Spring is such a crucial time for garden wildlife creatures and – with the changes to routines through lockdown – this year more than ever, they may have become particularly dependent on receiving a little extra care.
National Gardening Week provides a perfect opportunity to get stuck in and turn your garden into a haven that encourages, supports and protects your local wildlife. We asked garden wildlife expert Sean McMemeny, director of Ark Wildlife, for his top tips for getting your garden to work alongside your other garden guests.
How to feed birds
By providing food for birds in your garden, you can help ensure local species continue to thrive. When it comes to bird food, right now it’s best to start by filling one feeder with sunflower hearts and another with peanuts. Bear in mind that diets vary greatly across different species. For example, sparrows and goldfinches enjoy seeds whereas woodpeckers aren’t seed eaters at all – they prefer peanuts, fat, and even mealworms.
While many birds will visit a seed feeder, they all have their preferences. Blue tits will seek out fat and suet, while great tits and robins opt for mealworms. Then again song birds such as blackbirds and thrushes prefer fruit.
A bird box is a great option for all, as no garden is too small for one. Blue tits and house sparrows will flock to a bird box attached to the wall of a house.
Once you have set up your initial feed, and if you have the space, you can begin to offer a wider range of quality bird food set up at varying heights, such as ground, table and hanging feeders: this is known as ‘tiered bird feeding’, and will attract a higher diversity of species.
Plant flowers to help bees
Spring is when queen bees come out of hibernation, and begin to build future colonies. Queen bees use nectar and pollen from flowers to feed both themselves and their offspring. So by providing them with the right flowers, you can aid them in the pivotal role they play in nature’s life cycle.
Every garden regardless of size can be both bee friendly and beautiful. Bees have a similar taste to humans, in that they favour flowers with bountiful open blooms, and long flowering seasons. Examples of flowers generous in pollen and nectar include geraniums, lavender, open dahlias and globe thistle. Also, herbs such as marjoram, sage and chives and flowering shrubs like buddleia, cotoneaster and apple blossom.
A nice idea would be to make a bee ‘nectar filling station’. It’s simply a pot or pots filled with nectar giving flowers and a shallow dish of water (many may be surprised to know that bees need hydration too). Make sure you keep flowers blooming in the pot from March to September by changing them as they fade.
Help hedgehogs out of hibernation
In the UK, hedgehogs tend to come out of hibernation between March and May. This can be a dangerous time for them, when it is critical that they have access to food and water, and are protected from predators. Their most urgent need when emerging from hibernation will be fresh drinking water. To help with this, set up some water in a sturdy dish at ground-level, as well as dry hedgehog food.
In the weeks after coming out of hibernation hedgehogs should begin to breed. After a 32 day gestation period, hoglets are born, and there are measures that can be taken to protect them from hazards.
Firstly, if you have a garden bonfire, always check for nests of hoglets or hedgehogs before lighting it. They are also prone to getting stuck in pea netting and goal nets, so ensure these are at least 8 inches off the ground to allow hedgehogs to move under them safely. As well as this, a hedgehog house or woodpile in a quiet area, ideally protected from the weather, can provide a comfortable sleeping space for them.
Take care of your pets
If you have a pet, it is important to bear in mind their safety too, so that you can keep them as well as plants and wildlife protected from any potential harm.
Laura Campanella, pet care expert and director at GroomArts, advises: “Make sure you are aware of the garden plants that are dangerous to dogs. These include rhubarb, foxglove, bluebells, bulbs from daffodils, amaryllis and tulips, and ivy. It is also advised to have a sectioned area for veggies or special flowers, either a raised bed or a fenced off space.
Put time into good training and stimulation for your dog so don’t get bored in the garden and resort to digging everything up. This means regular walks in large open spaces, plenty of play time, and toys to play with in the garden to distract them from other fun looking things like birds or squirrels. Training your dog is really important so they can respond quickly to commands, like teaching them not to chase birds and squirrels by saying ‘no’, ‘sit’, or ‘stay’. ”
Add a water feature or pond
For those looking to embark on a bigger project, installing a water feature or even a pond in your garden is a really effective way to support and encourage wildlife. Sources of water can act as a habitat for a wide range of creatures such as frogs, newts, dragonflies and bathing garden birds. The best spot for a water feature is in a warm area that gets a good amount of sunlight. Plants, flowers, stones and logs make great additions around the edges of a pond, as well as having the added benefit of looking lovely!
If you are looking for a cost-effective and lower maintenance option, it is possible to create a pond using a buried bucket or trough, with stone steps or a wooden ramp for in and out access – it will essentially serve the same purpose as a more lavish pond.