Wildlife Gardening for Beginners: Creating Hiding Places and Homes

Downing College's bug hotel

Un-green-fingered Rebecca Neal, Communities and Wildlife Officer, took a website dive into wildlife gardening advice to research for a presentation, and wrote a series of blogs based on what she found.

This is an area I feel more comfortable advising on. In my career working for conservation organisations, I have supported many people to make wildlife homes, and helped lots of community spaces create hiding places.

Hiding places

There are many different ways you can provide habitat for wildlife in your garden.

  • Piles of wood or leaves in a shady place can work for invertebrates and their predators like toads or hedgehogs. This is a very easy option!
  • A rockery is good for invertebrates and amphibians. Regardless of how you plant it up, wildlife will find shelter in between the stones. I helped build one of these in a community garden once and it was the favourite hang-out of frogs
  • You could create a wall using old bricks or rocks leaving plenty of gaps for wildlife
  • A hibernaculum is for amphibians and reptiles to hibernate (but will be used by other animals). You can create one with a loose pile of rocks, bricks, logs and branches, covered over with soil. Ideally, you would make it big enough to not freeze in the middle over wintertime, so a metre or a metre and a half. You can dig down for extra protection and use the soil to pile on top. I have made a couple  of these at a community gardens in Peterborough, and we used it as a way of getting rid of untidy-looking bits like broken pots and stones that had accumulated around the garden.
Log pile by Scott Petrek

Log pile by Scott Petrek

Homes

Our website has instructions on making different wildlife homes for your garden. I have made most of these myself with young people, but this does require extra preparation and an acceptance that the end product may not look as perfect as it could do! I know that our Wildlife Watch groups have made many of these over the years and it provides an excellent excuse for getting the paints out.

  • A bee hotel is for solitary bees who like to lay their eggs in hollow stems. Really it’s just a bundle of bamboo, reeds, or hollowed elder sticks hung in a sunny spot out of the rain. To make it easy, you can just tie the bundle together, poke them in a tin can, or you could create a frame for them. My partner has one of these in his garden and it’s fascinating to watch the bees. Our Communications Officer Sophie has written a blog about her solitary bees.
  • A hedgehog home is a waterproof box with a tunnel entrance to stop predators getting inside. You can make something more sturdy, for hibernation or nesting, from untreated plywood. I made one just for hanging out, from sturdy cardboard box. Cover it over with some polythene sheeting and then some soil, and place it in a sheltered spot
  • You can provide roosting spots for bats by making a simple bat box using untreated rough wood, and situating it as high as possible in a sheltered spot.
  • There is something exciting about knowing the secret of where a bird is nesting. There are different ways to make a bird box but probably the easiest is an open-fronted robin box. They are very shy birds (blue tits are a bit less fussy) so you’ll need to place your box somewhere quite hidden.
  • You have probably seen bug hotels in school grounds and community gardens. They are a stack of pallets with lots of odd bits of stuff stuck between the layers. You can use sticks, broken pots, broken bricks, dried grass, broken bamboo canes…anything that might provide a place for a bug to hide. This is another good way of making use of discarded things around the garden. Hinchingbrooke Wildlife Watch group in Huntingdon group made one of these when I visited recently.
  • Many species of bumblebee like to nest in the ground. You can make a bumblebee house by burying a terracotta pot filled with dried grass or moss.