Rewild Your Garden is a beautiful illustrated practical guidebook
A wildlife-friendly garden is one that is free from toxic chemicals, with an organic lawn and plants. This is then a haven for letting nature take care of itself. Make your garden safe for pets to know toxic plants, trees, mulches and other items to avoid near animals.
- Patch of the Planet is run by a couple who are experts in wildlife-friendly garden/landscape design who have a YouTube channel, which has free instructional videos to grow your own organic food gardens, and protect wildlife at the same time. They also offer beautiful ‘glamping’ holidays on an organic smallholding with stunning views over Pembrokeshire and an array of wildlife including a willow woodland and regular visits from Red Kites. It’s a stone’s throw from neolithic sites with local Blue Stone (as found at Stonehenge).
- Clear all wire, netting, elastic bands and use gull-proof rubbish bags and crush cans (remove tops to avoid jagged edges).
- Use non-toxic wood treatment and replace slug/snail pellets with safe humane methods.
- Avoid bonfires and don’t fork compost.. Use garden shears (not strimmers) and gently sweep grass with broom, before mowing.
- Boycott beer sold in plastic rings
- Use humanely critter solutions (like Mouse Mesh to deter rodents: don’t cover gas vents and clean regularly).
- Keep cats indoors at dawn and dusk (birds are feeding). Keep dogs on leads at night (they could be injured by hedgehogs).
- Pollen-rich flowers are best to save our bees (bee houses can attract mites, bees then die). Leave piles of rocks, twigs & wood for shelter, and avoid peat compost.
- See posts on safer wildlife netting & wildlife-friendly fencing.
- See how to deter garden moles without harm and how to save our hedgehogs. If demolishing a shed, know that baby hogs don’t leave the nest for at least 8 weeks.
- Ensure ponds have sloping sides. Locate away from full sun/shade (avoid water-lilies near pets).
- Compost bins are good homes for woodlice, slow worms & insects.
- Use a manual tool (or hands) to remove weeds.
- Rock gardens are low-maintenance, mason bees love them.
- See how to help our garden birds.
How to Save Our Ladybird Friends
How to save our ladybirds is really the same, as how to save any other garden wildlife. Leave well alone, garden organically and encourage natural habitats. Ladybirds are simply ‘pretty bugs’ that help organic gardeners by eating up to 50 aphids (greenfly or blackfly) a day. They don’t always have spots, though all can secrete a nasty-tasting oily liquid from joints in their legs – a reminder to natural predators (birds, frogs, dragonflies, spiders, wasps) not to try again.
Baby ladybirds look like ‘baby alligators’ and are found underside of leaves. Leave them alone, and in 2 weeks or so, they will shed and become ladybirds, happily munching away.
Harlequin ladybirds are an invasive species that that can eat other ladybirds, but harming them will not make much difference (they also look very similar, so you could accidentally harm a native ladybird – and the empaths among us don’t like harming any creature, invasive or not). Experts suggest the best thing is to leave alone, and send sightings to UK Ladybird Survey
- Securely dispose of all garden chemicals and read up on organic lawns, organic food, organic herbs and organic flowers. Practice no-dig gardening that helps protect all garden creatures.
- Ladybirds like flat-topped flowers (good landing pads) like yarrow, fennel, dill and angelica. And also calendula & marigolds.
- Use safe humane ways to deter slugs & snails.
- Don’t cut back old stems until spring, as ladybirds like to hibernate in them. They also like to lay their eggs in stinging nettles.
- If you find a ladybird in your house, gently encourage it into a box or jar, then place under a hedge or similar sheltered area.
- Read Ladybirds: The RSPB Spotlight Series. This is by our top ladybird expert Richard Comont, who focuses on the 26 species resident in the UK. He includes tips on conservation, suggesting the main habitats needed for ladybirds are shingle river banks, heathland and conifers (that aren’t Leylandii).
Safer Alternative to Netting for Wildlife
Safer alternatives to netting for wildlife are needed, as a lot of wildlife gets trapped, strangled or even hanged from conventional netting. Netting is mostly used to deter herons and cats from ponds, or birds and bats from fruit trees. But most netting sold is too flimsy, and the holes are too big. Discarded, it causes harm at landfill and in oceans.
Many people will use netting to protect crops, so here are safer alternatives, many recommended by Aussie wildlife rescuers, who often help trapped animals. Also see wildlife-friendly fencing alternatives.
Protecting Trees from Birds & Bats
Wildlife rescue charities say that ‘wildlife-friendly netting’ is not always safe. They say suitable netting should have mesh size of less than 5mm (0.19685 in). Nothing is 100% safe, but anything larger is not safe. No matter what the label says.
The reason why larger netting is not safe is because wildlife can get trapped in it (grass snakes are in particular danger of getting trapped). Australia’s RSPB says to never use monofilament fishing line as netting, this is dangerous to wildlife. And whatever netting you use, dispose of it securely after use. Wildlife-Friendly Fencing Project & WIRES (an Aussie wildlife rescue charity) both recommend some brands below:
- Vegnet is a fruit bag to cover trees. It’s white (easily seen) and gives just 8% shade (remove bag to save seeds or pollination). It looks like a similar product sold in UK (open sealable sides). Avoid glue bands for trees, as although designed to deter ants & insects, some could die. There’s no need if you use other humane methods.
- DrapeNet offers commercial products for growers. Sold with a 10-year lifespan, this netting has small holes, is effective against hail, protects from the wind and sun, and can be moved. The site does not mention the product being wildlife-friendly, but its items are recommended by bat welfare charities (Hailnet is also recommended by wildlife charities, which can be bought off the roll).
How to Protect Ponds from Herons
Herons are beautiful birds that hunt for fish near marshes. They also eat amphibians, insects, reptiles, worms and small birds. Report any harm, as herons are protected by law.
Herons hunt at dawn and dusk, so you won’t see them often. But even though they live wild, they may see your pond as ‘easy pickings’, and some even use ponds to teach their young how to fish. The perfect solution does not exist. But if you have fish in ponds, you have to accept there is always a risk that herons will eat them.
- Herons are always on alert for predators. So tall plants near ponds may make them stay away, as they would feel vulnerable not having a clear view (if doing this, choose plants safe near pets). Avoid vertical pond sides; a drowning risk for all creatures.
- Solar fountains agitate the water, making fish harder to see. Be sure they are suitable for your fish safety (refer to a care manual).
- ‘Dummy herons’ are not usually effective. Herons tend to hunt together, so will likely ‘join in’ to feed.
- Wildlife charities don’t recommend heron deterrent discs, as they can sometimes harm fish by choking oxygen out of the water. British Hedgehog Society is concerned that hog spikes could get trapped in them. They also collect debris, which leads to pet-toxic blue-green algae. See how to build a garden pond.
- Wildlife charities and RSPCA ask people to put away sports nets (football etc) safely, as these are just as dangerous.
Wildlife-Friendly Fencing Alternatives
These wildlife-friendly fencing alternatives are better than Creosote-soaked wood or barbed wire. Many people choose to fence ponds and areas to stop wildlife getting to them (including ponds). Also see safer alternatives to netting for wildlife. This post includes information gleaned from experts like The Wildlife Fencing Project that says to ensure fences are high enough to stop animals bearing down, yet flexible enough to stop them putting their heads through.
80% of wildlife entangled on barbed wire get caught on the top strand, so place it at the right height, if used. It does not always deter (cattle have thick skin, and use it for scratching!) The project suggests avoiding barbed wire where bats live (near feeding trees, on ridge lines or over water). And to avoid electric fencing and barbed wire near horses, who can get injured with it.
Fences made from recycled plastic never rot or need painting. For wooden fences, use Lifetime Nontoxic Wood Stain (sold in UK) over Creosote. Although fences are used to keep terriers and pet rabbits safe, if you have no pets it’s good to leave a gap for a hedgehog highway, as they travel up to 2 miles each night, through different gardens.
Wildlife-friendly fencing alternatives are better than electric fences (although the current is low, horns can get trapped and one child died after the child’s head touched the wire, on wet grass). Don’t let pets (including sheepdogs) play nearby (their heads are the same height) or when it rains. You can buy a device to know if a mammal is trapped, which turns off voltage, until the animal is free. Dry stone walling can keep sheep safe (Conservation Volunteers can build for you or download Dry Stone Walling to build/repair walls).
Build a Dry Stone Wall
Dry stone walls can keep sheep safe, and involves removing mortar and replacing with walls that last 200 years. You can volunteer at Conservation Volunteers to build walls for farmers, or download the handbook Dry Stone Walling. This shows how to build and repair dry stone walls, stone-faced earth banks, retaining walls and other dry stone features. Held together by stone, it’s the skill of the builder who selects and fits the stones.
Check dry stone walls for ragwort. Although home to a native caterpillar, this weed is lethal to livestock and equines, and must be removed of to DEFRA laws. World Horse Welfare has tips and you can remove it in 4 easy steps with a ragfork (bright colours, to see in the field).
Gorgeous Books on Native Wildlife
Hannah Dale is a knowledgeable and talented wildlife illustrator. Not only can she paint like a dream, but she studied zoology (that’s the study of wild animals, not zoos) at Cambridge University. So all her books contain interesting facts, not just pretty pictures. Her designs are found in indie gift stores (and surprisingly on bone china mugs, choose a no-bone china mug instead).
So give the mugs a miss. Bu check out these beautiful books, they make gorgeous gifts for anyone you know who is entranced by the wildlife with which we share our land. And due to Hannah’s knowledge, the lovely illustrations are paired with all kinds of interesting information.
- The Country Set features 50 British birds and animals, from the red deer to the harvest mouse, from the sparrow to the barn owl. Smaller pictures include tracks and feathers, to help you identify when they’ve been near.
- Flying the Nest is a delightful book of the early days of Britain’s animals. Meet the beautiful ghostly barn owl (the number of chicks is determined by how many rodents there are – unusually for the bird kingdom, the chicks often feed each other). Hedgehog courtship is an awkward affair, considering the prickly nature of the task ahead. Squirrel kittens are born blind with no fur (devoted mums carry the young to a different drey, if disturbed).
- The Farmyard Set takes you out of the farm shop and onto the farm where you’ll meet these beautiful barnyard creatures that you may never want to eat again. Meet a Jersey cow, an Indian runner duck, an Aberdeen Angus and Gloucestershire Old Spot (the ‘spots’ were once believed to be bruises, from fallen apples). You’ll also meet a chattering Sussex Hen and equine friends including a Shetland pony and Suffolk Punch (shorter without the ‘feathery feet’ of some Shire horses).
- A Dog’s Life looks at our wild domesticated best friends. The 50 dogs profiled include the friendly fun-loving Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Labradors (originally from Newfoundland in Canada, they love swimming and children), German Short-Haired Pointers (webbed feet make them excellent swimmers) and playful diminutive Dachshunds.
- Born to Be Wild is an illustrated ode to endangered wildlife. Find 100 charming portraits of cubs, chicks and calves (some with mum and dad), some in pride or tribe, and some setting off on their own. Wildlife is now under threat due to climate change, habitat loss, poachers and hunters. Meet orangutans, humpback whales, hedgehogs, penguins, elephants, meerkats and koalas.