Last week I came across a booklet by Juanita Browne introducing ways we can help biodiversity in our own garden. It is beautifully illustrated by Barry Reynolds. The following is a summary from part of this booklet.
The coronavirus has changed all our lives and many of us have learned to appreciate nature around us more. Unfortunately, we are seeing a decline in our insect, bird, fish, mammal and amphibian species due to a variety of factors, among them habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, pesticide use and climate change. Private gardens represent a huge potential habitat and refuge for Ireland’s pressured wildlife. So why not show our children some of the ways we might open up our garden to nature no matter how big or small the space.
With over two million domestic gardens in Ireland imagine the difference that could be made to nature if these gardens became biodiversity friendly.
In Ireland we tend to take owning a garden for granted. What an honour it is to be in a position to manage our own little patch of the planet and decide exactly what creatures share it with us and what we grow there. Hedges, walls, ponds, grassy areas and trees all offer potential food and shelter for our native biodiversity.
We can all be part of a patchwork of biodiversity friendly gardens across the countryside. By inviting butterflies, birds and bees, wildflowers and trees into our garden it will not only help the planet, but us too, as it is a proven fact that people feel better surrounded by nature.
In order to create healthy diverse ecosystems and help Irish wildlife, we need to consider all of our biodiversity. The small plants, wildflowers, bugs, caterpillars, spiders and other creepy crawlies are so important as they form the base of the food webs that support the more ‘attractive’ birds and mammals we want to help the most. The larger fauna cannot survive without the small guys.
Although our gardens cannot attract species that need large natural areas for them to roam in, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact we can have by making simple changes.
While we can never replicate natural habitats, we can try to replicate ‘mini versions’ for instance an area of garden that mimics a woodland edge, a wildflower strip that mimics a meadow or a section of native hedgerow or small pond.
There are four keys to gardening for biodiversity
4. Biodiversity friendly management
It is important to note that native plants are valuable in their own right. They tend to support far more species of insect than hybrids or ornamental plants. So, they should be used as often as possible.
However, in some cases, ‘ornamental’ varieties can extend the season for some animals. Using non-native plants in the wildlife garden can still be helpful.
Beetles play an important role in food webs and ecosystems with other wildlife. They are important decomposers and are vital to recycling nutrients and returning them to the soil. Dung beetles play a hugely important role in farmland helping to break down animal faeces, recycling nutrients, aerating the soil and improving drainage.
Ladybirds should be a welcome resident to our garden as they are fierce predators of aphids. It’s best not to tidy up too much in autumn leaving hollow stemmed plants as shelter for hibernating ladybirds over winter.
As well as being a food source for birds and mammals, many organisms in our garden (including wasps, lacewings, beetles, spiders and centipedes) are natural pest controllers.
Earthworms are vital to healthy soil, benefitting crop yields and healthy plants. They aerate the soil and create channels that allow more efficient drainage and irrigation as they move up and down through the soil. This prevents soil surface run-off, flooding and means less watering is needed.
Earthworms surface at night and pull down fallen leaves and detritus into their burrows. As they move, they mix nutrients throughout the soil. They also perform waste disposal by removing surface debris and fungal spores. They don’t eat healthy living plant tissue so they will leave your living plants alone.
DID YOU KNOW – Ants are responsible for planting one third of the world’s seeds.
FIVE GOLD STAR PLANTS FOR BIODIVERSITY
The Dandelion – In early spring the dandelion is the most important plant for insects. From mid-March to mid-May it provides vital food for bees and other early flying insects such as butterflies.
When the flowers disappear, birds feast on the seed-heads. The dandelion seed is a favourite with birds such as the goldfinch and the greenfinch. The plant’s leaves are also food for some moth larvae.
The Willow – This is a wonderful tree for bees as it provides lots of nutritious pollen in its tiny flowers in early spring where there is little else in flower. Willow’s soft yellow profusions may not be recognized as flowers but they are actually made up of hundreds of tiny flowers bursting with pollen and nectar.
The Bramble – Bramble provides vital food for pollinating insects in late summer and berries for birds and mammals in autumn. Perhaps a bramble patch could be included in the corner of the garden. The blackberries can be enjoyed along with the hungry birds in autumn.
The Clover – Clover provides important food for bees with its pollen and nectar stores.
The Ivy – Ivy provides good cover for nesting birds and hibernating butterflies. It is very important in autumn for bumblebee queens who need to put on weight before hibernation. Ivy berries are very important to birds in late winter when food is scarce.