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Wildlife Files Discovery Part Two

Wildlife Friendly Gardens

 

How you can help restore the natural balance

As you may have read in the Wildlife Files Discovery Part One 60% of the British and European wild bird population has disappeared in the last 25 years.
The reason?
Most notably, farming pesticides, and closer to home the way you may over-manage your own garden can be a contributory factor. In fact there's a whole list of reasons why garden management plays a pivotal role in the wider scale of environmental destruction. Everything you do in your garden can make a difference to the local environment in ways you may never have imagined. It's like the "butterfly effect" - When a butterfly flaps its wings in an English garden it can can be the eventual trigger of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico! In other words, every small change you make to your garden will have a chain effect on the flora and fauna which depend on it.
Unfortunately, in most cases, people take great strides to "makeover" a garden as to how they want it to look... rather than what is suitable habitat for the locality. Traditional cosmetic appearances play no effective part in conservation. This is not to say that a garden can't look beautiful if it's tailored to support local wildlife. Far from it in fact. All you need to do is first look at what kind flora and fauna are native to your local area, source native plants and build habitats to help encourage wildlife. This can all be done to look and feel inviting to the human eye as well as being a perfect haven for a huge variety of creatures and plants. Every plant and creature found in your garden can be considered a friend - even creatures hardly seen ... so small in fact that the benefits they bring to maintaining the balance of your garden can be seriously overlooked. A balanced garden is all to do with how you set it out to accommodate all creatures, because from the tiniest insect to the biggest tree there is a delicate chain that connects all these things.... as you'll find out when you read on.

How do you see your garden?

Neat and tidy gardens can be environmentally unfriendly places. Some of us treat them like an extension of the inside of our home - the flowers in sterile beds are like ornaments on dusted shelves, while the manicured lawn represents the neat vacuumed carpet. Regimented arrangements of one colour co-ordinated plants won't attract a natural mix of insect species. To top it all, fads and fashions of slabs, shingle and decking are bleak, unapproachable terrain for garden visitors.
This unnatural uniformity can lead to flora infestations such as aphids (greenfly etc.) Aphids are part of the diet of ladybirds, hover flies, lacewings and many other garden insects. Pesticides will also kill these welcome inhabitants leading to a spiralling imbalance of the natural environment.

But before VeggieGlobal guides you on your way to creating a wildlife garden you must first unravel any preconceived ideas of what makes a garden look "nice" and to understand that a wildlife garden creates its own vistas ... and it's not about you contriving garden views that you want to see from the windows of your house. If your garden is already an overgrown "forest" then the first thing to do is certainly NOT grab a saw and a fork and begin to cut it all down. All the plants, trees and shrubbery have grown in your "neglected" garden in a complex, natural manner of self-selection and often partnered themselves with corresponding plants which reciprocally help in maintaining a disease and infestation-free existence. Have you ever seen an insect or disease infected tree or shrub in a natural wild area? Probably never. If you have a next door neighbours who treat their garden like an an extension of their neat and tidy living room, then you'll probably hear a constant stream of moaning from the other side of your fence about shrubs and trees dying from disease and aphids. In which case, your neighbours are the kind of ignorant and often stubborn gardeners who will never listen to the facts, that by constantly blasting their garden full of pesticides and digging up anything that looks "foreign" amongst their manicured flower beds, they will always suffer from sick plants and trees. These types of people will often even sterilize their soil with antiseptic after a shrub has died ... a smell that lingers across neighbourhoods for days after its application.
So, as you begin to explore the growth of your wild garden, the first thing to do is to establish natural path areas. Imagine yourself as just another animal who has entered the wild garden ... like a fox or badger who will often create a pathway that they use each time they visit your garden. You, the human animal, is now going to respect the garden in the same way, so walk through the garden in a natural manner ... which will mean carefully navigating around trees, shrubs and long grasses. Do this a few times and your natural labyrinth should begin to reveal itself. Those paths become your interaction with the wild area. They indicate human presence but also enable both you and the flora to coexist without one intruding on the other in any negative way. Once this relationship establishes, you, the flora and the fauna in your wildlife garden become natural partners. From this point on, all the work you do in maintaining your partnership with your wildlife garden becomes an unobtrusive and most importantly, an environmentally positive exercise.

If your present back yard / garden is nothing more than a lifeless pile of flat earth, concrete, or short patchy grass, then you will need to create ... or at least kick-start your wildlife garden into action. You will in effect be helping to reintroduce the growth of plants, grasses and trees which would most likely have originally resided there before humans destroyed it. The following pages should now help you begin to add natural life back to your neighbourhood.

Building up the Partnership with your garden.

As we've mentioned, as a wildlife gardener you should consider yourself in partnership with your garden, rather than its controller. As a partner, you will begin to learn and appreciate the subtle balance between your actions and the growth and survival of the plant and animal life surrounding you.
For example, various species of plants (usually yellow) will attract aphid eating insects, so plant these adjacent to shrubs which are at risk of infestation. Aphids are also important food for birds such as blue tits and great tits and most importantly their young, which will feed on tens of thousands of aphids as the baby birds grow. But one of the most important things to remember when planting a garden from scratch ias that if some shrubs and trees die after a while - even from disease or pests - do not consider this as a failure of either your gardening ability - and don't blame it on pests. This is all part of natural selection and while some plants will thrive others may not. Leave nature to take its course as it eventually determines what kind of flora and fauna your garden can naturally accommodate. Once you add a wildlife pond to your garden it will also take on a whole extra dimension - but more on that later.

Natural ground coverage is important in your garden so leave plants to decay and rot down after flowering. Without decaying foliage such as fallen leaves and long grassy areas, the ground cannot regenerate its nutrients or sustain important insect life. If left, the seeds of dead flowers, also provide food for bird life. But since humans have destroyed so much of their natural food source, wild birds are now more dependent on us for food than ever before. So whenever possible leave out bird seed and grain, crushed peanuts etc. (not bread as this can choke and kill baby birds).
To attract woodpeckers set up a wire mesh nut tube which doesn't swing around but is solidly attached to a tree or bracket. Also set up a wire mesh nut tube which doesn't swing around but is solidly attached to a tree or bracket. And don't forget the all-important nesting boxes to help encourage all your local bird species.
Long grassy areas will help to regenerate the disappearing world of small animals, which although unpleasant to dwell on are the food source of a now sparse owl population. Without a healthy population of rodents such as mice or voles etc., owls have to spend more time searching for food rather than breed or feed their young... hence a drastic reduction of species.

But once you begin feeding your local bird life, keep it up. They will depend on your offerings to rear their young... helping to expand the interdependent circle of life, which over a couple of years will help increase your local bird population. Every bit helps.

As mentioned, gardens without natural wildlife areas are most likely to have problems with disease. In time, a naturally balanced garden will sort out its own problems. Wild areas, and particularly ponds will attract and bring to life an abundance of creatures and wild flowers capable of restoring some ecological balance to your garden.

Birds, hedgehogs, frogs toads, newts and insects alike all play host at keeping everything in order. They are nature's gardeners and do a far better job preserving your flora than any chemicals or over-tidy human gardener. And most importantly our suburban wildlife will begin to have enough native food to feed themselves and their young. Also remember that slug pellets WILL kill hedgehogs and other animals who feed on slugs. Let the hedgehogs survive and they will dispose of slugs, since they are part of our prickly friends diet. If you need to remove slugs then the most effective method is to occasionally go around at night removing them with a gloved hand or spade.

Note: If you've seen the articles in the Looking-Glass Global News section you may have read that the world amphibian population is rapidly declining - close to mass extinction. This is through both destruction of their habitats (like garden ponds and wetlands), but also through a fungal disease (not dangerous to humans). If you have frogs or toads, do everything possible to help with their survival (see part 2)

Pesticides are just not necessary. Even if you loose a few of your plants in the first year or two, your garden will settle into a balanced and healthier environment in the future, whereby you will never need to use any damaging pesticides.
So, the number one rule is never use pesticides or weed-killer. That is the worst thing you can do to your garden and its wildlife. For example if you treat your lawn with chemical based "greening" products etc. the poisons and chemicals soak straight into the soil and are absorbed by worms. Birds feed on the worms who pass them onto the babies and they will die. In fact, your garden soil becomes a death trap for wildlife for many years until the poisons disperse.
Research has also found that garden pesticides can seriously effect children's health. Studies have shown that children suffer symptoms like loss of bowel and bladder control for weeks after being in contact with lawns covered with pesticides. Pesticide products can contain chemicals linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma and soft-tissue cancers.

Hedges and hedgerows are home to a huge diversity of animals, birds and insects. If you have to trim hedges then only do so outside of the nesting season (UK nesting season is between beginning of March and end of September). Never tidy up underneath hedges. The ground coverage provides habitats for small creatures and insects - and decaying vegetation nourishes the soil to enable healthy shrub regeneration. Some of our rarest wildlife has its home in our hedgerows like the dormouse for example. Rare butterflies also lay their eggs in hedges. So always treat hedges with respect.

Although cats are wonderful companion pets, cats and garden wildlife simply don't mix. Their natural instinct drives them to catch birds and small mammals, regardless of whether they are hungry or not. If you have recently moved to a house where there is an abundance of garden wildlife, you are strongly advised to refrain from introducing a cat into the environment. In fact, it is estimated that in the UK 300 million wild birds and mammals are killed by cats every year. If you already own a cat it is very important that you keep them indoors at night as this simple action will help to protect your garden wildlife from prowling cats late at night and at dawn.

So, to summarize this introduction when exploring wildlife gardening:

  • Re-educate yourself to recognize the meandering natural elements of your garden as a thing of beauty instead of your enemy.
  • When your new wildlife garden establishes itself, take a reflective look at how beautiful it now is; think of what you previously may have considered attractive, (manicured, "weedless" flowerbeds) and you'll now see a harmonious profusion of colour, scents and wildlife harmoniously entwined ... self-maintaining - life-giving - replenishing.

Continued in PART 2 of VeggieGlobal's Wildlife Gardening in the UK - Pond life & how to make a wildlife pond

Suggested reading linked to these issues

FOOTNOTE: The current trend of tacky home and garden improvement TV shows does nothing to help matters. Pampering to suburbanites with wads of spare cash to burn, by ripping up their house and garden - and replacing it with a symmetry of slabs and railway sleepers - plus a bucket of stones from Brighton beach thrown in to enhance the "water feature".
But a touching little sentiment, which spoke volumes happened at the end one of these programmes based around a team of celebrity interior and exterior designers who had come to make-over someone's house. The people's garden had been dug up and redesigned by a trendy townie-gardener celebrity, who had obviously never seen a wild flower in his life. The centre piece was the dreaded "water feature"; a completely wildlife-unfriendly, high walled, square concrete pond.! A few weeks later the cameras and makeover celebs return to see how the house owners are adapting to their new contrivance of a garden. They enter the garden and to the celebs horror, the animal-friendly daughter of the household had created a ramp and planted grasses around the edge to allow the wildlife access to the water, and back out again. A moment of pretentious TV broadcast which, in effect, stuck two fingers up at the hours of environmentally unfriendly ignorance that go into making up a high proportion of mainstream TV viewing!

copyright 1996-2000

For detailed articles on how to create a wildlife garden and pond, go to the UK section at
"Care For The Wild Across The Continents" here at VeggieGlobal

 

Read Wildlife Files Part One: Where have All the Birds Gone? - Tales of a Garden Wonderland - Armchair Tree People

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