Make room for nature with wildlife gardening

Britain is one of the most nature depleted nations in the world, with loss or degradation of natural habitats causing the tapestry of biodiversity to become threadbare.

An urbanised Britain is leading to a wildlife crisis. Over 40 percent of the 8,000 species in the UK are in decline, with one in ten at risk of extinction.

But how can we help nature recover?

Rotherham Climate Action has recently partnered with Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and Environment Action to form Nature Recovery Rotherham to stand up for nature and raise awareness of this pressing cause. On Wednesday 23rd March, they will be declaring a nature emergency to encourage communities and the council to do even more to help.

But there are lots of simple ways you can get involved to preserve the beauty and importance of nature to our entire ecosystem.

Wildlife gardening is a really great way to get into connecting closely with nature right on your doorstep while reducing your environmental impact.

It doesn’t matter if you have a windowsill, small garden, or large piece of land, there are many ways to make habitats for animals, plants and insects.

Create a container garden

Pots and containers are a great way of introducing wildlife features into more formal areas of the garden like the patio, or outside the front door.

Get creative with your containers. Try an old watering can, chimney pot, kettle or teapot, holey boots, metal pails and buckets, paint tins, pans and colanders – the sky’s the limit.

Whether you choose to plant herbs, meadow flowers, or hanging basket flowers, a variety of plants will attract different species. But always remember to use peat-free compost in any pots you plant up. Peatlands are withering away to nothing, taking with them a valuable ecosystem, flood risk mitigator and carbon store.

Grow a wildpatch

Long grass, peppered with flowers, is one of the rarest habitats in our well-tended gardens, yet it is incredibly beneficial for wildlife.

Bring a touch of wild to your garden by planting wildflowers that provide vital resources to support a wide range of insects, create feeding opportunities for birds, and shelter small mammals that couldn’t survive in urban areas.

Set aside some lawn, leaving it to grow, and wait to see what arrives. The less pristine the lawn, the more promising it is for wildlife.

Blooms to choose for butterflies and bees

Choose seasonal, nectar-rich plants for bees and butterflies and you’ll have a colourful, fluttering display in your garden for many months.

Bees in particular are under threat in the UK; there are 25 species of bumblebee, of which three are already extinct in Britain due to loss or degradation of habitat. Bees are vitally important for pollinating hundreds of plant species, including many crops. Without them, our ecosystem would suffer immensely.

The aim is to prolong the nectar season by adding seasonal flowers and plants with early and late flowering blooms. In spring, examples are primrose, sweet rocket, Aubretia and Honesty. Summer flowering plants are Buddleia, honeysuckle, lavender and Hebe.

Create a mini pond for amphibians

Adding a pond is one of the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden. But it doesn’t need to feel like a task in itself to create one. A washing-up bowl, a large plant pot, or a disused sink could all be repurposed as ponds, providing you make sure creatures can get in and out.

Even a small pond can be home to an interesting range of wildlife, including damsel and dragonflies, frogs and newts. It could also become a feeding ground for birds, hedgehogs and bats – the best natural garden pest controllers.

All amphibians require ponds to breed, so don’t add fish as they will eat any eggs or spawn. Add at least two water plants to oxygenate the water and provide food and shelter, such as water forget-me-not, starwort, or miniature waterlily.

Once you’ve planted and added gravel or stones to your mini pond remember to only fill it with rainwater. Tap water has too many chemicals in. Keep it topped up in the drier summer months. You may need to give your mini pond a little maintenance throughout the year to remove any algae or silt.

Help the hedgehogs

This spring, join Nature Recovery Rotherham as they host a Hedgehog Festival at Dearne Valley College on Saturday 2nd April 10am until 12pm.

There will be practical demonstrations and guest speakers to help you learn more about creating a hedgehog friendly garden and how to preserve their habitat.

Hedgehogs have a long history of decline in the UK. Since the turn of the Millennium, hedgehog numbers have dropped by over a third. They’re disappearing from our countryside as fast as tigers are worldwide. In 2020, hedgehogs were put on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list as vulnerable to extinction.

Hedgehogs are Britain’s only spiny mammals and their appearance has little changed in 15 million years. They’re often found in gardens, hedgerows, woodlands, parks and cemeteries and can travel around 2km a night. Hibernation begins to end with the arrival of warmer temperatures in March and April, and litters of baby hedgehogs are usually born in May.

You might think they just eat slugs and snails, but they also eat other invertebrates and creepy crawlies. Having a variety of plants and habitats in your garden will attract insects which in turn encourages hedgehogs into your garden.

In the garden, avoid using pesticides and slug pellets and let the hedgehogs do their job of natural pest controllers. Check for hidden hedgehogs before mowing or strimming the lawn and keep any plant or sports netting and household rubbish above ground level to avoid them getting tangled up.

The Nature Recovery Rotherham event at Dearne Valley College will discuss in more details how you can help any hog visitors you have in your garden. The free event is bookable on Eventbrite and is open to all.