With so many animal lovers wanting to help our wildlife this winter and throughout the year, it is quite easy to find information on giving them a helping hand. From leaving out food and water, to planting weeds and letting the grass grow, thousands of us across the world are making a positive change for animals and helping some of our most threatened species in the process.
It is so vital to create a haven for these animals, especially now that the seasons are changing, and the weather is becoming more extreme. But how do we make our garden accessible to these animals? It’s one thing to provide food, but how do we let them know where to find it in the first place? There are so many little tweaks we can make to our safe spaces for wildlife that will keep them coming again and again, and really make a difference to animals all year round.
Your garden might be perfect to house some insects, or hedgehogs, or birds, or even snakes and newts. But it may not contain all the right materials for building a home. One simple, affordable way to encourage visiting wildlife to stay is to provide nesting sites and materials for them to make a shelter or to encourage them to breed.
For insects, this can be as simple as leaving out a bundle of cane stalks for small ladybirds and bees to squeeze into, or can be as complex as an insect hotel – it really is up to you! Any kind of shelter will help, and the more species you attract, the more animals, in general, you will encourage to visit, including the birds and small vertebrates that prey on the insects.
Creating a shelter can also be as simple as to leave old walls and sheds intact (providing they are not dangerous or likely to fall over and hurt someone that is), allowing insects and small animals to shelter in the wall cracks or within the structures. A log pile, leaf pile, or stack of tiles can also provide a home – if your garden is bare, collect some leaves, twig, or other debris in a bag next time you go for a walk and add them to your sheltered corner.
Build a Pond
Building a pond is one of the most beneficial steps you can take for helping wildlife. While not possible for everyone, if the means to build a pond are there, it really is worth undertaking. Ponds should be of varying depths, with very shallow edges that gradually get deeper – this allows safe access for small birds to drink and bathe, as well as allowing frogs, newts, and small critters to venture in without drowning.
All animals will drink from a healthy pond if one is available, so providing a safe one with gentle edges will keep a lot of animals well hydrated. To keep the pond clean yet safe for any lifeforms that may set up a home in there, you can use natural cleaners such as barley straw. Adding natural plants will also help to filter the water, as well as providing food, additional shelter, and other benefits to your garden visitors, and even helping little creatures such as froglets to clamber into the water safely.
Species such as starwort, waterweed, and arrowheads help provide rich oxygen to the water, and plants including irises, paper reeds and monkeyflowers can be grown for shallower or smaller ponds where space is more of a restriction.
Let Them In!
If your garden is surrounded by fences, make a small hole or another opening to allow critters in, such as hedgehogs and frogs. If you don’t want foxes, badgers, and larger animals to enter, then make sure the opening is no bigger than a CD case. Hedgehogs are currently threatened, largely by the invasion of garden walls and fences, so you will really be doing them a favour. If possible, plant hedgerows instead of fences – these will have natural openings that animals can squeeze through and provided shelter and nesting materials for birds and small vertebrates. Bonus points if they contain fruits, nuts, and other edible goodies for wildlife – ivy, hawthorn, holly, hazel, blackthorn, and wild cherry are just some great examples. For the more adventurous gardener, why not consider growing a “living willow fence“?
If a fence of some sort is a must, consider leaving a small gap for animals as mentioned above, or at the very least, using railings rather than solid fencing or walls. The railings should not be close enough together that an animal may get stuck – a gap of five inches between each railing bar will prevent this.
Planting climbing plants such as ivy, roses, honeysuckle, and clematis will not only encourage certain birds and other animals to nest – and many pollinating insects to visit – but will allow climbing critters such as squirrels to shimmy up over your fences much easier.
A hibernacula is a house for any reptile or amphibian that needs a place to sleep over the colder months. To provide a home for a reptile, ensure that one side is south-facing and, therefore, warmer by building it on an east-west axis, allowing the other end to be naturally cooler and helping the reptile to regulate their body temperature.
Dig a trench – around two to three feet deep and five to 10 feet long is a good size – and place a section of plastic pipe in it, with plenty of holes drilled into it for good drainage. Cover this with coarse rubble and keep adding it until it is level with the trench, and use shingle to fill any gaps and to top the rubble with. This will provide lots of good drainage and make the hibernacula stay pretty dry and stable throughout the months to keep the reptile warm, safe, and dry. Add some logs of differing sizes, shapes, and angles around the trench to provide additional shelter.
With your plastic pipes, stuff some into the sides of the trench to allow the reptiles to crawl into them and reach the chambers below – lay them at a 30-40-degree angle to prevent too much rainwater getting in. They should only just stick out of the trench, as their purpose is to simply provide some entrances.
Amphibians require more humidity as they breathe through their skin, and if things get too dry, they are in real trouble, so their homes are best built near to ponds. If you build a pond, you can save the soil and put it aside for a hibernacula. Add plenty of rubble, bricks, and wood. When you build the pond, cover the bricks with slabs of concrete – cover the slabs with soil and brash (but don’t fill any gaps) to make a more natural hibernacula that you won’t even notice yet will provide a home for so many animals, hiding little gaps between the concrete and the bricks that amphibians can squeeze into.
If you do not have a pond, simply build a trench – any size will be useful to a small amphibian, but an ideal size for many animals would be six square feet. Follow the above instructions to fill it in and make it liveable – so add wood, rubble, and bricks into the mix, cover with soil and brash, and ensure there are plenty of gaps left alone for them to crawl into.
Tips that can be used for both kinds of hibernacula are to keep the south side bare of vegetation as this is where the animals will bask. If possible, provide a flat platform for them to lie on; a smooth pebble or a flat piece of wood will do. Add vegetation to the colder north side, it will remain cool and shady enough but will provide a bit more shelter than simply leaving it bare.
To learn more about making your garden wildlife friendly, check out these resources:
- Building a Hibernaculum
- Helpful Garden Features
- 5 Ways To Turn Your Garden Into A Haven For Wildlife
Lead image source: Tomi Tapio K/Flickr