Studies have shown a decline in bees, birds and insects. In fact there has been a 57% reduction in farmland birds, and 27% reduction in woodland birds over the last 50 years, with some bird species showing a dramatic decline such as House Sparrows. In addition the organisation Plantlife reports that 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, with a third of bumblebees and 70% of butterfly species in decline, and staggeringly it is estimated over 500 animal and plant species have become extinct over the last 200 years (Natural England). Some of these figures can be attributed to farming techniques, particularly in the use of pesticides and herbicides, and removal of habitat such as hedgerows and woodlands.
There is however some good news, some species numbers have remained stable such as the Blue Tit and Wren, with others showing an increase such as the Nuthatch and Great spotted woodpecker. In addition there are also over 250 species of bees in the UK, including bumblebees, solitary and leaf cutter bees.
Thankfully there is more awareness of the need for biodiversity, the definition of which is "variety of plant and animal life which is usually considered to be important and desirable". A similar term is "rewilding" that upholds similar principles, but this is on a much larger scale and sees the restoration of ecosystems.
Below are examples of projects with these principles in mind:
The ecosystem relies on the balance between plants and animals both in the food chain (known as trophic pyramids, that are sometimes referred to as pyramid of numbers), and food webs. Within these webs animals and birds usually rely on more than one species for food as this reduces the vulnerability of their own species. An example of a food web and our impact on it is the introduction of myxomatosis which reduced rabbits numbers, who were a food source for foxes. However foxes are adaptable and able to hunt other species, such as voles which is a food source for owls, and as such resulted in owl numbers dropping. Insects are at the base of the food chain and provide food for birds and bats and other animals that predate on them, such as hedgehogs. As such there is a predator-prey relationship and should there be a reduction in numbers of prey, whether it is plant matter, insects, or anything in the food chain, then predator numbers will ultimately be affected.
Introducing a range of habitats within a garden or urban space, such as yard or patio, not only provides a green urban network, but increases biodiversity and provides a range of food sources within the food webs, thus supporting nature. Invertebrates (insects), particularly Stag beetles and wood lice, can be encouraged by providing log piles (which may also be used by Queen bumblebees over winter), leaving fallen leaves and even standing plant pots on feet. Hedgehogs enjoy insects, eating beetles (around 30% of diet) and caterpillars (43%), along with the occasional slug (1%) and earthworms (8%). Grass lawns, rather than plastic, support burrowing insects and worms, and these provide a food source for birds, such as blackbirds.
Adding a range of levels, such as different trees that grow to varying heights, hedging and dense bushes provide a range of habitats for different species, for instance Robins and Wrens prefer lower branches, whilst the Goldcrest prefers conifer trees. To ensure no nesting birds are disturbed, hedging should not be trimmed or cut from March until the end of the year (around November time).
Adding flowering plants to these spaces supports pollinators, which includes bees, wasps, flies, hoverflies, beetles, moths and butterflies, with Hoverflies preferring compound/open flowers, while butterflies prefer bunched small tubular flowers. Plants provide both nectar, used as fuel and provides energy for flight, and pollen, which contains protein and carbohydrates, with many insects feeding on nectar, pollen, or both, while bees feed pollen to their larvae. Some plants support insects at different times of the day, for example honeysuckle supports moths at night, while some attract certain species such as Cinnibar moth caterpillar to Ragwort, and Peacock caterpillar to Nettles. Other plants, such as Ivy, provide food at different times of the year, the flowers support the early emerging pollinators, as well as berries for birds later in the year, while plants such as Teasels or Sunflowers could attract finches, in particular Goldfinches. Ladybirds also eat nectar and pollen as well as aphids, and as such are excellent at pest control. To provide nectar and pollen for as long as possible through the seasons it is worth considering, when planting, what flowers will be available at what time of year, and whether they are native plants.
Ponds with at least one gently sloping edge not only provides habitat for reptiles such as toads, newts and frogs, but also an area for birds to bathe, and a water source for other animals such as hedgehogs. Adding plants to the pond itself can assist with oxygenation, whilst plants around its edge can provide cover and another habitat. If you have a water container in your garden always ensure there are a means to get out either by adding bricks or a ramp, or even a piece of string to allow insects to climb out.
The Blue Heart Campaign which was started in 2014 promotes rewilding in gardens (and along verges, in parks and school grounds), with a blue heart made from recycled materials placed in the area to highlight this. For more information visit their website: https://bluecampaignhub.com/about-us
By leaving an area within your garden to become a little overgrown or less managed it will not only increase the diversity of plants, but potentially lead to a wider range of insects, birds and possibly wild animals making use of this little haven.
When a Coal Tit becomes annoyed or agitated it raises a hidden crest on the top of its head .....
and the breast pattern of a Robin is thought to be as unique as a finger print.
Reducing Predation by Cats
Studies conducted at the University of Exeter have found that playing with your cat around 5 - 10 minutes every day showed a 25% reduction in prey brought home. Additionally by feeding a meat rich diet, ideal for cats as they are obligate carnivores, this saw a 36% reduction in prey brought back. If your cat goes out with a collar, preferably a breakaway collar, then a bell could be added to alert wildlife of their presence.
Click on the link below to see what seeds and plants are available for a wildlife garden:
When not using synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides this is usually referred to as organic gardening. By doing this you will not only be supporting an ecosystem that both sustains and nourishes plants and microbes, but your animals, insects, birds and wild animals that have access to your garden will also benefit. On a slightly different tangent could the soil itself be beneficial; particularly for our microbiome? See what you think: https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-surprising-healing-qualities-of-dirt.
So what are the options? One is the use of peat free compost, which can be purchased from a company called Yorganics. They quote on their website: "Yorganics is a 100% recycled, peat free, locally sourced and compost produced in North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. Garden waste from households is recycled into a high quality compost that meets the British Standards Institution (BSI) PAS100 standard. It is ideal for both domestic, horticultural and agricultural uses." This link will take you to the postcode checker to find your local Yorganics stockist https://www.yorganicscompost.co.uk/
Why is it best to use peat free products? Amazingly peat is actually created from the decaying remains of plants and "grows" about 1 mm a year. Peat bogs are also home to a host of plant and wildlife species that are only able to exist in this environment, with many bogs given the status of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Peat bogs also soak up water in upland areas which could reduce the risk of flooding. This is supported by a pilot study in Ceredigion (by the Wildlife Trust in Wales) which suggested up to 25% more water could be retained by properly managed bogs. It also acts as a carbon store. Pretty amazing stuff!
How can I repel garden pests? I have tried copper tape around tubs and pots, but find this to be of little use in repelling snails and slugs. However, I have found sand, or small sharp stones, sprinkled on the soil around the plants helps significantly in repelling these pests, giving your seedlings a sporting chance! Due to its rough edges wood ash may also be useful as a repellent.
This is Morgan, our recent winter foster hedgehog, who has now been released. It is a real privilege caring for these wonderful creatures. If you have a hedgehog visitor they would benefit from wet meaty cat/dog food or cat/kitten biscuits, apparently preferring chicken flavour, and are not keen on soggy biscuits! Having access to a shallow dish of water, such as a terracotta plant base, keeping netting off the ground and providing garden highways are all beneficial for them, and other visitors.