How to support wildlife outside your back door

Hedgehog in a garden grass field

Hedgehog in a garden grass field

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A new campaign to halt the decline of wildlife is calling on gardeners for their support. Weekender reports on how you can help

Anyone who’s been gardening for some years may well have noticed, as time moves on, the wildlife which once frequented British gardens is becoming a rarer sight.

In May, the State of Nature report compiled by 25 wildlife organisations found that, for a range of reasons like loss of habitat, 60% of the 3,148 UK animal and plant species assessed have declined in the past 50 years. Hedgehog numbers have also reduced by a third since the millennium, and tortoiseshell butterflies, once common in gardens, have declined by 77%.

“What’s most alarming is many of the ‘common’ garden species – hedgehogs, house sparrows, starlings and frogs, for example – are becoming much less common,” says Helen Bostock, Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) horticultural advisor. “Historically these species have done well in our gardens and so their decline is something we really need to sit up and take notice of. This is where gardeners can make a difference and help to halt the declines we’re seeing by making their gardens more wildlife friendly. This should be a wake-up call to all of us.”

With this in mind, the RHS and The Wildlife Trusts are spearheading a new initiative called Wild About Gardens Week. The event, backed by celebrity gardeners Diarmuid Gavin, Matthew Wilson and Sarah Raven, runs from October 25-31 and is urging the public, plus the RHS’s 3,300 community gardening groups, 17,250 schools and 145 partner gardens, to hold wildlife gardening events during the week. A microsite (www.rhs.org.uk/wildaboutgardensweek) has been set up for groups and individuals to log events.

Chris Baines, vice president of The Wildlife Trusts, says: “The nation’s gardens are important for wildlife and as a habitat network they are second to none.

“Inner-city balconies and courtyards, the suburbs’ hedgerows and lawns and the orchards and allotments of market towns and villages all have the potential to be incredibly rich habitats for wildlife. There are many simple ways in which we can make our gardens naturally richer. Nest boxes, birdfeeders, log piles, nectar plants, fruiting shrubs, wall climbers and ponds all improve the life chances for many garden creatures.”

Throughout Wild About Gardens Week, talks and events will be held at the four RHS Gardens and Wildlife Trusts visitor centres. There will also be wildflower seed giveaways by the trust and the public will be asked to ‘Do One Thing’ – whether to create a pond, build a hedgehog house or simply put out some bird seed.

Here are a few suggestions from the celebrities backing the scheme:

“This week gives you the excuse to be a bit lazy and let the grass grow – research has shown that the lawn contains more native species than any other garden feature,” Diarmuid Gavin

“Nature isn’t tidy – the countryside is full of piles of leaves, rotting wood, dying plants, nooks and crannies. Taking a relaxed and less tidy approach to our own gardens benefits wildlife by providing similar habitats and food sources,” Matthew Wilson

“Make a point of planting a pot of cosmos next year. They flower for many months and are stacked full of nectar at just the time our pollinators appear to be going short,” Sarah Raven

“Get a cheap sponge and soak it in a bucket of sugary water (dilute at about one part sugar to four parts water). Pop it out in the garden for butterflies to munch on – they love it!” David Domoney