In 2019, the Dail declared a biodiversity crisis, stating that the destruction of species, wildlife, flora and fauna is the greatest threat that our planet has ever faced.

One way that you can help to reverse this crisis is through wildlife gardening – by creating havens for nature, you can provide a habitat for flora and fauna and get even closer to your local wildlife. Wildlife gardening can even help negate your carbon footprint. The best part is that anyone can have a thriving wildlife garden, whether you only have access to a small patch of earth in a big city, or acres of land at your disposal.

Benefits of wildlife gardening

Wildlife gardening has many benefits for both biodiversity and human health – the combination of connecting with nature, getting exercise and the sense of wellbeing we receive from helping the environment is the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern living. Humans have an innate need to connect with nature – this phenomenon is known as biophilia. This need can be met through wildlife gardening, which as well as resulting in a beautiful space for nature outside your home, also leads to improved mental and physical health (1).

How can you go about creating a wildlife garden?

Attract garden birds

In smaller gardens, bird feeders and bird boxes are a great way to start. Birds are an essential part of garden ecosystems and providing them with food and shelter will help them to thrive. Bird boxes should be placed up high in sheltered spots for nesting (2). For feeding, a wide variety of suitable foods are available in garden centres or hardware stores – this can be provided in feeders over the winter. Smaller spaces can also provide homes for insects such as beetles and spiders – you can create bug hotels by leaving piles of rotting wood, stones and twigs in your garden (6).

Create a pond

Ponds are another great way of bringing nature into your garden. These can be carried out on small or large scales – a bucket buried in a shaded area will do the job in a smaller garden, or larger ponds can be created in more spacious gardens. These can attract a variety of creatures – frogs, hoverflies, and pond skaters, among others. If you do create a bigger pond, make sure to place a few stones or branches in it so that wildlife can access the water safely (6).

Help hedgehogs

Of course, wildlife gardens cannot be discussed without mentioning hedgehogs – over the lockdowns, there was a huge spike in the amount of people helping hedgehogs in their garden by leaving small gaps in their fences and providing dog food (which they love). Hedgehogs are a beloved creature in Ireland and stand to benefit greatly from wildlife gardens. A good way to identify if these prickly creatures are visiting your garden is to look out for faint trails through long grass or flowerbeds, and also small droppings (6). Reducing or eliminating the use of slug pellets is important as hedgehogs can suffer secondary poisoning from eating poisoned slugs.

Plant native trees and flowers

Focusing more on the flora side of wildlife gardens, planting native trees or flowers is a visually appealing way of helping nature. Again, this can be carried out in large or small-scale areas. Aside from introducing colour and scent into your garden, wildflowers also provide food for many insects such as bees and other pollinators. In gardens with more space, trees in every stage of life (living, dead or decaying) provide benefits to various wildlife types. As well as benefiting wildlife, trees are also good for our health. Just one mature tree can absorb more than 22 kilograms of CO₂ from the air in a year (4).

Avoid weeding and pesticides

An aspect of wildlife gardening that will appeal to many is the idea of easing back on weeding and pesticide use. This creates a much healthier soil, which allows for the growth of healthier plants, which then in turn requires less fertiliser. As well as this, what we consider a weed may actually have lots of benefits for wildlife – for example, nettles are an important food source for many different species of butterflies and moths, such as the red admiral. Nettles also have the added benefit of stimulating growth in nearby plants – what’s not to like? (3).

Rewilding

In very large gardens, perhaps rewilding could be considered. This is wildlife gardening on a large scale, and involves restoring and repairing degraded landscapes, making it a progressive method of conservation (5). Rewilding results in wilder, more biodiverse habitats. This is a very effective way of addressing the biodiversity crisis in a small way as well as the climate change crisis (increased vegetation results in higher levels of soil carbon sequestration).

As well as the aforementioned measures, there are plenty of other things you can do to create a thriving wildlife garden. No matter how big or small, your garden can create a link between urban green spaces and the countryside, creating a network of nature havens and creating nature corridors. Through gardening for wildlife, you will be rewarded with a natural outdoor space that will greatly benefit biodiversity as well as your own health and wellbeing.

Written by Eve Moore

References

1. Chalmin-Pui, L., Griffiths, A., Roe, J., Heaton, T. and Cameron, R., 2021. Why garden? – Attitudes and the perceived health benefits of home gardening. Cities, 112, p.103118.

2. Goddard, M., Dougill, A. and Benton, T., 2013. Why garden for wildlife? Social and ecological drivers, motivations and barriers for biodiversity management in residential landscapes. Ecological Economics, 86, pp.258-273.

3. Kregiel, D., Pawlikowska, E. and Antolak, H., 2018. Urtica spp.: Ordinary Plants with Extraordinary Properties. Molecules, 23(7), p.1664.

4. Tenmilliontrees.org. 2022. All About Trees. [online] Available at: <http://www.tenmilliontrees.org/trees/> .

5. Tree, I., 2019. WILDING. : PICADOR.

6. Wildlifetrusts.org. 2022. Wildlife gardening | The Wildlife Trusts. [online] Available at: <https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/gardening> .

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