Top tips on attracting wildlife to your Cheshire garden
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 April 2015
Penny Frith, CWT
You don't have to go far to see spectacular wildlife. You might be surprised what there is in your own garden, writes Sue Tatman of Cheshire Wildlife Trust
Many people are familiar with the birds that regularly visit their garden and can take them for granted. But some of our feathered visitors are becoming scarce in the wider countryside, declining in numbers to the point they can be considered rare and threatened species.
In winter starlings are seen in huge flocks, making it hard to believe they are in decline, and they are still regulars in our gardens. Yet numbers have plummeted in the last 40 years and starlings are on the UK ‘red list’, meaning they are of the highest conservation concern. Song thrush and house sparrow are also familiar garden visitors, yet both are on the red list as well, due to dramatic declines in population size.
The birds in our gardens were originally inhabitants of woodland and hedgerow, which have all gradually disappeared from much of our countryside. Our ornamental trees, shrubberies and hedges make a good substitute for the original wild habitats. There are several easy ways to make your garden more attractive to our feathered friends.
Planting any trees or shrubs will provide cover and nesting places, as will letting the hedges grow dense and bushy. These need not be native varieties, but plants such as hawthorn, hazel and willow all support vast numbers of invertebrates, which are in turn food for hungry birds. Anything which has a crop of fruit or berries will also be appreciated, including the apples, pears and plums we plant for our own table. Birds can also eat a many berries we consider inedible, including rowan, holly, pyracantha and viburnums.
Another simple way to encourage birds is to use chemical pesticides as little as possible. Insects make up a huge part of the diet of many garden birds. Being high in protein they are especially important in spring when birds are rearing their young. Blue tits and great tits time their breeding so the chicks hatch when the numbers of caterpillars are at their greatest – this is the only way they can feed broods of up to a dozen chicks.
The plight of our pollinators, especially bees, has caused great concern in recent years. They have been badly affected by changes in our countryside, the loss of our flower-rich meadows, and often the disappearance of weedy strips at the edge of fields and the base of hedges. Fortunately in our gardens we like to grow plenty of what these insects need most – flowers. Honey bees, bumblebees and other insects need supplies of pollen and nectar to keep them flying all summer long and encouraging them is easy. Different species favour different flowers, so try to grow as many different blooms as possible, and aim to have something in bloom from early spring to late in the autumn.
Bees usually have pointed mouth-parts and can sip nectar from tubular flowers such as comfrey and chives, and can get right inside the flowers of foxglove and snapdragon. Butterflies are larger and more fragile, so they prefer open blooms they can perch on such as sunflowers or buddleia.
Some flowers are well known for attracting bees and butterflies, but it is worth looking around your garden to see what is popular. If you can, have a look at the gardens of friends and neighbours as well, and share cuttings of the best plants.
Don’t overlook the less spectacular flying insects. Hoverflies are harmless although some species have bright stripes which make them look like wasps. Some are pollinators, while the larvae of most species are voracious predators of aphids, making them a friend to the gardener. They like yellow-coloured flowers, and are fond of the flat heads of umbellifers such as fennel and cow parsley.