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How to breathe life into your garden

PUBLISHED: 13:21 30 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:21 30 May 2017

Common frog - a pond is one of the best things you can do for wildlife in a garden (photo: Richard Bowler)

Common frog - a pond is one of the best things you can do for wildlife in a garden (photo: Richard Bowler)

Richard Bowler

A pleasure to watch and key for a healthy environment, wildlife in our gardens is as important as the plants. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust gives six easy ways to make yours more wildlife friendly this year

A bug hotel can support a huge range of species which in turn provide food for others (photo: Rob Hopkins)A bug hotel can support a huge range of species which in turn provide food for others (photo: Rob Hopkins)

After a long winter now is the season your garden will start to spring back to life, so it’s a great time to start thinking about how you can make your green space more wildlife friendly. Whether your garden is big or small, here are ways to make it a haven for Hertfordshire wildlife. Think of it as your own rainforest.

Wild homes

There are plenty of ways to provide a home for wildlife in your garden. Bird boxes can be bought or made in lots of sizes and styles depending on which birds you are trying to attract. Put one up in a safe place away from shrubs and bushes and to make it hard for predators to access and away from any bird table so there is no conflict with larger birds. Do not let it face direct sun or wind and angle it so water cannot run in. A natural colour will also help it blend in and be harder to spot by predators.

Planting with wildlife in mind will bring your garden to life (photo: Rob Hopkins)Planting with wildlife in mind will bring your garden to life (photo: Rob Hopkins)

Don’t forget our flying mammals need a home too – bat boxes can encourage bats into areas where there are few roosting sites, and like bird boxes come in many different forms depending on species.

Log piles, leaf litter and bug hotels are ideal habitats for bugs, which in turn feed our other garden visitors, as well as fungi, hibernating toads and hedgehogs. Place these in a quiet corner and watch wildlife thrive.

The right plants

Blue tit feeding on bread - putting food out for birds is not only for the winter (photo: Nataba/iStock)Blue tit feeding on bread - putting food out for birds is not only for the winter (photo: Nataba/iStock)

Ornamental plants such as buddleia, ice-plant, lavender and honeysuckle will attract butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies. Make sure you choose the most nectar-rich varieties for the best results. Avoid too many highly-bred cultivars with big or double flowers, most of which contain little or no pollen or nectar.

Hertfordshire is home to lots of brilliant garden centres – pop into your local one and ask staff for advice on what pollinator-friendly plants will work best in your garden.

In addition to the wildlife homes above, shrubs and trees provide both cover and nesting sites for garden animals, as well as food in the form of flowers, fruits and seeds. A mixture of both will help increase biodiversity in your garden. Some of the best shrubs and trees for blossom and berries include rowan, crab apple, elder, blackthorn and hawthorn.

Build a pond

During the past century nearly 70 per cent of ponds were lost from the UK countryside, so including one in your garden can make a real difference to wildlife. Ponds are essential for amphibians like frogs and toads and offer a bath and drinking water for birds. Lots of invertebrates breed in water and birds and bats may feed from insects at the water’s surface. Hertfordshire has a lot of fantastic habitats, your garden could be the missing link that connects up this landscape!

Don’t tidy in autumn

Sometimes a little untidiness can be a good thing! Uncut seed heads provide a tasty treat for birds, while plant stems, dead leaves and winter weeds are a great place for insects to shelter. It may look messy to some, but a garden left to its own devices in autumn is a haven for wildlife. If you want a healthy, wildlife friendly garden, put your feet up and let nature do its thing until spring!

Wildlife corridor

Make sure that your garden is accessible to animals that wouldn’t be able to get in otherwise – you would be surprised how much extra habitat can open up for wildlife with a few small holes in fences at ground level. Hedgehogs particularly benefit from this, so consider including log piles or a hedgehog home in your garden too. Let’s get hedgehogs thriving in Hertfordshire once again!

Feed the birds

Winter is when birds are most vulnerable due to the scarcity of food and the cold, so feeding is crucial. High calorie foods such as sunflower hearts are most beneficial as all birds love them. But it’s not just in winter that we can help – birds can be fed year round with spring a great time to support successful breeding and the rearing of young. Summer is a time when younger birds benefit from easy food sources and adult birds need extra energy as they moult.

We recommend Vine House Farm for bird food – it donates five per cent of its takings to The Wildlife Trust. See vinehousefarm.co.uk

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