Create a wildlife-friendly garden

Gardening for wildlife

Yesterday evening, I watched a fuzzy bee, his legs fat with pollen, dip in and out of a beautiful potted lupin. He spent a good 15 minutes busy with the petals in the sunshine and I smiled at the sight of him, happily feeding, while unknowingly performing a vital pollination service. Sadly, many of our garden visitors such as this bee, as well as butterflies and birds, are in decline, thanks to a loss of natural habitat and flowering plants – wildflower meadows have disappeared due to changing agricultural techniques and the use of pesticides has also negatively contributed. Luckily, as gardeners, we are in the perfect position to try and help reverse this decline by carefully choosing plants and creating desirable habitats in which wildlife can thrive.

Why do we need pollinators?

Pollinators transfer pollen from one flower to another, bringing about fertilisation. If this doesn’t happen, some plants wouldn’t be able to produce seeds and in some cases fruit, which could result in the loss of some species of plants and flowers and damage the food chain for insects, animals and humans. According to the RSPB, 40% of the food we eat, from apples to carrots, depends on plants being pollinated by insects, including bees.

How can we attract bees?

In the UK, we have over one million acres of gardens, so by creating bee-friendly habitats in our outdoor spaces, we really can make a difference to bees. Small patio gardens and balconies can host pots and hanging baskets, so even if your outdoor space is tiny, you can still attract wildlife! The first step is to plant some bee-friendly flowers – those that are rich in pollen and nectar. Choose single-flowered varieties as bees and butterflies can’t access the pollen or nectar of double flowers. The RHS has produced lists of wildflowers, garden plants and plants of the world that are perfect for pollinators. Examples include: Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender), Jasminum officinale (common jasmine), Digitalis purpurea (common foxglove), Lonicera periclymenum (common honeysuckle), Dianthus barbatus (sweet William), Lychnis coronaria (rose campion), Thymus pulegioides (large thyme) and Monarda didyma (bergamot or bee balm).

How can we attract butterflies?

Summer is the peak time for butterflies and moths and there are 59 butterfly species resident in the UK (RHS). The most common are: Red Admiral, Peacock, Brimstone, Painted Lady, Comma, Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Small Cabbage White and Large Cabbage White. Only the Cabbage Whites are potential pests, feeding on cabbages, other brassicas and nasturtiums – the others are useful pollinators. It’s worth doing some research into which butterflies are most common in your area so you can grow their favourite types of nectar-rich food, from which adult butterflies get their energy.

Adult butterflies enjoy bluebells, marigolds, buttercups, hyacinth, clover, garden mint, knapweed, thistles, blackberry bushes, heather, lavender, Bowles’ Mauve wallflower, marjoram and willowherbs, among others (Natural History Museum).

How can we attract birds?

Gardens need birds because they act as a natural pest control, protecting plants and flowers from harmful insects, while at the same time acting as pollinators as they go from one flower to the next plus, they also eat weed seeds! Like bees and butterflies, birds have been affected by the reduction of their natural habitats and food sources due to land development. Birds will visit your garden if you have plenty of food, water and cover. Plant bushes and shrubs that bear berries, such as Malus, Sorbus, Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Hawthorn, Holly, Honeysuckle and Guelder Rose, they will all provide a natural source of food for birds.

Bird feeders

High protein foods such as mealworms, food bars and seed mixtures are perfect for Summer when birds are moulting. Each type of food is best served in its own type of feeder and there are lots of types available. Cover is also important. Think about where you site the feeders as birds need to keep a watchful eye out for predators.

Birds and their favourite foods

House sparrows, dunnocks, reed buntings, collared doves, finches: Small seed, such as millet
Blackbirds: Flaked maize
Tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers and siskins: Peanuts and sunflower seeds
Robins, dunnocks, wrens: Crushed or grated peanuts
Pigeons, doves and pheasants: Wheat and barley grains:
Goldfinches, siskins: Nyjer seeds
Robins, blue tits, pied wagtails: Mealworms
Tits: Insect cakes
Finches: Berry cakes
Wrens: Animal fat (finely chopped) and mild grated cheese
Starlings: Peanut cakes
Thrushes and blackbirds: Fruit

Useful links

For more information on bees and bee-friendly gardening, visit: Bumblebee Conservation – Gardening for Bees
RHS – Plants for pollinators

For more information on butterflies in Sussex and Kent visit:
Sussex Butterflies
Butterfly Conservation Kent Branch

RHS advice on attracting butterflies to your garden
Natural History Museum advice on attracting butterflies to your garden.

For lots of brilliant help and information on caring for birds, please visit the RSPB website