Biodiversity – what does it mean for our gardens?

I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has shown me where foxes, badgers, rabbits get into their gardens. Or where they manage to get birds nesting, newts and frogs swimming or even just a few nesting solitary bees. Covering some 4% of the 93,000 square miles of this island we’re lucky that our gardens are truly the biggest wildlife park we have in the UK. What’s more it’s not just our individual gardens that are important but the sum of gardens that is vital to biodiversity.

We once worked as designers to the Royal Horticultural Society for their contribution to the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. Individual gardens are usually quite small and it is the sum and, especially, the variety, of plants and features within an area’s gardens that is valuable. Other features such as canal, railway embankments, street trees, parks and other communal green space also contribute to the variety of habitats and resources but it’s our gardens that are important. The message is that whilst you might not have a pond for wildlife, your neighbour might and if you have trees for birds and flowers for food it will work with the gardens nearby that provide shelter for other wildlife.

One of the big stories in recent years has been the demise in honey bees due to many different factors, not least the use of pesticides in the countryside. Interestingly honeybees are thriving in our cities and it’s the solitary bees that are really on the decline. Rothamsted Research studied an important group of pollinators, the bumblebees, in gardens and farmland and found that gardens support around 5 times as many nests as farmland, with about 36 nests per hectare, regardless of garden size. This was put down to two important features of gardens: presence of potential nesting sites and food resources. Gardens offer a variety of nesting site opportunities, such as compost heaps and bins, bird boxes and flower-beds and a long and continuous season of flowering plants. The abundance of flowers in gardens provides much more nectar and pollen, from early spring to late autumn, than is usually found in the countryside. The conclusion was that gardens are one of the most important refuge for pollinators in Britain!

We can all do our bit and for those low maintenance gardeners out there you’ll be pleased to hear that it doesn’t matter too much about the state of your garden as a few piles of leaves, debris and even a few bricks can be great nesting sites for our bees and insects. But if you want to be more proactive and help these creatures then start building some bee hotels using all the materials you might find around your garden but normally throw away. A few upturned flower pots stuffed with dead leaves is as simple as it can get or you can create some wildlife towers. Check out something we designed for wildlife in Smithfield Market a few years ago, it even appeared in a James Bond movie!

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