Encouraging wildlife in your garden
Encouraging birds, mammals and insects to visit and live in your garden helps to look after local wildlife, keeps valuable green spaces thriving and can help control garden pests by encouraging natural predators. From large gardens to window boxes, all homes can be made more wildlife-friendly.
How you can help wildlife
Encouraging wildlife into your garden goes a little way towards compensating for the loss of animal habitats (living spaces) elsewhere. Garden ponds, for instance, have helped to conserve aquatic and amphibian life, like fish and frogs.
Providing wildlife shelters in your garden
Creating spaces for wildlife to live and nest in is one way of making animals feel at home in your garden. Creating variety helps provide habitats for different animals. Insects in particular help keep your garden healthy. They pollinate plants, eat other insects and provide food for birds. Here are some simple ideas that can help:
- leaving rotting logs in a corner of your garden can make a home for hedgehogs and insects
- drilling holes in pruned branches and logs provides insects with shelter and nesting space
- wildlife thrives when it isn't disturbed, so if possible have an area of your garden that you just leave alone - overgrown areas can provide places for animals such as hedgehogs or even foxes to rest or hibernate
- bird and bat boxes encourage creatures to nest and rest in your garden
- Find out more about wildlife shelters from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Plant a Tree
Trees provide food and shelter for many types of wildlife, from insects to birds, and bats. You don’t have to have a big garden to plant a tree, as trees like crab apple, pussy willow or hazel will thrive in small spaces. You can even grow a tree in a large container if you don’t have a garden. Or you could sponsor planting a tree through the Woodland Trust.
Native species like silver birch, hawthorn, or yew support a wide range of insects, which in turn provide year-round food for mammals and birds.
There are several grants available for tree planting, depending on whether you are planting a small wood on your land, or a few trees in your community or local school. More information on tree planting grants can be found on the Woodland Trust website.
Plant a hedge
Planting a hedge in your garden can really help wildlife. Hedges provide food and nesting places for all sorts of animals and insects, for example:
- many birds make their nests in hedges
- hedgehogs may shelter at the bottom of a hedge
- wood mice may be found further up in the branches
Choose a mixture of native hedge species like holly, blackthorn and guelder rose to attract a wide range of insects. They will then provide food for mammals and birds. You can buy hedge mixes from some garden centres or tree nurseries.
You can also grow violets, wood anemones and celandine at the base of the hedge to attract nectar-loving insects.
For more information on hedgerows and wildlife visit the Hedgelink website, or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Create a pond
Ponds are a magnet for wildlife, attracting frogs, newts, dragonflies and other insects. As well as providing water for birds, they're surprisingly easy to create. If you haven't got much space, you could even use an old sink or bath.
Do feed the animals
- attract birds to your garden by offering them food using feeders and tables - make sure you keep these away from places that cats can get to, or put them near prickly bushes to deter furry predators
- clean bird tables regularly and don't leave food out to rot
- the birds that you regularly feed come to rely on the food you provide and can suffer if they waste energy flying to find food that isn't there
- choose plants that flower and produce seeds or fruit at different times of the year, so that insects, birds and animals can have food in all seasons
- birds need to bathe frequently to keep their feathers in trim so even a small bird bath can be hugely valuable for attracting birds
Plan your plants with wildlife in mind
Think about wildlife when buying your plants. When you're deciding what you will let grow in your garden, choose ones that attract and sustain a variety of insects and animals. For example:
- sunflower seeds provide food for birds once the flowers have died
- lavender attracts bees
- buddleia is great for butterflies and bees
- moths will come to red valerian, honeysuckle and night-flowering stock
- native ivy is one of the best wildlife plants of all, benefiting birds, mammals, butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other useful insects
Only use pesticides as a last resort
Pesticides are designed to kill and control pests, weeds and fungi. However, they can also kill or discourage the wildlife you want to attract to your garden, including the predators that eat pests. Pesticides can be damaging in very small quantities, so you must always handle them carefully:
- avoid using chemicals wherever possible, but if you do use them, always follow the instructions on the label
- dispose of out of date or waste products carefully - don't pour them down the drain or put them in your household waste bin
- your council can give you advice on disposing of pesticides you no longer need
- make sure pesticides or other hazardous chemicals from paints and finishes don’t get into ponds, as they can poison water life
- Controlling pests and weeds
- Disposal of hazardous waste
- Local councils in Northern Ireland (contacts section)
Control your cat
Give birds a chance by putting several bells on your cat's collar. This should give birds warning of your pets approach. Multiple bells are best because some cats can learn to move silently with just one bell on their collar.
The wider issue
Encouraging wildlife into our gardens goes a little way towards compensating for the loss of habitat elsewhere. Garden ponds, for instance, have helped to conserve aquatic and amphibian life.