Real estate for wildlife
Sometimes as a kitchen gardener it’s tempting to see wildlife as the enemy and condemn all species with the label ‘pest’, but perhaps it actually makes sense to attract wildlife into your garden. London Wildlife Trust’s Helen Babbs argues that our gardens and allotments are vital habitats and encouraging wildlife is often an effective way to protect our crops.
Gardens account for a high proportion of total green space in the UK – for example, in surely the most built up part of the country, London, there are over three million gardens covering more than 90,000 acres. This land has enormous potential, for both growing food and providing habitat for wildlife.
Wildlife Trusts across the country are determined to encourage the nation’s gardeners to make their plots better for wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts’ vision of creating ‘A Living Landscape’, where species benefit from green areas that are connected and easy to move between, includes gardens being made more hospitable. And for the kitchen gardener, an organic, wildlife friendly garden is a more successful one for fruit and veg production. Hedgehogs and ladybirds, to name just two species, will defend prize crops against onslaught from slugs and aphids. And where would we be without bees to pollinate?
Resisting the urge to be really tidy in your garden helps make it a friendlier place for wildlife. Simple things like leaf and log piles make great hiding places for small mammals and insects, and also provide them with nesting materials that they can move elsewhere. But wildlife gardening doesn’t have to be messy, in fact homemade habitats can look really stunning.
One of the most popular elements of London Wildlife Trust’s Future Garden at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show was a textural habitat wall. Built from old builders’ pallets nailed together and stuffed with natural bits and bobs like bamboo, pine cones, twigs, slate and teasel, it was visually exciting and a real talking point. The idea can be adapted to suit any garden and is a quirky way of disguising a compost heap or fencing an area off. Find out more about the Future Garden and habitat wall on www.wildlondon.org.uk/gardening
Do it yourself
On a smaller scale, DIY habitats made from materials you already have lying around at home are simple and effective. Here are four projects to attract bees, bugs and hedgehogs into your garden that will take you less than an hour to complete.
Habitat hotel (beloved by mini beasts)
Why not scale down London Wildlife Trust’s wall and make a mini habitat hotel?
Take two or three old bird boxes with the front panel removed, or construct some simple, open fronted wooden boxes. Nail the boxes together and tack a couple of small plastic plant pots on top. Stuff full of natural bits and bobs like pine cones, bamboo canes, stones and twigs. Position in a sheltered spot on your veg patch. Birds and small mammals might pinch bits for their nests so you will need to keep topping it up with materials. You can add items to your habitat hotel as you find them, and even pop in a flower or two if you’re feeling creative!
Solitary bee home
A bee home is easy to make and will last for years. There are around 250 of species of solitary bee, and their nests are usually tunnels, in which the bee builds a series of chambers to hold a fertilised egg and a pollen rich food supply for the developing larvae.
Take a substantial piece of dry timber like an old gate post, at least 15cm square. Site it in a sunny, sheltered spot and fix firmly into the ground, so that about a metre is visible. Using an extra long drill bit, and angling the drill slightly upwards, drill holes in a random pattern into the wood in diametres ranging from 2mm (lots) to 8mm (just a few). The slight angle will allow the holes to drain. Nail a roof on top to keep the rain off and maintain a muddy puddle nearby as bees use mud to build their brood chambers. Note that bees don’t like the smell of freshly cut wood so you’ll need to wait for it to weather out before any move in!
Recycled bug bundles (perfect for lacewings and ladybirds)
These two bug bundles use up household rubbish, are incredibly easy to make and look rather fun hanging in your plot.
Cut the bottom off a two litre plastic bottle, keeping the lid on. Roll up a piece of corrugated cardboard tightly, stuff inside the bottle and let it expand. Tie some string round the neck and then hang in your garden.
Take some old bamboo canes and cut into short 10-15cm lengths, tie into a bundle with some string and hang in your garden or leave to rest in a veg patch. These recycled homes will be loved by lacewings and ladybirds!
Hedgehog hiding place
The easiest way of building a hedgehog shelter is to make a lean-to by placing an old board against a wall or fence and covering it in leaves, compost, soil, or branches. The gap under the board will provide a relatively dry shelter where a hedgehog can hibernate. You could rake some dry leaves into that gap or provide a little dry straw for nesting too.
There are 47 local Wildlife Trusts across the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney. The Wildlife Trusts are the largest UK voluntary organisation dedicated to conserving the full range of the UK’s habitats and species whether they be in the countryside, in cities or at sea. www.wildlifetrusts.org
© Helen Babbs 2008/ The Wildlife Trusts
This article appears in the October 2008 issue of Kitchen Garden magazine – http://www.kitchengarden.co.uk/contents.php