Wildlife gardening involves providing food and habitats for wildlife, in our gardens. Many wild species – such as bees, butterflies, hedgehogs and amphibians – are suffering huge declines, thanks to a combination of habitat loss, pesticides and climate change. So, the more wildlife gardening we do, the more we can help to limit or even reverse, these declines.
All life needs food, shelter and water to survive. In gardening terms, the food could be flowers, leaves, fruit or other species further down the food chain; shelter could be your compost heap, an area of long grass, a dense hedge or purpose-built nest box; and water typically comes in the form of a pond or bird bath.
There are no hard rules to follow and it doesn’t matter how big your garden is – simply do as much as you want and have space for. The most important thing is to ensure wildlife can access your garden – those that fly should be able to get there easily enough, but what about those that crawl or hop? Dig holes beneath your fence or knock a few bricks out of your wall if you can, so wildlife can enter and exit your garden easily. After that, it’s up to you. Whether you plant flowers for pollinators, erect bird boxes, mow your lawn less often or dig a pond, your garden wildlife will thank you for it.
BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine offer:
Save 15% on Welcome Wildlife to Your Garden 2-part Masterclass series
Wildlife expert, Kate Bradbury co-hosts this two-part Masterclass with Associate Editor, David Hurrion. Learn how to become a greener gardener and create a wildlife haven in your garden.
The series kicks off with part one on Friday 11 March.
Our gardens take up more space than all of our nature reserves put together. The more food and habitats we create, the more wildlife there will be. Browse our collection of projects, features and wildlife identifiers, to learn more about protecting these precious species, below.
More wildlife gardening content:
Six key features of a wildlife garden
Wildlife gardening – six features of a wildlife gardenSome gardens are better for wildlife than others. Discover six key features – such as a pond a compost heap – that will bring more wildlife to your space, be it a courtyard, balcony, allotment or large garden.
Dig a pond
A pond attracts all sorts of wildlife, from frogs, toads and newts to insects such as dragonflies. Follow our step-by-step guide to making the perfect watery habitat.
Grow caterpillar food plants
Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths. While butterflies and moths drink nectar from flowers, their caterpillars eat leaves. Many species have very specific requirements – small tortoiseshell, red admiral and peacock butterfly caterpillars eat nettle leaves, while moth caterpillars tend to eat the leaves of native trees and shrubs. Not only will growing caterpillar food plants help butterflies and moths breed in your garden, but they will also provide more natural food for birds, hedgehogs and other caterpillar-eating species.
Top 10 plants for birds
Love birds? Why not grow some plants for them? Birds need dense shrubs, hedges and trees to roost and nest, plus natural sources of food, such as caterpillars, to feed themselves and their chicks.
Make fat cakes for the birds
In winter, birds need a little extra help to see them through the cold nights. Find out how to make calorie-rich fat cakes.
Plants for bees
Growing nectar- and pollen-rich flowers provides food for bees and other pollinators, many of which are declining. You don’t need a large garden to grow flowers for bees. Many can be grown in containers.
Make a dead wood habitat
Dead wood is almost as important to wildlife as living wood. It provides a shelter for amphibians and reptiles. If in sun, logs provide nesting habitat for some types of solitary bee, while if in shade and partially buried, dead wood provides nesting habitat for some types of beetle.
Hedgehogs have suffered serious declines in recent years, but they seem to be thriving in suburban areas where there are plenty of gardens. From composting and making logs and leaf piles, to letting areas of grass grow long, find out how to create safe habitats for these prickly mammals.
Make a bat box
Bats are often overlooked in gardens. Because they fly at night, many of us don’t realise we have them. Bats eat insects such as mosquitoes and midges, so benefit from habitats such as garden pond and a wildflower meadow. But they may also use a bat box.
Feeding garden birds
Traditionally gardeners would feed birds only in winter, but these days it’s recommended to feed birds all year round. Discover the best types of bird food to use and which birds are attracted to them, in our No Fuss video guide.
Native pond plants
By using native plants in your pond, you’re growing the plants found naturally in British streams, ponds and waterways. These plants are typically better for aquatic wildlife because they have evolved together. Native pond plants are also far less likely to cause harm if they end up in the wild.
Climbers for wildlife
A bare fence isn’t much use to wildlife – birds can’t nest in it, butterflies can’t hibernate in it, and bees, caught in a sudden downpour, can’t fly use it for shelter. Cover it in climbers, however, and it’s a different story – even a single plant can support a range of wildlife species.
Wildlife-friendly hanging basket
Many hanging basket arrangements use bedding plants, which tend to be double-flowered, or are bred for long-lasting colour at the expense of nectar and pollen. This hanging basket display uses single-flowered bedding plants known for their attractiveness to wildlife, resulting in an attractive display that also provides food for bees and other pollinators.
Make a bird bath
Birds not only use water to drink, but they also bathe in it, helping them fluff up their feathers to insulate themselves against the cold.
Plants for hoverflies
Hoverflies and other flies are often neglected in gardens. However many of them have a vital role as pollinators and could do with a helping hand. Unlike bees, which have a sucking, straw-like proboscis, flies have a sponge-like proboscis, and therefore feed on different types of flowers.
Plants for butterflies
Around 10 species of butterfly are likely to visit gardens, including the colourful small tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral. Adults feed on nectar, and can be seen nectaring on flat, daisy-like blooms as well as plants with long, tubular flowers. The more of these you can grow in your garden, the better.
Berried plants for birds
Berries are a particularly good source of antioxidants for birds. Those with the highest levels are ideal, though those with lower levels are important too, providing birds with winter food when their preferred berries are unavailable.
Bee-friendly pot display
Most queen bumblebees hibernate in autumn, building up fat reserves to survive winter without food. In spring, they are hungry, urgently needing life-giving nectar. To help them along, pot up some early-flowering plants to help them replace lost energy before they fly off in search of a nesting site.
Create a wildflower meadow
A wildflower meadow provides a valuable source of food and breeding opportunities for bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies. You don’t need a large area to create your own wildflower area – a small plot of land is sufficient for growing a ‘mini meadow’. The easiest method is to use plug plants; simply mow your lawn and remove all grass clippings, then plant the plugs at random intervals (five per square metre). You can also plant plugs into bare soil.
Create a wildlife garden
In this mini-series from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don transforms a neglected area into a wildlife garden. He digs a pond, plants pollinator-friendly flowering plants, and berrying shrubs for birds. Watch all eleven episodes for tips on wildlife-friendly plants to grow, and see how the garden progresses, starting with episode one, here.