Make Your Own Wildlife Habitats
Making your own wildlife habitat may seem like a novel or pleasant afternoon activity, but for the wildlife that it will benefit, it could mean the difference between life and death!
It appears that almost every week there is a story in the news about how our native wildlife is in grave danger. Several factors have been attributed to the demise of our wildlife, from a decline in natural habitats such as meadows and wetlands, thanks to urban developments, to droughts and flooding, the widespread use of harmful pesticides and invasions by damaging native food-providing wildfowers and other beneficial flora and fauna.
So it is important that those that can, do their bit to help wildlife to survive and thrive. You may not realise just how easy it is to provide food and shelter for all manner of wildlife, from tiny insects to larger mammals. By making your own wildlife habitat, you can not only save money on the commercially-produced (and often over expensive) goods, but also be repaid ten fold by the inhabitants who will be more than happy to take up residence in your garden.
The Simple Wildlife HabitatAlthough, for the larger mammals it definitely helps, you needn't be well acquainted with a saw and hammer to make a perfect wildlife habitat. There are plenty of animals that will make the most of the right plant materials, nesting sites and overwintering conditions if given even half the chance. Here are a few things that you can do to provide simple yet suitable wildlife habitats in your garden:
Leaf PilesDon't be in a hurry to keep your garden unnaturally tidy. There are loads of different insets and animals that will benefit if you leave your leaves raked into a pile in a secluded and sheltered spot of the garden. Not only is leafmould beneficial for the soil, but a pile of dry leaves is particularly attractive for a garden favourite - the Hedgehog. Hedgehogs will take the leaves and other organic matter, and use them to build up their nests. They sleep in their nests during the day, females raise their young in the nest, and the nest is where they will go into long periods of hibernation throughout the winter months.
If a hedgehog can't build a suitable nest to keep it warm and dry, then the chances are that it will use up too much energy over the winter months keeping warm, and run out of fat reserves - basically starving to death, as there will be next to no natural food sources around. A leaf pile will also be home to many small slugs and insects, which are a vital food source for hedgehogs and other omnivorous mammals. It is amazing how beneficial a simple leaf pile can be!
Wood piles are also a great wildlife habitat for many small mammals and insects. Stag beetles in particular will be more than willing to make a wood pile their home, as they feed off the decomposing wood. You might be surprised at how artistic and interesting a wood pile can look, and how easily it can be incorporated into a woodland or wildlife garden. Larger wood piles can also become home to the Hedgehog, particularly if stacked in a sheltered area, such as against a garden fence, wall or behind a shed.
Your humble compost heap will be teaming with life. You should always be careful of turning compost - never stick a fork directly in the pile, as you could disturb of even impale and kill small mammals. Instead, move small portions of the pile. To prevent your compost becoming home to rodents, you should avoid putting things such as meat, bones and cooked kitchen scraps onto the heap.
Make Your Own Wildlife PondA wildlife pond is basically a pond that can pretty much sustain itself throughout the year. A wildlife pond will become home and a watering hole to amphibians, water-loving insects, mammals and birds. You may be surprised at just how quickly your wildlife pond is put to use! During the hot summer months it may prove to be a lifesaver for many animals, so should be looked after properly.
The basics for a wildlife pond are that you need very shallow shelves at the edges, so that small animals can come to drink without falling in. A pond with steep sides is a death trap for many animals - if they fall in they cannot climb out. At its deepest point, the pond should be around 18inches - a perfect depth for hibernating pond-dwellers. Providing small stones and rocks, or broken crocks in the water will be beneficial for the pond residents that prefer to shelter underwater.
A wildlife pond will also need a mixture of marginal plants and oxidising aquatic plants. Garden centres and aquariums often stock beneficial pond plants, and will be more than willing to help you choose the right plants for your large or small wildlife pond. Why not try to stick to native aquatic plants? The pond wildlife may be more suited to living with these plants.
The edge of the pond will almost definitely become home to amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts. Frogs and toads in particular will be great at keeping your resident slug population in check, so should be welcomed with open arms!
You can provide habitats for these creatures in the simplest of ways - for instance, an old broken piece of terracotta pot or drain pipe can be partially sunk into the ground to make a small cave-like dwelling, keeping them sheltered from the wind and cold. A collection of small stones and larger rocks can be built up to provide sheltering nooks and crannies.
Even if you can make just one of these simple wildlife habitats, you'll be making a huge difference to the residents of your backyard. A wildlife garden will reduce the need for using harmful pest control, and will be able to look after itself in a balanced way. And you get the added benefit of seeing it all flourish and thrive before you!