Autumn is rich with wildlife in the U.K., and there’s no better place to try and spot it than in your own garden. Unfortunately, however, 41% of wildlife species in the U.K. have seen significant declines since the 1970s[i], meaning many of these species that we marvel at now may not be around much longer. But your garden is the best place to help reverse this. Since many species will be looking for safe shelter and rich food sources throughout the season, you can optimise your garden to draw them in and keep them through the winter. Here are some things you can do to attract garden wildlife this autumn and the best plants to grow that will keep them coming back.
Why Is Garden Wildlife Important?
Species of British wildlife have been losing their natural habitats for years. Deforestation, agriculture and mining have driven away their natural environments, and with nowhere left to go, many are dying out. Encouraging this wildlife into your garden will give them somewhere safe to rest, breed and hibernate, and allows them safe passage into close natural habitats. In addition, providing sites that might be missing from public spaces and local areas, like ponds, nesting sites, and feeding areas, helps conserve species on the brink of extinction and will help future species if they fall under threat.
There’s a variety of wildlife that emerges through autumn. Most will be looking for safe shelter, and if your garden provides this, they will likely stick around. Here are some of the animals you may see in your garden through autumn:
- Barn owls
- Red squirrels
Similarly, many birds go in search of shelter during the colder months. They will favour bushy hedges and tall trees, anywhere that provides them with warmth and safety. Some of the birds you may see in winter include:
- Blue tits
How To Encourage Garden Wildlife This Autumn
Now you know the importance of garden wildlife and the kind of things you can expect to see, here are the best ways to encourage these fascinating animals into your garden:
Let Your Garden Grow
Unkempt gardens are a haven for wildlife because there are many safe places to shelter and plenty of good food. In addition, fallen leaves, twigs, and vegetation provide animals with perfect materials to create safe nests. The abundance of bugs and insects also give them a never-ending supply of food. So allowing your garden, or at least part of it, to grow out and go a bit wild will work wonders for encouraging and keeping wildlife.
Make A Compost Heap
Compost heaps genuinely are amazing things. They reduce waste, help the environment, encourage healthy soil and are perfect for wildlife. Hedgehogs, dormice, frogs, beetles, grass snakes and small mammals will all find refuge in a compost heap because of the food and shelter it provides. Compost heaps shouldn’t attract unwanted guests so long as you make sure any compost materials have enough water and oxygen to break down properly. Make sure that you’re careful when turning the compost over or emptying the bin – you don’t want to hurt the wildlife you’ve worked so hard to attract!
Give Birds A Place To Shelter
Birds will be looking for safe, warm refuges that they can frequent throughout autumn and winter, and bird boxes are perfect. Not only will bird boxes provide shelter in the winter, but they will also serve as a nesting ground in spring, meaning you could soon be seeing some little chicks in your garden! Make sure you choose the right bird boxes as different types will attract different species, and try and hang them at a good height, so they are out of the reach of predators. If possible, nesting boxes should face between north and east to shield them from sunlight and strong winds.
Use Water Features
Animals need a place to hydrate and wash that is safe from predators, and your garden is the best place to provide this. Keep any birdbaths and other water features clean, topped up and free of ice, primarily through the winter. If possible, keep them in the sun to stop ice forming and heat up any visiting animals.
Choose Hedges Over Fences
Fences are detrimental to wildlife – you don’t want to make your garden an animal paradise, then realise that none of them can get in! Planting hedges in place of fences will allow wildlife to get in and out quickly before their hibernation and provide safe nesting grounds while maintaining your privacy. Hedges and shrubbery also provide food for many animals and birds, which is crucial for a wildlife garden.
If hedges simply aren’t an option, you can optimise your fences to allow healthy wildlife in while keeping predators out. Drill holes about five inches tall at the bottom of any fences or gates to allow wildlife such as hedgehogs, frogs and squirrels free entrance into your garden. As long as the holes are too small for cats and other predators, you should still get the benefits of wildlife in your garden without threat.
Provide Bugs With A Home
Although often overlooked, bugs and insects are essential to a healthy ecosystem, and that includes your garden. Adding bug homes and butterfly boxes will give these important animals a home and draw animals that eat the insects into your garden too. Insect homes are relatively easy to make and would be an excellent project for kids!
Some insect species find warm, safe places to hibernate. So if you find any living in your sheds, outhouses or tree trunks, don’t disturb them – they’ll be safe and well as long as you leave them alone.
Add A Pond
If you have the room, adding a pond to your garden can make a big difference in the wildlife you see. A pond will provide animals with the opportunity to bathe and drink and help mammals find bugs during winter when food is scarce. It will also bring in frogs and toads, which are essential to reducing the amount of disease-carrying insects and providing food for other animals.
Build Small Shelters
Putting together little shelters that can serve as nests will give animals a ready-made safe spot that they will likely return to. By leaving small accessible woodpiles, letting parts of your garden overgrow, putting up bird and bat boxes, planting trees and drilling holes in pruned branches or logs, you’ll be providing ready-made nests for a variety of wildlife.
Autumn Plants For A Wildlife Garden
One of the best ways to encourage wildlife into your garden is through what you plant. Although habitats are important, providing food and easy ways to get it are equally as vital for a healthy wildlife garden. Nectar and pollen are in short supply through winter, so various animals will gravitate towards a garden rich in these substances for nutrition. Here are the best ten plants for a wildlife garden:
Native to Mexico and South America, these beautiful flowers come in a range of colours and flower from midsummer to the first frosts.
Cyclamens are hardy enough to cope with the severest of temperatures and are great pollinators that will bloom from September through to March, depending on the variety.
Ivy is a quick-growing climber that will overtake fences, walls or buildings, but the berries and flowers that appear throughout winter and autumn are essential food sources for insects and other animals.
A classic climber with romantic connotations, honeysuckle supports many rare species during its early autumn blooming time.
Beautifully bright flowers that can grow as tall as thirteen feet, sunflowers will stay fresh well into autumn, attracting birds, butterflies and bees.
Sprouting in a variety of lovely colours, sedums will attract pollinating insects and flower until mid-autumn.
With evergreen foliage, escallonia makes a great hedge, specifically in coastal areas, and will provide shelter for birds.
Catnip is a potent herb that will attract and nurture butterflies, but it will also attract cats. So before planting, make sure there’s no place for these predators to get into your garden.
Providing a late source of pollen and nectar for bumblebees, hebes produce vibrant flowers and evergreen foliage.
Extremely popular with a range of birds, teasels are thorny wildflowers that can be used to make a remedy for several ailments.
Help Save Garden Wildlife
Encouraging wildlife into your garden doesn’t have to be complicated. Often, all animals want is somewhere sheltered, safe and warm with plenty of food, and one of the best ways to do this is just to let it grow, which takes no work at all! Whether you maintain the space or not, implementing some of this advice will keep your garden alive with activity throughout autumn and winter. And just when you thought the days were getting duller!
Do you have any tips to attract garden wildlife? Let us know in the comments.
Angela Waxler is an ex florist, a professional gardener and has been working in the industry for well over 25 years. Angela has worked with brands all over the world during her career.