By Poppy Nicol, Project Coordinator
This Saturday we were joined by Emma Morgan Morgan (Conservation Officer, Buglife) and Alex (Wilder Engagement Officer, South and West Wildlife Trust) for a Habitat Workshop at Global Gardens. The event focussed around how to create, maintain and enhance habitats in gardens, allotments and community gardens.
A key message of the workshop was to focus on enhancing habitat QUALITY - DIVERSITY and CONNECTIVITY.
Alex and Emma showed how we can do this in a number of ways...
1. Creating, maintaining and enhancing quality habitats
Alex and Emma encouraged us to move away from aiming towards creating super "tidy"gardens and instead allow for "messier", wildlife-friendly gardens. The presence of scrubby, shrubby areas, for example, can provide valuable habitat for a range of wildlife including birds, hedgehogs, invertebrates, slow worms, frogs and toads. So don't completely clear those areas which could be considered "messy"! Flora such as brambles, nettles, honeysuckle and shrubs such as hawthorn, hazel, holly and elder are all important components of a wildlife-friendly mosaic of habitats.
We can also play a role by allowing and creating a range of wildlife habitats, ideally with existing natural materials found in the garden. Deadwood log piles and leaf piles, for example, can provide important overwintering habitat and source of food for invertebrates and other wildlife. Creating bug mansions, hedgehog homes, bee banks and toad abodes can also support wildlife in our gardens.
Ponds are another important habitat for amphibians and water source for birds and mammals. Alex encouraged us to think about creating ponds with multiple layers and depths to support diverse flora and fauna. Ideally, ponds should be at least a metre depth to reduce damage caused by hard frosts and provide habitat for amphibians such as newts. When creating a pond, aim for more of an "amoeba" shape than a "bomb-crater"! Pond edges are particularly important for a range of flora and fauna and so an "amoeba" shape with lots of gradual edges rather than circles or squares can support this. Gradated edges are also important for hedgehogs trying to get out.
2. Creating diverse habitats
Establishing a diverse range of plants throughout the year is an important way that we can support wildlife, providing valuable habitat and forage. This includes trees as well as herbaceous perennials and annuals. For example, Holly offers shelter in the winter for nesting birds whilst its leaf litter offers overwintering hibernating habitat for toads, frogs and small mammals and its leaves offer valuable food for the Holly Blue caterpillar. Elder, Rowan and Cornus flowers support necatr and pollen for pollinators whilst their leaves support a range of butterfly and moth caterpillars and berries a range of birds and mammals. Alder, Goat willow, Hazel and Silver Birch also provide important early pollen and seed as well as leaves for caterpillars and moths. find out more about the ways native trees can support a range of wildlife here.
If you have a wildflower meadow, it can be helpful to leave a patch to go "wild" and go to seed to support butterflies and other pollinators in to the autumn.
Here are a range of wild and garden flowers and trees you can plant to support wildlife through the year...
Wildflowers: White dead nettle, primroses, Garlic mustard, Cow parsley, Cowslip, Dandelion, English Bluebell, Cuckoo flower, Bugle, Dog violet, Red campion.
Garden flowers: Lungowrt, Hellebores, Grape hyacinth, Green alkanet, Winter aconite, Crocus, Mahonia, Viburnum, Forget-me-not, Honesty, Sweet rocket, Aubretia.
Trees; Goat willow, Rowan, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Winter flowering cherry, Winter flowering honeysuckle, Apple, Plum, Holly, Purging buckthorn.
Wildflowers: Foxgloves, Knapweeds, Bird's foot trefoil, Cloers, Vetches, Viper's bugloss, Ragwort, Mallows, Meadow cranesbill,Wild carrot, Bramble, Great mullein, Field scabious, Wild rockrose, Wild marjoram, Kidney vetch, Yarrow, Great mullein.
Garden flowers: Allium, Catmint, Comfrey, Lavender, Thyme, Marjoram, Ornamental thistles (thirsium), Phacelia, Fennel, Chives, Verbena, Feverfew, Valerian, Sweet william, Evening primrose, Night-scented stock.
Trailing plants: Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Buddleia, Rose, Wild privet.
Wildflowers: Ivy, Common knapweed, Thistles, Devil's bit scabious, Agrimony, Teasal, Wild carrot, Cinquefoil, Cornflower, Purple loosestrife, Rosebay willowherb.
Garden plants: Vervain, Michaelmas daisy, Sedum, Late flowering heather, Globe thistle, Catmint, Fennel, Lavenders, Sea holly, Sunflowers, Borage, Cardoon, Echinacea, Hyssop.
Trees and shrubs: Bee-bee tree, Wild privet, Loquat, Lucerne, Budlliea.
And don't forget to leave rotting fruit!
Visit our blog on Wildlife Friendly Gardening to find out more about supporting wildlife with plant choice.
Emma also encouraged us to also think about planting night-time flowering flowers such as Evening Primrose, Night-scented Stocks, Sweet Rocket, White Campion, Jasmine, Honeysuckle and Passion flower to encourage night-time visits from nocturnal feeding pollinators such as moths, which in turn feed bats.
We can also support bird-life by offering a range of feeding options. Finches for example like sunflower seeds whilst Tits like nuts. Groundfeeding birds like Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks also appreciate the presence of seeds on bird tables or on the floor rather than hanging birdfeeders.
3. Connecting spaces
The erection of impermeable fences can prevent the movement of wildlife including small mammals such as hedgehogs as well as birds, frogs, toads and a range of pollinators. We can support connectivity between habitats by including gaps in any fences for creatures such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads to move through and encouraging neighbours to do the same. Replacing fences with hedges can also offer a more wildlife-friendly approach to creating borders and boundaries.
With many thanks to Emma and Alex for sharing their knowledge at this workshop and to Buglife and South and West Wildlife Trust for making it possible.