Like gardening, watching wildlife is proven to improve your health and wellbeing. Even if you have no access to your own green space you can watch wildlife, here are a few of the benefits:
Garden ponds ideally need areas of various depths between 20-60cm across the pond but any area of water can provide space for drinking, bathing, breeding and just keeping cool in summer for animals that both live in and need access to it.
They should have accessible sides both above and below the waterline which will also provide an escape route for any animals that fall in. Having an adjacent habitat to give cover to and encourage access by various species is also beneficial.
The pond shouldn’t be in full sun the whole day but also doesn’t want to be fully shaded. This is to reduce algae growth but provide enough warmth in early spring for animals.
Sadly, fish will eat the majority of the wild animals so are best to avoid.
Depending on the presence of ponds in the surrounding area a new pond should be colonised naturally. However if you wanted to speed up the process then you can add plants. It’s best to aim for native species to try and cover the following areas:
Guides around general pond construction and more wildlife friendly ponds are available.
If topping up water is required it’s best to use captured rainwater with tap water being a last resort. Wildlife doesn’t require large areas of open water, so there is no need to remove a lot of vegetation but it doesn’t want to be totally overgrown especially with growth from grass at the edge.
Likewise a few leaves falling in to the pond are not a major issue but excessive clogging with leaves make cause problems.
Even a small pond in a container can be worthwhile if you don’t have space for a full pond.
All the details above for ponds are relevant for containers.
There is a useful guide about putting together a container pond from the RHS
There are various types of feeders which can provide different types of foodstuff for different species.
Can attract a wide variety of species and allow a wide type of food to be provided.
Typically used for seeds and other small items these can attract primarily sparrows, tits, finches, as well as nuthatches, woodpeckers and siskins. Often of similar construction to the suet feeders but with smaller gaps to prevent whole peanuts to be taken.
Generally a cage construction and can attract starlings, woodpeckers and other species that like to cling on to feed.
There are also feeders of various types that attach by suckers to windows that are suitable for those without an outdoor area.
Ideally feeders should be regularly emptied and cleaned for hygiene purposes both the humans and the birds. Ensure you wash your hands afterwards.
The main concerns are grey squirrels and cats.
Squirrels can eat the food, scare off the birds and damage the feeders themselves. The siting and types of feeders needs to be accounted for but additional protection (cones, slippery tubing) can be installed if they are an large problem. Stand-alone squirrel proof feeders are also available.
To prevent predation by cats its best to site the feeders away from potential hiding places.
Be aware of possible attraction of rats below the feeders and keep areas below as clear as possible.
Whilst there are many varieties of feeders available to buy they can also be made at home. Anything that can create a platform or hold food and allow birds to access can be used.
There are some great ideas for making your own bird feeders from the RSPB, Woodland Trust, BBC - CBeebies and the National Trust
A wide variety of boxes can be purchased or constructed with the size of both the box itself and the opening to the box determining which species would like to nest there. The boxes replace the natural locations that may be in short supply.
Typical hole fronted box – the size of the hole (between 25 and 45mm) determines the type of birds likely to use the box.
Open fronted boxes have a larger gap and are generally used by robins, wagtails, wrens, and flycatchers depending on the gap left.
The location of the boxes is determined by the type of bird expected with a variety of heights and distances from buildings suggested. However ideally all boxes should face between north and east, avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds, with a clear flight path into and out of the box. Further information can be found in the links below.
You can find some guides making you own box from the BTO and making and locating a box from the RSPB.
Whilst bats are less common in urban areas, boxes of various sorts can provide good roosting and nesting sites.
As with bird boxes they can be made at home or purchased and are typically constructed from wood but can be made from many other materials.
They should be situated as high up as possible ideally in a wind free location with some exposure to the sun during the day. The key design feature is the size of any openings to match those preferred by the bats. Home construction instructions can be found in the link in resources below.
The Bat Conservation Trust has produced this guide around bat boxes.
To make your garden more friendly to hedgehogs they need food, habitat and access.
Hedgehogs will eat a wide variety food including beetles, earthworms slugs and other invertebrates but are definitely opportunistic omnivores, eating anything available.
They need habitats for foraging such as long vegetation, a log pile or some water but also shelter to sleep during the day and for winter hibernation. If you have a pond or large water container then ensure there is a slope so they can get out if they fall in.
A large issue for hedgehogs is being able to travel between gardens they need a gap around 13cm x 13cm at the base of fences/gates (with the permission of your neighbours).
Keep the garden tidy of things that hedgehogs might get caught up in such as netting, litter and try to avoid pesticides and slug pellets.
If you want to feed hedgehogs coming to your garden then there are several recommend foodstuffs and some to avoid.
The food can provide a supplement to their normal foraging and is most beneficial when they are trying to fatten up for the winter hibernation. Meat-based cat or dog food (or dry cat food) and specially-made hedgehog food are best.
Avoid bread and milk (hogs are lactose intolerant) and mealworms (thought to cause health problems when eaten in large quantities).
A pot of water especially in warm weather is often welcome.
Hedgehog houses come in all shapes and sizes and can be used year round or just for hibernation in winter months. They need to be large enough to fit the hedgehog and bedding materials and left in a shady area that isn’t going to be disturbed. Ideally you should be able to open the house to empty and replace the leaves for the bedding once a year, although not if the hedgehog is in residence.
These are groups of objects gathered together with different sizes of nooks and crannies for insects and other bugs to get some protection from the elements and for providing food.
You’ll need some way of keeping all the material together. That might include pieces of wood, bricks and plant pots that you have available. The objects inside can include bamboo canes, straw, leaves, stones, cardboard tubes and small branches.
Depending on its size, it can be attached to a tree or on the ground in a shady spot. Larger constructions should make use of different types of material to attract different species.
Newly placed piles make a great habitat for many small creatures including creepy crawlies, birds, hedgehogs and frogs, with the wood providing a source of food as the decomposition process occurs.
There is no best way to place the logs as different methods attract different species. They can be individually scattered, stacked neatly or higgledy piggledy in whatever suits the space and the garden.
In addition to providing a way of disposing of garden and kitchen waste, a well managed compost heap can provide a home to a host of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles.
They are best as open sided construction but plastic or similar bins are good as well and are more contained in smaller gardens.
Aim for a mix of thin alternating layers of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. The green includes grass clippings, weeds and uncooked vegetable peelings. Brown includes sticks and dried grass, wood chippings, shredded paper and cardboard.