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Wildlife expert Steve Backshall reveals how a few simple changes at home can bring big benefits to the insects, pollinators, birds and wildlife that really need all the help they can get.
Every little bit helps, especially when 97% of UK wildflower meadows have vanished since the 1930s and species-rich, wild areas now only cover 1% of the UK.
Forget manicured lawns and perfectly trimmed hedges – it’s time we embraced the benefits of bringing nature back into our gardens so that we can all give back to our planet.
Welcoming nature into your garden or home doesn’t need to mean breaking the bank or ruining your garden! Small changes can still bring big benefits to insects, pollinators, birds and other wildlife that can make your garden their home.
While it’s difficult to calculate the exact biodiversity benefits of an individual square foot of wilder garden space, the combined effect of lots of people taking these simple steps across a local area can be significant.
That’s why Botanica by Air Wick, in partnership with the WWF, are on a mission to restore 20 million sq ft of native UK wildflower habitats. Take a leaf out of their book and don’t be afraid to let your outdoor spaces grow a little wild to help Bring Nature Back!
So how best do we maximise nature around our homes? We’ve collected some of the most common questions people have around adding some wilderness back into their gardens and expert Steve Backshall has provided some simple answers to help us all bring nature back into our lives…
Spring is a wonderful time for UK native species – and they need all the support they can get! It all starts with what you are planting in your garden. Different species attract different types of bees, butterflies and moths, which in turn draw birds and other small mammals into your garden. By encouraging native plants to grow, you’ll attract a wonderful range of animals – and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a long-tailed tit, an emperor dragonfly or even a hedgehog!
A pristine, no-leaf-out-of-place-style of garden may look lovely but is often very limited in biodiversity. Adding native wildflowers into a small area of your garden will provide more food for pollinators like bees and butterflies, as well as other insects. The more wildflowers you plant, the greater your impact will be on your local pollinators.
Some of the easiest wildflowers to grow in the UK are cornflowers. They need sowing from March to May. You’ll see them flower from May to July, then let them go to seed in the autumn to provide food for the birds.
You could also have a go at planting ox eye daisies, meadow buttercups, knapweed, red clover and yarrow – or if your garden is in the shade then it might be best to go for woodland wildflower species like primrose and native bluebells. Remember to use seeds of British origin, as these will help support our native species that are in decline.
Think vertical too. Growing ivy along walls and other vertical surfaces is a great idea. Native ivy is a superb wildlife host – a source of food for birds, insects and caterpillars – and an excellent shelter for nests.
Wildflowers actually grow best in low quality soil, so don’t use compost or fertiliser, as that will allow more aggressive plants to grow that out-compete the flowers, such as nettles and grasses.
Say goodbye to the pesticides, weed killers, slug pellets and fertilisers in the back of the garden shed and dispose of them safely. Your garden is a delicate balance of plants and animals, and herbicides and pesticides upset that balance.
Also, try to reduce mowing your lawn, ideally to just once a year! Letting your grass grow not only encourages wildflower growth, but also helps protect the wildlife that calls your garden home. Even better, mow a path through the uncut grass and imagine you’re walking through an idyllic country meadow!
Frogs, newts, snails and worms are just some of the smaller animals that could be harmed by mowing your lawn. Having longer grass allows for a better shelter for creepy crawlies and provides habitats for amphibians and small mammals.
Some relatively simple measures can be implemented to help reduce the risk of cats catching birds in your garden.
Where cats are a problem, avoid putting food on the ground, instead use a bird table or a bird house where the cats cannot reach them when they’re feeding.
Plant wildlife-friendly native vegetation, such as prickly bushes and thick climbers in the garden to provide secure cover for birds. These should be close enough to bird feeding stations to provide cover, but not so close that cats can use it to stalk the birds. This kind of planting may also provide food and nesting sites.
Definitely invest in a bug hotel – or even build one yourself using material kept back from pruning your trees and shrubs. Bug hotels are a fantastic way to provide shelter for a whole range of insects. These insects are an incredibly important part of the food chain, as they support many small animals and birds as well as eating garden pests like aphids.
If you find an injured wild animal in your garden, watch it first to see how badly hurt it is. Then, if possible, take it to a nearby vet or wildlife rescue centre (call first to make sure they can take and treat the animal).
Only lift a wild animal if you’re sure that you can do so without risk to yourself or others. Make sure you also keep the animal away from your face and wear gloves when handling all wild animals. Check out the RSPCA for more information on wildlife rescue centre in your area.
No matter how big or small, there is always a place in your home or garden for nature.
If space is an issue, make use of pots or troughs and grow native wildflowers or other insect friendly plants on your windowsill.
Investing in some hanging baskets will also attract bees and pollinators.
Air Wick Botanica and the World Wildlife Fund, working together to help restore UK wildflower habitats.
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