Creating wildlife habitats
In general, the less disturbed an area is, i.e. the more “wild” it is. Wilder areas tend to have greater plant and animal diversity, particularly of native species. In towns and cities, and arable countryside, these wild areas become part of an important mosaic of “stepping stones”, which are small pockets of surviving habitats that enable species to travel and live in a wider, fragmented landscape.
The great thing about wild areas is that you can improve biodiversity, and increase benefits for the overall ecosystem with relatively little effort. They thrive on minimal or no management.
- Increase species richness
- Native flora are more likely to attract native beneficial fauna (pollinators and predators)
There are lots of kinds of wild spaces that you could create or maintain. Examples include:
- Un-mown sections of lawn
- Natural (unmaintained) ponds
- Pots of native plants (e.g. nettles)
- Piles of wood – dead branches and twigs
- Native hedges and borders
Let the grass grow
Grow some of your lawn. Well-controlled lawns are referred to as “biological deserts”. How about leaving a patch of lawn un-mown through the growing season? What comes up will be a surprise, largely dependent on what you have started with, soil type, and climate. Change your perspective on weeds, if your lawn is particularly old and weedy, you could have a mini wildflower meadow.
Leave natural ponds – rather than maintaining them. Silty shady ponds are just as important as beautiful ponds with a mix of everything. Do not suddenly change the management of a pond or surroundings or the existing community will be damaged with little conservation gain.
Patches of nettles can support certain butterfly larvae, pollinators, and lots more. You can even plant them in pots if you don’t want them spreading.
Dead wood piles
Dead wood piles are useful to maintain a humid microclimate that is often missing from gardens due to “cleaning up”. This is the perfect habitat for fungi and dead wood loving organisms. All you need to do is leave a pile of wood in your garden, rather than clear it up. If you prefer it to look neater, organise it into a “dead hedge” with poles to support the edges and the sticks forming the hedge.
These can provide a long-term sheltered habitat for a number of native species. Hedgerows can support beneficial insects, birds, and mammals. If you want edible hedgerows try sloe (blackthorn), hawthorn or hazel.
High performing corridors allowing high connectivity of semi-natural plant communities really contribute to species richness within cities. Humans have an impact but the geographical location plays the biggest role in determining the constitution of the flora.
A few things to remember
Be careful to ensure any wild areas are typical of the surroundings if specifically planting. Woodland vegetation is very different to open habitat and likely to support a different set of species. Think carefully if creating agricultural buffer strips to maximise the wildlife typical of the surrounding area.
Patience – it takes time – the species that will be attracted will be highly dependent on your surroundings
This text is based on an academic literature review by Alice Ambler at the James Hutton Institute as part of our collaborative GROW Observatory project.
The GROW Observatory has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 690199.