Best Ways To Attract Wildlife; 10 Top Tips
Attracting wildlife to your garden not only makes it a more interesting and exciting place to be, but also gives nature a chance to do some gardening for you! There are a whole host of birds and beasts you could entice into your garden that will be glad of a tasty slug or juicy greenfly so why not give them a chance? Naturalist & Broadcaster Chris Packham shares his tips for creating a nature reserve in your back garden.
Be realistic about what you can help or attract. There’s no point stocking your bird table with venison in the hope of a golden eagle’s arrival if you live on the Isle of Wight. But hazelnuts for red squirrels might be a productive option. Go for a wander around your neighbourhood to see what’s about, then shape your menu accordingly. And if it isn’t in the book, invent it yourself! Consider what the animal needs naturally and try to replicate it. It’s not rocket science – its basic biology.
Grow their own
Human table scraps are not always the answer. Many other species need natural foods: nectar is an obvious example. Planting & growing crops for butterflies, bees, moths, flies, beetles etc. is essential and will beautify your space. Flowers are basically advertisements for nectar and the central elements of most garden design. Don’t get hung up about needing to plant native species, just to ensure you plant species that will flower successively. That way you will guarantee to have sweet, sugary fuel on tap all spring & summer long.
Cats – the difficult one! That these pets have a detrimental impact on suburban wildlife is beyond doubt. But sharing your space with them does not have to spell disaster. If they are yours, keep them in at night & fit one of the biggest ‘bird scaring’ collars. These two actions will drastically reduce the damage done, so try to lead by example and convince your neighbours to do the same. Otherwise, make sure there is plenty of shelter and that nest boxes and feeding stations are out of feline reach.
Get it close
If you have to use binoculars to watch your garden wildlife, you should be trying harder to get it to come to you. After all, that’s one of the rewards for all your hard work. Place your feeding stations or nest boxes at the distance where the animals are not disturbed by you, and you can get great views of them. The kitchen window can offer a view like nothing on earth, and what’s on show will make the washing up a lot less tedious. You can get Perspex feeders that stick on the window – and you won’t get better views than that on your HD TV.
Just add water
Water is the key of life, and by adding even a bucket of it to your space you can massively increase the number of species it can support. Terrestrials will come to drink from it or bath in it; the amphibious will come to breed in it and the aquatics will populate it with gusto. If you can go from a bucket to a pond, you will attract bigger and perhaps more exciting species. But there is one important thing to consider: fish or no fish? Opting to do without them is the only way to properly benefit wildlife – as fish will eat other species or their larvae.
Adult insects need nectar to find the energy to mate, disperse and produce eggs. They don’t need it to grow. But their caterpillars, larvae and grubs do, and it is important to provide native species for them to eat. If mustard’s no good without roast beef, then buddleia is no good without stinging nettles. As a Chinese import, the former is great for adults, but inedible to the larvae of our favourite garden butterflies such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral. Read up to find out what the caterpillars of other species need, and plant plenty of it.
Okay, I know that this will be the most difficult one. If you really want to help the wildlife in your community, you must let the obsession with tidiness drop – if only in a corner of your space. Let the grass grow long and sow wildflowers: weeds, dead wood and tangles of nettles or brambles are utopia for so many species and for so many reasons. Food, shelter and diversity will be added for everything from grubs to the thrushes that eat them. And while it may look like chaos to you, it will actually be a beautiful example of ‘natural order’.
Make them at home
House building is good business for the successful wildlife gardener. Bird boxes are an obvious requirement, as there is always a shortage of holes. Hedgehog homes regularly work for our spikey friends in a quiet corner of the garden. And bat boxes may attract a bat or two, but only if you and the neighbours put up lots of them. Think ‘small’, too, and try to provide bees and bugs with places to nest or hibernate. It doesn’t have to be posh or clever: a piece of corrugated iron will be a bonus to slow worms or a great place for a mouse’s nest.
Food for all
Feed them, feed them, feed them all! We do an amazing job of providing for our garden birds in the UK, spending millions each year to top up our feeders with quality nosh. But we have to work harder to keep everything else fully fed. I have a bowl in my kitchen where everything edible but uneaten goes. When it’s full, or begins to get a life of its own, I put it out on a feeding platform. Badgers, foxes, mice and hedgehogs have the nocturnal sitting, and if any scraps remain then magpies, crows and jays clear up the rest. The fact that it’s always picked clean means that it’s filling a gap.
Please, please, please get your children or grandchildren out into your garden. Take them on a safari to explore all the small things. Let them catch a few tadpoles with a net for a while. Help them climb up to look at an old bird’s nest or peep in the birdbox. Allow them to stay up late to see the fox in the driveway. Let them get muddy, slimed and stung while they feel nature firsthand. If children aren’t allowed out to roam in the fields and woods, your garden might be their last chance to have a spark ignited: to see heaven in a wildflower…to learn to love life.
Chris Packham’s Back Garden nature Reserve is published by New Holland and has all the practical advice, plans and details you need to make your space more friendly to other species. Pick up a copy in our garden centre.