When was the last time you spotted a hedgehog or a badger? What about a squirrel or a fox? And could you identify a great crested newt if one popped up in your garden?
During our Big Garden Birdwatch this year, we asked everyone taking part to record the birds visiting their outdoor space during a one hour slot of their choice. But we also asked people to tell us about the ‘other wildlife’ they were seeing too.
In Scotland, we got responses from around 15,000 people describing the finds from more than 9,700 gardens – a great effort! We learned that foxes are the most common ‘non-bird’ visitor, turning up in 64% of gardens, and great crested newts were the least common with only 2% recording one.
Less than half had a mole (44%) or a stoat (24%) in their outdoor space and more than a quarter (27%) reported that they had never seen a hedgehog in their garden. The decline in sightings of these prickly creatures is worrying, particularly when you consider there was an estimated UK population of 30 million in the 1950s and now there are believed to be less than a million.
Gardeners across the country are already doing a great deal to help give nature a home, but we’d love it if even more people could involved to hopefully boost the numbers of once familiar species like hedgehogs. To get you started, here are five ways you could help wildlife in your garden...
Plant a bee banquet
Growing flowers and shrubs that are full of nectar and pollen will feed bees year round. With many species of bumble and solitary bees in decline globally, small actions like this can make a huge difference. Many plants that are available to purchase don’t produce nectar or pollen so you need make sure you pick wisely! Try Crocus and hellebore in winter; Aubretia or bugle in spring; borage, foxglove and herbs in summer; and dahlias or ivy in autumn. Try and select a sheltered, sunny area to plant your chosen flowers and shrubs in as they’ll do best in those conditions. It doesn’t have to be a large patch - you could even give it go using window boxes!
Create nature corridors
This is one of the simplest ways to give nature a home. By creating little nature highways and byways you’re helping wildlife to move freely between gardens, and it’s a great activity to involve the neighbours in too. Hedgehogs can walk a mile or more in a single night looking for food and a mate, but their path is often blocked by walls, fences and hedges. By cutting small holes and gaps around the perimeter of your garden, hogs can pop in for a visit before heading safely on their way again.
Build a bug hotel
Stack wooden pallets, logs, bark, bricks, pine cones, really any natural materials you have to hand, to create a safe hideaway for creatures galore. Although it’s called a bug hotel this sort of structure provides perfect hidey holes for hedgehogs, frogs, toads, dragonflies and newts as well. You’ll get different visitors depending on where you place your hotel, some like the sun while others prefer the shade. You can make an abode to fit any space as well from balconies to large gardens.
Dig a pond
Yes they can be a challenge to make, but you’ll be amazed how quickly wildlife finds your pond when it’s done. Choose a spot with as much sunlight as possible and that doesn’t pose a flood risk. You’ll soon be attracting dragonflies, damselflies, frogs and maybe even a newt! If you don’t have a particularly large garden, you can make a little pond by using something like an old washing up bowl. Submerge it into the ground or leave it out on top – it’s up to you!
Compost heaps are a great way to turn waste material into natural compost that can be added back into your garden. To create compost quickly, remember to thinly shred the material you’re adding and alternate between green and brown layers. The green layer can be made up of things like grass clippings, weeds and vegetable peels, while the brown could consist of shredded paper or cardboard, dried grass, sticks and wood chippings. Compost heaps provide a satisfying feast for worms and woodlice, but also offer a safe space for toads and slow worms.
Of course there are plenty of other ways you could give nature a home where you live, these are just a few examples. To learn more about how to do all the activities in this blog and to find even more ways to help wildlife, click here.