will love it. Invertebrates will love it. And the plant species which will colonise that area will be much more interesting and a great talk piece for friends and family!
Wetlands are full to the brim with biodiversity and have great benefits such as flood prevention, carbon sequestration and water filtration.
Ok, the benefits of your small patch of wetland will be greatly reduced… However, the wildlife this will draw in will be second to none.
A person holding a toad in a jar
So that is just a few ways in which you can make your outdoor space more attractive to the local wildlife, according to a nature reserve!
Adding nature to your outdoor space can have countless benefits. Encouraging predators like hedgehogs to snaffle up your slug problem promotes natural pest control. And promoting microbiome diversity and providing a place of solace can have countless improvements to both your mental and physical health.
This is something that many people noticed during the lockdown, and we hope this results in a greater respect and care for both personal outdoor spaces, and natural greenspaces.
A herd of sheep standing on top of a lush green field
The sheep ay Hengitsbury
At Hengistbury, we are passionate about the benefits that nature brings. We have several projects looking at increasing the number of people that nature benefits through various engagement sessions.
These include nature-focused bereavement groups, which has had positive feedback and results. If you would like to find out more, please email us at hengistbury.head@bcpcouncil.gov.uk.
You can find out more about Hengistbury on their website, or by following them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.