Wildlife Gardening for Beginners: The Left-overs

Sunflower by Paul Harris/2020VISION

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.

When doing my research into wildlife gardening, I found so much information, it was overwhelming. Here are some of my favourite bits that I couldn’t fit into my previous blogs.

Recording and reporting

I really love the challenge of working out what species I have found. Whilst working from home, I have been spotting all sorts in my yard. Recording what you discover in your garden helps us understand how wildlife is doing, especially in response to climate change and habitat loss. It also encourages you to really look and get inspired by wildlife. I found an unusual bee (called a mourning bee) in my yard that I never would have found without taking a break whilst working from home.

Hairy-footed flower bee by Rebecca Neal

Hairy-footed flower bee by Rebecca Neal

I discovered this bee nesting in my wall whilst on lockdown. Our Monitoring and Research Facebook page helped me confirm what it was from this terrible photo of just its bottom! It turns out hairy-footed flower bees often nest in walls.

Mourning bee by Rebecca Neal

Mourning bee by Rebecca Neal

I was watching the hairy-footed flower bees when I noticed a different type of bee hanging around. It turned out to be a mourning bee which parasitises the hairy-footed flower bee by laying its eggs in their nests. The mourning bee larvae hatch first and eat all the stored pollen collected by the hard-working hairy-footed flower bee.

If you are not sure what you have found, you could:
  • Buy some simple guides like the FSC fold-out guides. I use these loads myself, and with groups I work with
  • Send us a picture on social media or join our Monitoring and Research Facebook page. We really love it when you tell us what you see
  • Join iSpot, and online community where you can ask experts to identify your wildlife spots from photos
  • Come on a Wildlife Training Workshop
  • Try your face-recognition software on phones, which for some have been adapted to help you identify things. I sometimes use Google Lens in my photo app to give me a starting point.

You can submit your wildlife sightings to your local records centre online (BRMC for Bedfordshire, CPERC for Cambridgeshire, and NBRC for Northamptonshire) or download the iRecord app which allows you to submit sightings where you see them. Some charities have apps to help you identify species like Froglife’s Dragonfinder.

You could take part in a national citizen science programme where your data would be combined with lots of others’. These programmes often involve simple-to-identify species

If you find dead or diseased animals in your garden, you can help study the spread of these by contacting the Garden Wildlife Health project.

Fox in a wildlife garden by Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) being fed in town house garden managed for widlife. Vixen and cub. Camera trap image. - Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Supplementary feeding

Mostly I am too lazy to put food out for wildlife every day, but since I have been working from home, I have invested in a bird table and am excited as the numbers of birds that visit increases. My partner is very keen and I like watching the wildlife it brings into his garden, especially hedgehogs. If you are only able to buy the basics, I would suggest: sunflower hearts as lots of birds eat these, peanuts as birds, foxes and badgers will eat these, and if you know you have hedgehogs, get some meat-based dried cat food.

General advice
Hedgehog in feeding box by Gillian Day

WildNet - Gillian Day

If you are worried that cats might eat the food you put out for hedgehogs, place a bowl in a box with a small entrance. 

Some other odd bits that didn’t slot in anywhere else

  • You can connect your garden with your neighbour’s by creating a hole in the fence. 13cm will allow hedgehogs through as well as anything smaller like frogs and toads. If you have kids, they might enjoy making a sign to ensure the hedgehogs know which way to go! (or to give to your neighbour) I have made lots of these with children.
  • Do as much garden maintenance as you can in autumn, like trimming bushes and clearing ponds, in order to reduce the risk of disturbing nesting birds or pond life.
  • Keep cats in as much as possible, especially around dawn and dusk. They sometimes hunt wildlife (and poo in people’s gardens!)
  • I remember moving a bonfire at a community garden with a busy frog population and finding dozens of animals, so do check for animals before you light a bonfire. Amphibians and hedgehogs like a good pile of wood!
  • Try not to use too much netting as wildlife can become caught in it.
  • Reduce the amount of outside lights to help bats. Artificial light can affect the time they emerge, reduce foraging areas for species who avoid light, and increase the risk of predation for those that use lit areas.
  • You could encourage your workplace to get more involved in wildlife by joining our Wildlife at Work Awards scheme
  • Enjoy the wildlife in your garden and carry out a Random Act of Wildness every day by taking part in our 30 Days Wild campaign in June
Hedgehog highway sign by Rebecca Neal

You can make a sign to go on your fence or to give to your neighbour to remind them why there is a gap

Further advice

I would start with our very own website, which has a variety of different ways to improve your garden, or the Wild About Gardens website where The Wildlife Trusts have joined forces with the Royal Horticultural Society.

Here is a list of some conservation organisations with a particular interest in wildlife gardening:

Here are some gardening websites with wildlife information