Wildlife features

Gabion filled with stones and bee logs, topped with slate roof held in place by old bricks

Gabions are “units of wildlife habitat”

Checklist of invaluable features for your wildlife friendly garden

A list of features that benefit wildlife in any garden.

  1. Pond: The number one must-have feature, water is essential for life. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be posh. For ideas, information and inspiration, look at Freshwater Habitats Trust, particularly their Advice Centre. If you can, use a naturally clay-lined pond rather than using plastic.
  2. Native: Use native plants where you can, as they generally support more wildlife than non-natives, having co-evolved with native fauna. For the UK, use the native filter on the RHS Plant Finder. To see what insects a plant provides food for, see Database of Insects & their Food (you need to know plant’s family, info you can get from Wikipedia).
  3. Meadow: Even a small patch of meadow and wildflowers can create so much habitat for all manner of pollinators, predators, mammals, birds etc. I have a small “makeshift meadow” in the forest garden, which I scythe once a year to create hay mulch.
  4. Hedges: An unkempt hedge is the ultimate in protection, habitat and food source. Choose a hedging plant that grows to the desired height and width, to reduce the amount of maintenance. And choose a mixed hedge if you can, with native plants in. For example, hawthorn (Kate Bradbury’s top wildlife plant) can grow to 8+ metres tall, whereas the absolutely gorgeous native Guelder Rose grows to 5 metres, Common Barberry grows to 3 metres. Also, grow some evergreen hedges for year round cover. Elaeganus x ebbingei gives you late spring fruit as well, and being evergreen is easy to manage as its growth is slower.
  5. Mature trees & shrubs: Well, grow a full fledged forest garden! Any tree is brilliant. If you have a smaller garden, you can choose a small rootstock on a fruit tree, or a tree in a big pot, or smaller species, like the Chinquapin instead of the Sweet Chestnut. As for shrubs, I have a soft spot for juneberries and barberries, with plenty of species and cultivars to choose from.
  6. Log piles: So easy to do, put some logs in a pile. If you have a neat garden, you can tuck your logs out of sight, they’ll still do a great job of providing habitat for a multitude of inverterbrates and amphibians and a food source for everyone.
  7. Stone piles: The same idea as log piles, put some stones in a pile. Provides a different, less slimy habitat. If you put your stone pile in the sun, you may even see some basking lizards.
  8. Stone walls: Slightly more involved than a stone pile, but the same idea. Also, a great location for the strangely fashionable (and edible leaved) Wall Pennywort.
  9. Gabions: Gabions are much easier to construct than stone walls, though still require some skill and a large amount of aggregate (be that stone or something else). You can use recycled aggregate to great effect, sorted and separated into layers. I would recommend a minimum of 5mm wire gauge, and make sure to “face” the flat side of the aggregate against the wire to stop it buckling. The gardener John Little calls gabions ”units of structural habitat”.
  10. Flowers: Flowers all year round for pollinators and predators. Try growing native wild flowers, as they’re a food source for larger number of insects. Include some umbellifers for our smaller tongued compatriots. There is a wealth of information online about suitable flowers. Martin Crawford’s book Creating a Forest Garden has a whole appendix devoted to which flowers provide pollen and/or nectar and when.
  11. Standing dead: If you have a dead tree in your garden, it is possible to remove the overhanging limbs and leave the bulk of the trunk in place to decompose. Indeed, you can ”plant” a dead tree trunk in the ground specifically for this purpose. A dead tree can attract more wildlife than a living tree.
  12. Green roof: Make use of your roof space by creating diverse habitat with a low-maintenance green roof. The key elements are enough depth, and structural integrity of the roof to support the extra weight. There is a great green roof guide by John Little and Dusty Gedge.
  13. Bee logs
  14. Self-binding gravel paths
  15. Hoverfly lagoons
  16. Moss bed
  17. Toad house
  18. Nest box
  19. Earwig hotels
  20. Hedgehog highway
  21. Small mammal boxes
  22. Reptile refugium: 50cm x 50cm black Onduline corrugated roofing, overlay on long grass (Kate Bradbury book)
  23. 3 Cuts of Grass: Keep patch of grass at 3 different lengths, mowing each one every 3 years.
  24. Bumblebee boxes
  25. Hibernaculum
  26. Hedgehog box
  27. Ivy pole: a telegraph pole planted securely in the ground, with UK native ivy planted around the base
  28. Dead hedge
  29. Ivy wall
  30. Stone bird-bath
  31. Humans: no, seriously, human managed habitat is the most diverse in the world (PDF↗)