Frequently Asked Questions about Encouraging Biodiversity in Your Garden
In a ChalCAN survey, respondents were asked what questions they had about encouraging biodiversity in the garden. Here are the collated questions and answers:
Q. Why is it important to think about biodiversity in the garden?
There are thirty million gardens in this country. As gardeners, we can each play an important part in restoring and protecting our biodiversity. Together we have an opportunity to provide a huge growing patchwork of biodiversity havens which really do make a difference.
Q. What practical steps can I take to increase biodiversity in my garden?
Your contribution can take many forms. By reducing or ending use of pesticides and herbicides, growing organically wherever possible, planting flowers trees and shrubs which attract insects and wildlife, you will be playing your part in reversing the dramatic decline in many species evident over recent years. Bird feeding stations, setting aside small ‘ wild areas’, or putting in a pond, no matter how tiny, will all increase dramatically the variety of life in your garden.
For the gardener not sure of the first steps to take, many conservation bodies offer similar top tips for increasing biodiversity in the garden:
- Pick the best plants to grow. The more species-rich your garden is, the more attractive it becomes to a growing range of insects and wildlife
- Grow fragrant flowers – most butterflies and some insects find their food plants by smell not sight
- Allow butterfly-loving plants to grow in your garden – not just cultivated ones, this also means leaving a corner for stinging nettles and wall mustard!
- Let trees and shrubs thrive. – they are great for providing shelter, fruits, seeds and nesting sites
- Add wildlife friendly extras like a log pile or a piece of corrugated iron laid flat to provide cover for lizards and slow worms
- Compost everything you can
- Get wild and messy – when it comes to biodiversity, some messiness is good! [see below!]
Q. How can I keep my garden looking attractive and well-managed whilst making biodiversity a priority?
Some gardeners may feel liberated by being urged ‘to get wild and messy’, but others find pleasure in an ordered and tidy garden. All is not lost! A pile of old logs or stones can be tucked away under the hedge or behind the shed; a pond can look beautiful and remain a haven for wildlife; leaves can remain unraked over winter in a corner of the garden; a patch of grass left uncut can be clearly defined by a sharply mown line.
Q. How can I have a garden lawn which is both an amenity and a haven for biodiversity?
Lawns are great as a place to sit and relax, to play games with the children or to have a barbecue.
The challenge is that traditional lawns are not great for wildlife. Mown short, and carefully managed to deter other plants from growing, the manicured grass that results actively deters wildlife.
The good news is that with a more flexible approach, our lawns can be both an amenity and a wildlife haven.
As a first step, cutting the lawn less often allows other plants to establish, flower and set seed, making them more attractive to insects and birds. Clover, daisies, buttercups and self- heal, for instance, all provide attractive flowers loved by bees and other insects.
Setting aside a small section of the lawn to develop as a biodiversity grassland is even better. By cutting the grass only 2 to 3 times a year and removing the cut grass, fertility is reduced and wild flowers and grasses encouraged. To speed things up, native wildflower and grass seeds can be sown or planted in plugs to provide variety to your mini-nature reserve. Guidance on how to prepare the soil and increase the range of wildflowers is readily available on the Internet
Why shouldn’t I continue to use peat compost in my garden?
The evidence against use of peat in the garden is overwhelming. Peat bogs store carbon in a more efficient way that even rainforests or meadows. Once destroyed, they need thousands of years to reform. Like fossil fuels, its use is unsustainable and indefensible.
The use of peat as a compost is also unnecessary. There are a growing number of excellent alternatives – compost made from bark, woodchip, coir, bracken and wool all work well, and compare favourably in price. Leaf mould is also available for free if you collect and store autumn leaves for a year or so. Peat compost will no longer be available to purchase from 2024- why wait until then to make the change?