UK and Ireland Menu
1 - Introduction - your garden and how to help bring back wildlife
PART 2 - Pond life
& how to make a wildlife pond
PART 3 - Mammals,
birds, plants and insects - environment and care
4 - Reduce food miles and grow your own fruit and veg
The most life-enriching garden on
earth is the one that costs almost nothing to create.
As we reported
here in the late 1990's, an average of over 60% of the wild bird
population had disappeared in the previous 25 years up to that point.
Since then the statistics have shown a further decline in bird numbers
and there seems no end to this worrying trend.
Farming practices and agricultural pesticides are most commonly
linked to these figures, but closer to home over-managed gardens
can be just as much to blame for the serious strain we are imposing
on our native and transient wildlife. In fact, everything you do
in your garden can make a difference to the local environment in
ways you may never have imagined. Like the "butterfly effect"
every small change you make can cause a chain reaction effecting
the survival of flora and fauna across each neighbouring micro-habitat
and larger dwellings above and below ground, not just in the garden
but far beyond its boundaries.
"The first step is to understand
that nature is not what you control but what you leave alone."
care area of VeggieGlobal and Looking Glass offers advice to gardeners
of all ages and experience. Whether you are an just starting out
or a seasoned professional, these pages may help you to look at
a few square metres of the world in a far less evasive way without
ever feeling that you are compromising a garden's appeal as a place
of solace and relaxation.
The first step is to understand that nature is not what you control
but what you leave alone.
Much of our world has been manipulated by humans and gardens in
particular have undergone generations of harsh handling, no thanks
to years of soil disturbance, polluted with treatments upon treatments
of pesticides, weedkillers and growth enhancers. Conversely, some
gardens have been left to overrun and fallen into "neglect".
In fact such gardens are far more likely to be teaming with natural
flora and fauna - and providing it hasn't been overun by invasive
species (nonnative plants introduced by humans over the years and
have now spread out of control and become a threat to natural habitats)
a "neglected" garden is the ideal local platform to understand
the complexity and biological interdependency of its inhabitants
within such a fragile, self-sufficient ecosystem.
How do you see your
many people take great strides to "makeover" a garden
to how they want it to look... rather than what might be a suitable
environmentally friendly habitat which fits natively as part of
the geography and biology of the local area. Garden centre and home
designer magazine mentality is part of a mindset which can only
be described as the bane of VeggieGlobal and Looking-Glass. The
actions of those who blindly follow the garden industry and who
also judge a garden by what they think suits their "design"
invariably leads to pretentious cosmetic layouts which play no effective
part in re-naturing. Much of what diletante gardeners assume and
what garden designers and landscaping practices portray as wildlife
friendly and "organic" is no more than marketing greenwash.
Therefore, the more you begin to understand the close affinity that
is required to genuinely tune into the nature of your garden the
more you may recognise that nature itself cannot be contrived by
sophomoric design. Because of how natural flora and fauna interacts
with its close surroundings, every square meter of your garden,
your city or village, country and beyond has its own micro-biological
fingerprint - unique from one few square metres to the next. This
means that what flora and fauna might be biologically compatible
and therefore sustainable in one garden may be quite inappropriate
in your friend's garden on the other side of town. There are exceptions
to this rule if you are trying to kick-start a natural convergence
in what was once a lifeless garden - such as creating a wildlife
pond - and this is explained later on.
This is not to say that a garden can't look beautiful if it's genuinely
tailored to support local wildlife, but to achieve this you need
to reflect on what you perceive as an idilic garden scene. Does
it include symmetry or asymmetric vistas? Does it mean a closely
manicured lawn or otherwise meadow-like grassy areas? Are you envisaging
pedicured bushes or else free-growing hedgerows and clusters of
self-seeded shrubs throwing dappled sunlight shadows over of woodland
floors of wildflowers and broken branches? There can actually be
room for both "opposites" in your garden as long as you
are able to accept that you should not aggressively control of how
the boundaries between natural and manicured vistas begin and end.
The way to make this possible is to take a little time to understand
the biology of your garden, not just the obvious soil characteristics,
but the light that reaches all the different areas, the overall
dampness, the slopes if any, and most importantly, the kind of wildlife
that visits it already; whether it be birds, mammals or amphibians.
In your own garden, first look at what kind of 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 flora and fauna. Every plant and creature found
in your garden can be considered a friend - even those hardly seen
- in fact species so small that the benefits they bring to maintaining
the balance of your garden can be seriously overlooked.
A balanced garden, which can also include a sustainable fruit and
veg patch, 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 ... Read on to
find out why.
Garden or Outside Living
Neat and tidy
gardens are often 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 or paved features represent neat vacuumed
First of all, regimented arrangements of one colour coordinated
plants won't attract a natural mix of insect species. Secondly,
ill-chosen and often expensive shrubs bought from the garden centre
for nothing but appearance adds to an imbalance and lack
of integration with native species.
Thirdly, faddish stone slabs, shingle and decking are bleak, unapproachable
terrain for garden wildlife - from animals to the insects which,
almost without exception, should be considered nature's gardeners
and not your enemy.
uniformity in "designer" gardens can lead to flora infestations
such as aphids (greenfly etc.). Aphids, for example are part of
the diet of ladybirds, hover flies, lacewings and many other garden
insects - Pesticides will also kill these and other welcome inhabitants
leading to a spiraling imbalance of the natural environment.
A suburban garden filled with the contents of a garden center,
inspired by the latest "home and garden" magazine is nature's worst
a garden with exotic shrubs and tasteless facades is very costly
- not just for the pocket but for the environment too. The growing,
the transportation and pesticide treatment of just one plant from
a garden centre and subsequent clearing away of the natural growth
in your garden to plant it can increase your carbon footprint substantially.
Nine times out of ten, there is no positive environmental gain in
Not in My Back Yard
If you have
next-door neighbours who treat their garden like an an extension
of their neat and tidy living room, then you'll probably hear the
usual cursing from the other side of your fence about shrubs and
trees dying from disease and aphids or slugs devouring their plants.
To attack the problem they will constantly blast their garden full
of pesticides and dig up anything that looks like "weed" amongst
their manicured flower beds; even sterilizing soil with antiseptic
after a shrub has died ... a wretched smell that lingers across neighbourhoods for days.
This polluting attack against nature means that chemical-loving
gardeners will always suffer from sick plants and trees ...
a vicious circle.
things even worse, in the UK in particular, more people are fencing
themselves in - literally, by surrounding themselves with impenetrable
wooden or brick walls - cutting off ground-moving wildlife from
the outside. For example, if slugs are already inside such a
they will flourish since their natural predators like hedgehogs,
frogs and toads can't enter to feed on them. Slugs, in fact play
an important role in the process of decomposting - adding important
nutrients back into the soil.
Meanwhile, nesting birds have next to no chance of finding a home
in an ornamental Acer tree or other exotic floral eye-candy. The
concept of a wildlife friendly garden doesn't mean that you simply
can't have an Acer tree to admire, it just means that it should
be considered contributory rather than an alternative to native
growth. Native growth often harbours and harvests life suitable
to your local environment. In other words, what grows naturally
in your garden should always take priority - providing it is not
invasive plants alien to the country (introduced by humans in the
back yard / garden is currently 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 the previous house occupants destroyed it.
So, where should you be getting most of your plants and shrubs from
when creating any kind of garden?
By mixing with like-minded nature-friendly neighbours gardening in harmony
with the locally-grown environment, you can all
share cuttings, seeds and homegrown trees, shrubs and vegetables
etc. ... even all-important (un-diseased) wildlife pond water, insects
and amphibian eggs. (See more about protection laws in your country
Nature needs every bit of support it can get to help regenerate
your local ecosystem, so neighbourhood by neighbourhood, the positive
changes this could bring to the planet and even your own health
could become one the main factors in helping to revive this ailing
And what if you have just a patio?
You can still play an important role by ensuring that your patio's
plants and shrubs harmonize with each other and of course with the
flora and fauna native to your area. Airborne insects like bees,
which play a life-sustaining role in nature - for the entire planet
in fact - will be thankful for the friendly pollen and nectar filled
flowers on your patio or roof garden. The bee population is at a
critical low. These are one of nature's most important gardeners,
but because of the trend towards inappropriate nonnative shrubs
in gardens and patios, instead of flower-rich variants suitable
for bees, means this can only contribute to their dramatic decline.
Whether it was a precise calculation or guesstimation, Einstein
said that without bees all life on earth would die out in five years.
rather than "Gardener"... and a Brief Introduction to
If your garden
is already an overgrown "forest" then the first thing not to do is
grab a saw and a fork and begin to cut it all down or smother it
with weed killer or rolls of black material laid on the ground to
kill off everything in sight.
So before VeggieGlobal guides you further on your way to creating a real
wildlife garden, we must reiterate that you first unravel any preconceived
ideas of what makes a garden look "nice" and to understand
that a wildlife garden creates its own vistas ... and you are its
guardian of these natural landscapes. As a responsible guardian
or gardener of nature you should not contrive views of the garden
that you want to see from the windows of your house. All the plants,
trees and shrubbery may already have grown in your "neglected"
garden in a complex, natural manner of self-selection, and often
partnered themselves with corresponding plants that 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, unless there is a "wild" infection
such as "Ash Dieback" (however many wild tree diseases
are spread by contaminated wood imported from other countries).
term,"Natural Convergence", means tuning into the pulse
or heartbeat of your garden. Spend some time - days or weeks soaking
in the atmosphere and activity of the garden - the comings and goings,
the way light (and dappled light through trees) generates little
ecosystems in different areas - and see which areas seem to self
manage themselves most effectively.
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. You, the human animal, can do the same; 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 and fauna
to coexist without one intruding on the other in any negative way.
Once this relationship establishes, you and the nature surrounding
you in your garden will slowly become reciprocal partners. From
this point on, all the work you do in maintaining a partnership
as a guardian of your wildlife garden becomes an unobtrusive and
most importantly, an environmentally positive exercise.
Of course, Natural Convergence doesn't just mean how we humans have
to tread carefully within nature, because it also describes what
we can bring into that environment to help not just it, but to sustain
ourselves as well. So this may include the planting of an organic
fruit and vegetable patch, and determining how this can be achieved
without disruption of the surrounding nature of your garden.
Here are just
a few examples of how we can converge naturally within our garden
or even "allotment" space:
Bee hives, (for all-important pollination).
Natural style greenhouses.
Natural pest control.
Tolerance of the actions of wildlife such as behaviour and foraging
"mess" and therefore acceptance of sustainable losses.
Acceptance of sustainable losses of some plants and shrubs due to
growth behaviours of adjacent plants etc.
Native species research, I.e. local food-chain relationship between
plants, insects, birds and mammals.
Organic protocols and related applications.
Essential animal / bird habitats and understanding their ideal locations
through observation and some proven standard research, i.e.
nesting boxes, feeding tables, bird feeders, bird houses, bat boxes,
bird roosting, small mammal habitats, wood and rock piles, long
grass, untouched ground coverage.
Encouragement of fungi growth - (including edible).
Garden tools must only be manual, or if powered only via renewable
Watering should become almost unnecessary, since a natural garden
retains almost all the moisture it needs, or else adapts during
If you use a garden hose for the purpose of regularly watering an
average size "terraced house" garden, then you are seriously
doing all the wrong things to your garden - and wasting a precious
resource at the same time.
Building up the Partnership as Guardian
of your Wildlife Garden.
As we've mentioned,
as a wildlife "guardian" you should consider yourself
in partnership with your garden rather than its controller. As a
partner of Natural Convergence, 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.
As a typical
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 is that if some shrubs and trees die after
a while - even from disease or pests - do not consider this as a
gardening failure - 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.
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 birds. But since humans have destroyed so
much of their natural food source, wild birds are now more dependent
on us for food (and nesting boxes) than ever before.
begin feeding your local birds, 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.
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 for 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.
You may have read elsewhere 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 (see part 2)
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 or trees then only do so outside of the nesting
season (UK nesting season is between beginning of March and end
of September)*. Don't trim the flowers or berries from hedges either
as this is vital food for hedge-dwellers. 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 and feed from its fruits, like the increasingly
rare dormouse for example. Rare butterflies also lay their eggs
in hedges. So always treat hedges with respect.
* The UK is
one of a few areas of Europe where tree pruning and hedge cutting
is still allowed during nesting season. In countries like Germany
it is against the law to interfere with any hedge or tree during
the nesting season (approx. March to October). We would like to
see such laws put in place the UK as soon as possible to stop the
carnage caused by indiscriminate cutting. We have often received
mail from readers suffering the aftermath of hedge and tree cutting
along neighbours borders, finding dead and dying baby birds on the
ground from nests destroyed by hedge cutters and chain saws. Having
experienced such devastation on numerous occasions we wish to emphasize
as strongly as possible on these pages - DO NOT CUT OR TAMPER WITH
TREES HEDGES OR BUSHES DURING NESTING SEASON.
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
particularly during nesting season as this simple action will help
to protect your garden wildlife from prowling cats late at night
and at dawn.
It's very concerning to find 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 defenseless 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 pouncing cat.
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 minimize 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:
- Reconsider your idea of an appealing
Learn 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 you will be able reflect
on the difference ... how beautiful
it now is; free of garden centre affectations, manicured swathes
of shingle and "weedless" flowerbeds. Now you can be
inspired by the profusion of colour, the scents of all seasons,
of blooming and natural decay. This is the regeneration of wildlife
and its constant untouched cycle. This is you "in harmony
with nature" the true way, which replenishes the life
of a garden as much as the spirit in you.
in PART 2 - Pond life & how to make a wildlife pond
John O'Donnell (VeggieGlobal.com and Looking-Glass.co.uk)
Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents
of these websites in any form is prohibited.
UK and Ireland Menu
1 - Introduction - your garden and how to help bring back wildlife
PART 2 - Pond life
& how to make a wildlife pond
PART 3 - Mammals,
birds, plants and insects - environment and care
4 - Reduce food miles and grow your own fruit and veg
information for Schools
More Related Areas
This Planet With The Animals - a useful guide to
help you live side by side with your animal friends.
UK and Ireland
may also wish to visit the Wildlife
Files section here at VeggieGlobal for more advice
about wildlife friendly gardens.