General Introduction to the VeggieGlobal
Philosophy of Wildlife Gardening.
If you live in a temperate region
of the world where the climate is similar to the UK and central
Europe then you might find lots of useful information in the extensive
UK and Ireland wildlife care section
read on ...
As you may have
read in the Wildlife Files here at VeggieGlobal, 60% of the wild
bird population has in many parts of the world has disappeared in
the last 25 years.
Most notably, farming pesticides, forest and woodland destruction
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 Europe 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.
uniformity can lead to flora infestations such as aphids. Aphids
are part of the diet of ladybirds 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 deer 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.
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
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 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
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).
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
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 bird-of-prey population. Without a healthy
population of rodents such as mice or voles etc., birds-of-prey
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.
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.
animals, 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 animals that feed off them.
If you need to remove slugs then the most effective method is to
occasionally go around at night removing them with a gloved hand
You may have read elswhere on Looking-Glass or VeggieGlobal 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.
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
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 nesting seasons.
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. Rare butterflies also lay
their eggs in hedges. So always treat hedges with respect.
Cats and Wildlife
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 United Kingdom alone, 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.
It's concerning to note that the RSPB is giving out irrational information
relating to the mortality of garden birds caused by cats. It claims
that most birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other
causes before the next breeding season. They say that cats tend
to catch only weak or sickly birds. However, consistent evidence
and observations show how cats hone in on bird nest locations and
wait their opportunity. Once the babies fledge (particularly blackbirds,
thrushes and collared doves) and flutter to the ground they are
defenceless and the cat will simply grab them with the minimum of
struggle. Most of these fledglings are not weak or poorly, simply
an easy, victim of a prowling cat. Secondly, many nests and bird
boxes are disturbed by marauding cats, which are subsequently abandoned,
leaving the eggs un-hatched or, if already hatched, the brood starve
to death. Thirdly, parents tend to become far more daring (and even
human friendly) when collecting what food they can to feed their
young ... focused entirely on the food source, thus unaware of a
Subsequently, the loss of millions of healthy birds, which would
otherwise have either hatched or survived to the next breeding season
equate to an unnatural reduction in the annual population of garden-based
While the bird population may have declined in recent years due
to other environmental factors, it is imprudent to dismiss or downplay
the effects that cats have on garden birdlife. It is even more necessary
than ever to significantly try and minimise the death rate caused
by cats on an estimated 55 million birds each year. Responsible
action needs to be taken to curtail cat attacks on birds and their
nesting areas to help counteract the measure of population decline caused by other factors.
So, to summarize
this introduction when exploring wildlife gardening:
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