How to encourage wildlife into your garden

Hedgehog looking over a log
Room for a visitor?
"Water is really important both during the hot summer months, but also in winter when other sources could be frozen over" Ness Amaral-Rogers, RSPB
  • | by Abbie Laughton-Coles

Sparrows taking a refreshing dip in the birdbath. Squirrels playfully scampering around the lawn. A hedgehog hunkering down for winter. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?

Coaxing wildlife to take up residence in our gardens can be a long and arduous process. Unfortunately it's not as easy as whistling out the window and watching a flock of bluebirds dance through the sky.

However, there are ways and means of making your outdoor space a haven for birds, critters and insects alike.

And you shouldn't just get digging and planting to appease the local wildlife, because gardening is a proven way to relax and unwind. In fact, mental health charity Mind has previously run gardening, farming and food growing projects to help individuals look after their wellbeing.

That's two reasons to slip your gloves on. So, what are you waiting for?

But just how do you coax critters into your garden, short of hanging a 'Welcome' sign on a tree? Let's find out.

Feed them up

Robin in a garden

How many times have you passed up an invitation to a soiree until you hear the two most tantalising words in the English language - free buffet? It would seem the same applies to our feathered friends.

"The most important tip for encouraging birds to your garden is to put food out for them," says Ness Amaral-Rogers, spokesperson for the RSPB.

"Birds are creatures of habit so don't be discouraged if they don't come straight away - they will eventually learn where the food is and keep coming back.

"Make sure the feeders are in the right place, not too far away from bushes so they feel protected, but also where they can spot any potential predators like cats." Sorry Whiskers.

Seriously, it's all about the food

Woodpecker ona feeder

It's not just any old scraps though...

"Experiment with different feeders and foods," says Ness.

"Nuthatches go crazy for peanuts while chaffinches love sunflower hearts. Identifying the birds which visit your garden will help you learn the food attracts them.

"Suet is perfect for winter as it helps build up essential fat reserves and leftover potatoes or unsalted bacon rind will bring in the birds.

"Foods to avoid include cooking fat from a roast, dried coconut, cooked porridge oats, milk and mouldy food." We don't blame the birds for that!

Keep hold of the dead wood

Stag beetle in leaves

A pile of dead wood is a real crowd pleaser in the insect community according to the Royal Horticultural Society.

Stag and bark beetles will be begging to take up residence and hibernating creatures can settle down for a long winter, safe inside their woody residence.

Just remember it's best to go natural - no MDF or painted planks and if you can bury part of the logs, even better.

Bee happy

Bee on a flower

The humble bumble bee is a vital part of our ecosystem and one we should look after, not run away from screaming.

Helen Dickinson, spokesperson from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some great tips to get your garden buzzing:

"Bumblebees rely on pollen and nectar for all their nutritional needs.

"Wildflowers and cottage garden varieties are great food sources - crocus, hellebores, winter flowering heathers, grape hyacinth and flowering currant are some of the best early plants.

"Mid-season has a huge range of options - foxgloves, scabious, allium, sunflowers and lavender, many of which flower late into the season.

"Avoid many of the traditional bedding plants such as begonias, petunias and annual geraniums; these have very little pollen and nectar so offer little food for our insects.

"Even just mowing the lawn less and allowing white clover to flower will provide extra food."

It's compost time

Hedgehog in a garden

A compost heap is a real treat - not only does it give you somewhere to shove your biodegradable kitchen waste (think vegetable peels) but it makes a great habitat for insects like worms, woodlice, snails and beetles, to name but a few.

In turn this attracts frogs, hedgehogs and birds who are looking for a tasty morsel to snack on. It's the circle of life.

Splish splash, taking a bath

Blackbird in a birdbath

A luxurious soak isn't just reserved for us human folk. Every bird from pigeons to robins needs to keep their feathers fresh and clean.

"Water is really important both during the hot summer months, but also in winter when other sources could be frozen over," says Ness.

"Float a ping-pong ball on the surface to stop the water from freezing over. A simple bird bath will lay on drinks but also give them somewhere to bathe and keep their feathers clean.

"A pond is better as it attracts lots of other wildlife including frogs, dragonflies and newts."

Sounds good to us, get the spade out sharpish!

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