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World Wildlife Day: Gardening for Wildlife

Traditionally, a well-landscaped garden is associated with an intensively maintained, lush-green turf, weeded beds and ornamental plants selected for their appearance rather than their contribution to biodiversity.  Most often, the maintenance of a similar landscape involves large quantities of water for irrigation, the use of peat-rich compost, fertilisers and pesticides. However, we are now living in times where anthropogenic pressure on the environment has reached an unprecedented scale and where habitat fragmentation and loss, driven by pollution and unsustainable land use, are taking a huge toll on our ecosystems. Whilst this trend can only be curbed by the introduction of robust environmental laws and by the true integration of the “natural capital” concept in our policy framework, a responsible gardener can play a small, yet valuable part in supporting wildlife and enhancing biodiversity.  Indeed, a garden can (and should) be designed with a view of attracting and supporting life while minimising its energy requirements.

Ground Control Ecologist, Martino Ginepro, gives insight into simple steps that can be taken to achieve this:

  • Firstly, understand the chemistry and hydrology of the soil and identify plants that are suitable for it; try and avoid transforming what’s there and work with it instead.
  • Design it – think about what you want to achieve; to the extent that it’s possible, avoid doing-undoing things as this will impact on the length of time required to reach maturity.
  • Consider retaining mature plants that you inherit within your garden; don’t rip everything out straight away, take your time and consider the benefits that established vegetation can provide.
  • Select native plant species that can provide both food and shelter
  • Designate an area for wildflowers, if the space allows it, to attract pollinators; as an example, front lawns are rarely used for recreation and could be destined to this purpose instead
  • Relax the grass cutting regime, allowing flowers to bloom; a mono-species, green turf is of little use to most species and takes a lot of energy to maintain. Also, a lawn that is not kept too short will be more resilient during hot spells and won’t require as much watering
  • Use raised beds to create sensory gardens, planting nectar-rich native species that will scent your garden, support a wide range of pollinators and provide herbs for cooking
  • Install habitat boxes – birds and bug boxes can be easily accommodated in most gardens and, if collocated in the right spot, will likely be used; bat boxes can be installed too, if the site allows it
  • Plant trees for shade, habitat and all the well-known associated ecosystem services
  • Pull out weeds, don’t spray them –weeding can be a therapeutic exercise. Also, reconsider what defines a weed and if it actually needs pulling or if it can be kept in the ground and allowed to thrive.
  • Install water buts to collect rain water from gutters (i.e. shed); these fill in surprisingly quickly and can provide enough water to support the least draught-tolerant plants during hot spells.
  • If space allows it, make your own compost; by selecting highly biodegradable organic waste such as vegetable and fruit skins and cut grass, good quality topsoil will be readily available within a year or two.
  • If you want to go the extra mile, you can consider creating a pond, although these can require a lot of work so commit only once you are fully aware of the task ahead.

A garden that is alive is a fulfilling experience; it can inspire, teach, and lead to considerable satisfaction; and above all, it’s an act of good as it will deliver a service to other species inhabiting our Earth at times where less and less habitat is available for them to thrive.

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