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Wildlife gardening

Our Relationship with the Natural World

Here’s possibly a new word for you – ‘biophilia’. For once, it’s not an awful disease; it’s just a fancy name for a theory. Academics created it to describe people’s innate desire to connect with nature and other life. The theory suggests that this desire is in our DNA; it’s a genetic predisposition – possibly!

How many of us have family photographs showing our early interactions with the outdoors and nature? Childhood memories of happy times rock pooling, splashing about in streams, climbing trees and so on. These connections carry on into adulthood and manifest themselves in hobbies such as bird watching and recreational activities like taking the dog for a walk. Even just having a pet could be attributed to biophilic tendencies!

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Promoting interaction

You may read this with some degree of scepticism, but at the very least, it’s true to say that many of us gain a great deal of pleasure interacting with the natural world. It also has many physical and mental health benefits and can often be done for free such as a simple walk in the woods.

Our relationship with the natural world is essential and one that needs to be promoted, especially from an early age; otherwise, future generations may consider these life-enhancing activities less important. In an increasingly urban and materialistic world, we need children and families to be able to interact with the natural(ish) world.

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The Importance of Wildlife Gardening

If you have a garden or some sort of outside space, you have the potential to invite the natural world in by creating a garden for wildlife. And despite what you may think it can be quite easy and often doesn’t involve you spending lots of money.

Wildlife gardening is also important, not just for us but also for the wildlife. The biodiversity of flora and fauna is declining massively, as is the abundance of the species that are still with us. We can all play our part, and perhaps doing something is better than doing nothing, and who knows what may come of it. Just looking at wildlife gardening alone, you only need to consider the amount of land classified as a garden to see the potential impact it could have.

Promoting wildlife

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of what to do to promote wildlife in your garden, there are a plethora of things you could do or buy, although not always warranted.

A recent visitor to the gardens at Goodnestone talked about how they spent time and money on a hedgehog box. They filled it full of lovely, dry leaves and straw, only to find the hedgehog had moved the bedding material to a nearby woodpile!

When trying to understand what you should or shouldn’t do in terms of wildlife gardening and gardening in general, the best sources of information are either acquired from someone with many years of experience or from scientific studies. In terms of the latter, there have been a couple of famous studies that come to mind.

What Biodiversity Studies can tell us

The first study was conducted by a zoologist, Jennifer Owen, ultimately leading to a thirty-year ecological study of her own back garden in Leicester. She documented over the years 2673 species: 474 plants, 1997 insects, 138 other invertebrates, and 64 vertebrates (54 birds). The numbers are remarkable especially bearing in mind not all groups of insects were studied. It’s also surprising that the garden studied was rather conventional with flowers, vegetables and lawns. Her research showed that many of the things we do in gardens, like growing flowers (not necessarily native), already provide opportunities for wildlife. Jennifer Owens main concessions to wildlife were not to use pesticides and not to be too tidy. Next time your neighbour complains about your front garden, just say it’s a wildlife garden.

Biodiversity of Urban Gardens in Sheffield (BUGS) is the title of the second study. It differed from Jennifer Owen’s work by looking at biodiversity in over 60 gardens but over a shorter period of time. Again it found that conventional gardens supported many species of plant and animal. It also described some of the significant factors that influenced variations in garden wildlife.

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What is good and bad for garden biodiversity?

Unsurprisingly the following were found to be good for garden biodiversity: Diverse plant structure with trees, shrubs, lawns and flower borders, ponds, a compost heap, hedges and walls.

Factors bad for wildlife were: Lots of hard landscaping, use of slug pellets and being too tidy

Based on these criteria, many gardens in the UK are already, to some degree, good wildlife gardens.

To further improve biodiversity, these characteristics can be used as a starting point for many other enhancements. These could include: Letting your lawn or part of it grow long, adding deadwood habitats such as a large woodpile or a dead hedge, using nest boxes that are known to work as well-designed solitary bee nests and using no pesticides at all.

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Here at Goodnestone Park

We’ve been implementing changes to encourage wildlife over a number of years. We are lucky that we already have a great deal of wildlife within the garden and the surrounding estate.

We will be describing some of the wildlife within the garden and the work going on to conserve it as well as explaining other aspects of wildlife gardening and, of course, gardening in general.

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