Attracting wildlife to your home

Whether you live in a country cottage, a terraced town-house or a bungalow in the ‘burbs, there are ways to try attract more wildlife into your garden, be that a lavish planted garden, a child-friendly backyard or a tiny window-box. Granted, not all methods are suitable for all locations, but if you’re keen to share your very own outdoor space with some wildlife, have a look at these suggestions.

Provide Shelter and Habitat

Bird and bat boxes
Building and erecting bird nesting boxes provides a safe and secure location for birds to nest. The type and location of the box will depend on the type of birds you want to attract, but in general bird boxes are best placed in a location that is sheltered from the elements and secure from predators. To give yourself the best chance of attracting nesting birds, erect the boxes well in advance of the breeding season – this will also prevent the existing nesting birds in your garden from being disrupted.
A good bat box should provide a safe and draught free shelter away from predators. A box mounted high on a wall under the eaves of a house is a good place to start. Details of how to build a suitable bat box can be seen here.

Photo courtesy of 'Dave-F' at Flickr Creative Commons


Have a compost heap
A compost heap provides food and shelter for numerous species including hedgehogs and toads that will burrow in and feed on insects, and even lizards, snakes and slow-worms which will be attracted by the warmth. Although compost heaps aren’t particularly attractive, hiding one away in the corner of your garden is good for shy wildlife and the aesthetics of your garden.

Photo courtesy of 'Joi' at Flickr Creative Commons


Construct a wood pile
A small pile of logs, tree branches and stumps placed in an area of the garden that gets sun on one side for at least part of the day and left to rot is a Mecca for creepy-crawlies which in turn may attract larger animals that feed on the insects. Once in place the wood pile can just be left to develop on its own and requires no further upkeep – ideal for the lazy wildlife gardeners!

Photo courtesy of 'takomabibelot' at Flickr Creative Commons


Leave the lawnmower in the shed!
If you have the space, leave an area of your lawn to grow unkempt and wild. Longer grass provides a habitat for a host of beetles and insects. This will also attract small mammals such as shrews and voles that will feed on the bugs. A wild meadow area like this also provides a source of food and shelter for caterpillars and butterflies.

Photo courtesy of 'Me' at Wex Photographic


Build a Rockery
Another easy job for the lazy gardener, building a small rockery in your garden will attract amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts, particularly if it’s built near a pond. Along with insects that will make a home in the nooks and crannies, a rockery offers the possibility of attracting reptiles that will bask on rocks in a sunny corner of a garden.

Photo courtesy of 'Rhian vK' at Flickr Creative Commons


Install a water-feature or pond
If you are lucky enough to have the space, then digging a pond will open your garden up to all kinds of wildlife. It doesn’t need to be a huge reservoir with ducks and swans (although that would be nice), just a big enough volume of water for wildlife to inhabit. If it can be big enough to keep fish then that’s great, but even a relatively small area of water will attract frogs and water loving insects such as dragonflies. A compact water-feature will do the same job and will also provide some a source of water for visiting wildlife. If you are digging a pond, just remember that some smaller animals may drown if they cannot get out of the pond so build in some ramps for wildlife to exit the pond. Needless to say, if you have young children, it may be better to wait until they’ve grown up before adding a pond to the list of backyard hazards!

Photo courtesy of 'Mr Weeks Senior' at Ma and Pa's House


Provide Food and Water

Hang bird feeders
Bird feeders are available in most supermarkets, DIY stores and garden centres and are perhaps the easiest way to provide food for our feathered friends, and you don’t need to have a huge garden. A range of different types of feeders exist that can be hung from a tree, a dedicated stand or even stuck to a window, allowing you a great close up view of feeding birds. Food types are equally varied and include nuts, seeds and combinations of these plus fat balls and suet. Different foods and feeders attract different birds, so it’s possible to tailor your set-up to the wildlife you want in your garden.

Photos courtesy of 'Mr Weeks Senior' at Ma and Pa's House


Provide a bird table and bath
Another easy thing to add to almost any garden, a feeding table can provide an important source of food for birds, particularly during the winter months when their natural food sources may be scarce. A bird table should be placed in an elevated location with good views around it so that any birds feeding can see that they are safe from predators. As such, a window ledge feeding tray on a block of flats is an ideal feeding point for birds! A bird bath provides a water source for drinking and washing, but don’t assume that you only need to provide water in the summer. Birds’ usual source of water may be unavailable during the winter because of freezing, so be sure to keep your bird bath topped up and thawed.

Photo courtesy of 'iJammin' at Flickr Creative Commons


Attracting mammals
For may people, leaving bread and milk out for hedgehogs has always been the preferred method of feeding these spiky mammals, but in actual fact these can cause digestive issues for hedgehogs and other animals. A far better bet is dedicated hedgehog food (yes, you can buy such a thing) or even dog or cat food. This may also attract foxes to your garden, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your feelings towards foxes and whether or not you have any pets. Badgers will also eat dog or cat food, along with nuts, fruit and vegetables. If you are leaving food out for mammals, be sure to leave a bowl of water for them to drink too.

Photo courtesy of 'Eran Finkle' at Flickr Creative Commons


Plant for wildlife

Grow a hedge
As well as proving food for insects, mammals and birds, hedgerows provide an excellent nesting area for both feathered and furred creatures. In addition, hedgerows provide excellent safe routes for animals to travel and come into your garden. Suitable hedge plants include holly, yew, buckthorn, beech, maple, cherry plum, elder, hawthorn, hazel and privet. Where at all possible it is best to choose plants that are native to the surrounding area.

Grow flowers
Flowers in a wildlife garden aren’t just there to look good, they should also provide an attraction to wildlife in the form of food or shelter. Nectar rich flowers will help attract bees butterflies and other insects. Birds will also be attracted to your garden for the insects and seeds.

Plant a tree
Depending on the space you have, a tree or shrub will attract insects and birds to your garden and will also provide nesting places. If you have the room to spare large trees such as elm, beech or ash are great for bringing animals into your garden, while crab apple, conifers, silver birch, yew and alder will offer similar benefits in a smaller space.

Planting suggestions

    • Greater Knapweed (Centaura scabiosa) – Seeds provide food for birds and other wildlife.
    • Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Summer flowers turn into red berries in autumn, providing a good food source for birds.

Photo courtesy of 'Damian Cugley' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – Blossom is loved by pollinating insects while the leaves provide food for moth caterpillars. As well as providing food for birds in the form of berries, the hawthorn makes an excellent nesting site.
    • Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro) – The flowers attract bees and butterflies and the seeds provide food for birds.

Photo courtesy of '~Duncan~' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) – This nectar-rich plant attracts hoverflies which eat aphids.
    • Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) – Blossom attracts insects, foliage attract caterpillars and berries attract birds.

Photo courtesy of 'Crystalline Radical' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) – Attracts bees and other insects.
    • Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) – Its flowers are an excellent source of nectar, making it a veritable butterfly magnet!

Photo courtesy of 'ComputerHotline' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) – Produces red berries in autumn, providing food for birds and other wildlife.
    • Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) – Honeysuckle provides nectar for butterflies and moths and birds eat the seeds.

Photo courtesy of 'jeffreyw' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – A great plant for attracting bees and hoverflies.
    • Silver Birch (Betula pendula) – Attracts moth caterpillars for the foliage and birds such as Goldfinches who will nest and eat the seeds.

Photo courtesy of 'Chris Kempson' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Old English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Very attractive to bees (including bumblebees) and butterflies.
    • Marigold (Calendula officinalis) – Attracts bees, butterflies and other nectar loving insects.

Photo courtesy of 'photogramma1' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) – A native tree that supports a number of insects and food for animals.
    • Primrose (Primula vulgaris) – Flowers provide an early source of nectar in spring, while the leaves are food for butterfly larvae and the seeds are eaten by finches.

Photo courtesy of 'anemoneprojectors' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Yew (Taxus baccata) – Produces food for birds and other wildlife in the form of its berries.
    • Common Holly (Ilex aquifolium) – Red winter berries provide food for birds and other animals as well has providing a good nesting habitat.

Photo courtesy of 'whatsthatpicture' at Flickr Creative Commons


    • Common Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) – Berries are good food source for thrushes and starlings.
    • Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) – Attracts bees and hoveflies.

Over to you...

So there we are, several suggestions on how to attract more wildlife into your outdoor space. No doubt there are other methods and suggestions, and a whole host of other plants that are equally suitable. Likewise, you might have some ideas on how to keep certain animals out! Cats, anyone? So please send your thoughts this way - we'd love to hear them!