Eco Tip #4

Welcome to the fourth installment of our Eco tip series, where we discuss how to attract wildlife to your setting and why it is so important!

Most people will be aware of the climate crisis. However, what is less well known is that nature is also in a state of emergency – often referred to as the ecological crisis. We share the Earth with a huge diversity of species that come in all shapes, sizes and colours. But many are suffering as a result of our actions and not just the big charismatic megafauna – the Elephants, Tigers and Orangutans – but the trees, insects, flowers, and frogs that are all around us. In 2019 the UN published a Global Assessment Report (IPBES Global Assessment) on biodiversity and gave the stark warning that at no point in human history has biodiversity declined faster than it is now. It is estimated that close to 1 million species are threatened by extinction, leading some to suggest that we may be entering a sixth mass extinction

There are a variety of reasons for these declines, including climate change, invasive species, diseases and over exploitation, but arguably the biggest cause is that we are completely transforming the environment. Modern industrial farming has thrown us out of kilter with the Earth’s natural systems. Vast areas of land have been converted into monocultures and drowned in herbicides and pesticides, creating a landscape devoid of life. The loss of insects is especially alarming given their importance for properly functioning ecosystems. A study from Germany, one of the few long-term studies on insect abundance, documented a 75% decrease over a 27% period – with the study authors suggesting that a likely cause of this decline is “increased agriculture intensification”. 

A substantial proportion of assessed species are threatened with extinction and overall trends are deteriorating, with extinction rates increasing sharply in the past century. (B) Extinctions since 1500 for vertebrate groups. Rates for Reptiles and Fishes have not been assessed for all species. (C) Red List Index of species survival for taxonomic groups that have been assessed for the IUCN Red List at least twice. A value of 1 is equivalent to all species being categorized as Least Concern; a value of zero is equivalent to all species being classified as Extinct. Data derive from the IUCN Red List. (Credit: IPBES Summary For Policymakers report.)

The UK is a nation dominated by farmland. In fact, 70% of the UK’s land area is managed as such – most of which is pastoral and used to raise 30 million sheep and 10 million cattle. This means that farming puts intense pressure on the natural environment and can be seen most clearly in the precipitous decline of farmland birds, whose numbers have more than halved since the 1970’s. In fact, the UK is one of the most nature deprived nations on Earth. This is demonstrated by the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) which is one way to measure how nature and species have responded to human pressures. Recent research by the Natural History Museum, in collaboration with the RSPB found that of 240 countries and territories assessed, the UK ranked 228th (the 12th worst) with a BII of only 50% – meaning we have lost 50% of our biodiversity.

Although as nurseries or individuals, we alone cannot reverse these trends, we can provide a vital lifeline for our non-human neighbours by transforming our gardens into little havens for wildlife. 87% percent of households in the UK have a garden and according to the Wildlife Trust, these gardens account for an area larger than all nature reserves in the UK combined. By sharing these green spaces with nature and taking a few small steps, we can help to provide important homes, food and water sources for wildlife. But it is not just nature that will benefit, wilding our gardens can also be fantastic for our mental and physical wellbeing. Spending time in green spaces and around wildlife has been demonstrated to reduce feelings of stress and anger, improve your mood and build confidence. And it’s not just adults, children can also benefit substantially from time spent in nature.  A recent review of 300 studies, found a strong connection between the presence of green spaces near homes and schools and mental health outcomes in children – with the clearest benefits on attention and mood. The study also found a relationship between exposure to nature and improved physical activity, which in turn can lead to improved mental wellbeing. The mechanisms behind these benefits are not yet fully understood, however it is known that time in nature can promote creativity and imagination through unstructured play, it activates more senses leading to greater stimulation and can cultivate a sense of awe.

Below you can find a list of things that you can do to attract wildlife to your garden. 

  • Adding a water source is one of the best ways to attract wildlife to your setting. Not only will it provide a home for a number of different species, such as frogs, newts, and dragonflies, but also offers a watering hole and a source of food for hedgehogs, bats, birds, and insects. A water source doesn’t need to be big or deep to have benefits for wildlife, an old washing up bowl will do. Click the image below to find out how you can create a mini pond in your garden. 
  • Leave a pile of old dead or decaying wood lying about, this will provide cover, nutrients, and hibernation spots for a range of animals, plants, and fungi. If possible, place a pile of dead wood in an area that gets some shade and make sure it is in contact with the ground. You should also try and use a variety of different types of wood to achieve the best results. If you add leaf litter it will create a perfect hedgehog home (see our poster below for what to do if you find a hedgehog out in the middle of the day). 
  • Planting native wildflowers is another great way to attract pollinators to your garden. It is important to ensure that you have a variety of pollen-rich flowers, with different flower shapes, colours, and flowering periods. You don’t have to plant an extensive area to see the benefits, even a window-ledge plant pot can make a difference. There are lots of options for buying wildflower seed mixes, but it is important to make sure that you choose one that contains only native species – many wildflower mixes may include non-native wildflowers and although they may look spectacular, they will not provide the same benefit to wildlife. You can find a list of some of the best wildflowers to plant to attract pollinators below. A great way to plant wildflowers is by making seed bombs – you can find instructions on how to make them below. 
  • When planting wildflowers or growing your own food, it is vital to only use peat-free compost, which will be clearly labelled as such. Peat bogs are some of the best carbon stores we have and therefore essential to confronting the climate crisis. When peat bogs are drained and dug up it releases the huge amount of carbon stored. 
  • Dedicate an area to grow wild. This can be a small area that you choose not to mow the grass or brush up the leaves. By leaving a bit of your garden to grow messy in can provide perfect habitats for wildlife.