How wildlife friendly is your garden?

by Kate Bradbury

You might see your garden as an isolated entity, but the local hedgehogs, frogs, birds and bees view it differently.

Frog in leavesYou might see your garden as an isolated entity, but the local hedgehogs, frogs, birds and bees view it differently. As long as there are holes under fences for animals to get from one garden to the next, yours is just one piece in the varied jigsaw of plots on your street, in your town, and up and down the country.

But do we do enough to attract wildlife to our gardens? To find out, Gardeners' World Magazine got together with the RSPB and came up with an audit, published in the November issue. Broken down into 10 categories based on the best wildlife-friendly garden features, the audit invites you to rate your garden's value to wildlife. All you need to do is tick the description that best matches your garden and tot up the results at the end.

A score of 80 and above earns you the coveted title of 'Wildlife Champion', while anything below 60 indicates room for improvement. It's bit of fun and not to be taken too seriously, and we're not suggesting that your garden is bad for wildlife if you have a low score. We just want you to take stock of your outdoor space, identify areas that could be improved, and be in a better position to consider the needs of your garden's wild inhabitants.

Naturally, I made the Gardeners' World Magazine team take the audit. High scorers included Adam Pasco and Lucy Hall (78 points each), who narrowly missed being Wildlife Champions because they don't have ponds. David Hurrion came second with 70 points, being let down by his formal fish pond and lack of lawn. Tamsin, Ross and Emma all scored in the mid 60s, while Cat scored a miserable 26 (she's just moved into a flat with a bare garden). I'm happy to announce that by the skin of my teeth I beat them all - with a Champion's score of 80.

I pretty much garden exclusively for wildlife. Building the garden from scratch, I was able to choose the best nectar- and pollen-rich plants for insects, put in a pond for my frogs (it's in a tin bath but it still has different depths and a variety of native plants), a compost bin and various log and leaf piles. I measure my success by the wildlife I find using the habitats I have created for them – frogs in the leaf piles, a mouse in the compost bin, beetles and centipedes in the log pile.

However, I fall down in two areas - one of which I was aware of, the other I wasn't. As I have written before, I need to sort out my walls. They are still quite bare, but I'm hoping the ivy seedlings will work their magic in the coming years, transforming them into valuable habitats. Strong and sturdy, the walls have no holes for creatures to travel safely between plots, but there's nothing I can do about that. The garden backs on to a very busy cycle path, but I take comfort in the knowledge that the mouse made it in, so others could follow.

The other feature my garden lacks is fruiting shrubs. I have an ornamental cherry tree donated by a neighbour, but I've yet to see if it produces fruit (it's single-flowered though, which is promising). There's a redcurrant and a native honeysuckle, and I'll plant some hawthorn and holly for the birds in winter. My ivy seedlings are a long way off flowering.

Of course, each of our gardens forms just one piece in the jigsaw puzzle. So if you don't have a pond, but your neighbour does, don't worry. Just make sure the creatures in your garden can access it. But do make yourself a log pile or two - they make fantastic wildlife habitats.

Have you taken the wildlife audit? How did you score?

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: How wildlife friendly is your garden?
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 04/11/2011 at 15:36

Ihave two ponds abog garden wild flower beds grasses two more very smaal ponds on theveg plot shrubs all around my plot and its part of a community allotment in kirkby nr liverpool

Gardeners' World Web User 04/11/2011 at 16:51

I'm just new to gardening but have taken to growing fruit and vegetables so wildlife is not really welcome in my garden although with the winter coming up I can't help but feel for the birds. My quandary really is this, I want to feed the birds but will they come back in the summer because they're used to it?

Gardeners' World Web User 04/11/2011 at 17:03

jgmc3 - Yes, they'll come back to eat your aphids and caterpillars. I know birds can sometimes be a pain in the garden but they are mostly wonderful - a natural part of the cycle, helping to control species further down the food chain.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/11/2011 at 22:12

I am just about to buy my first house and am lucky to be getting a small garden. I would like to grow food and flowers as well as offer something for wildlife in a very small space, but as it is quite an urban area I don't want to attract vermin by putting out too much extra food. Can the right plants offer enough food for birds and other wildlife without attracting any of the less desirables? My friend has had many problems with rats in her compost heap and under her bird table this year so I am a little wary!

Gardeners' World Web User 05/11/2011 at 14:38

Like you, Kate, I scored high enough to be a champion! I've just been up my wildlife friendly garden and a beautiful young fox leaped over my compost heap like a miniature racehorse. And, by one of my logs which is covered with beautiful moss, I found a primula with a leaf growing out of the middle of the flower spike. I love exploring among my log piles. It is in the nooks and grannies of my garden that I find the unusual and then have to do some research. GardenNovice, aim to grow food for your wildlife. Kate has some good suggestions and how about a fishtail cotoneaster? If you do not put out birdseed or cooked food you are unlikely to get undesirables.

See more comments...