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Attracting Wildlife to the Garden

--- I'll start with a very important notice. It is winter and, although many animals are hibernating or flying south, many are not. These animals may struggle to find food during the winter months. Providing them with an easy source of food will help them to survive the cold and harsh winter months. Taking the time to do this will increase the quantity of wildlife visiting your garden and, perhaps more importantly, it will save many animals' lives. ---

The garden is a natural haven for all sorts of wildlife. Even without any human influence, animals, insects and birds swarm into our flowerbeds, hedges, bushes and lawn. They come and they thrive there, as they would anywhere else in the wild. Some gardens, of course, are more appealing than others. Some offer a ââ?¬Å?fine diningââ?¬Â experience with a five star hotel, others are more like a road-side motel with a microwave meal. Whether your garden is the former or the latter, there are things you can do to attract more wildlife into it. Today we will be looking at some steps you can take towards creating your very own wildlife garden.

One of the most important steps to consider is plant life. You want your garden to be as vibrant as possible, with a huge range of flowers and plants. This will help attract a whole variety of wildlife, most commonly insects. The word ââ?¬Å?insectââ?¬Â tends to conjure up skin crawling images, but this should not be the case! Insects are, in fact, mostly wonderful. Insects thrive on your garden and your garden thrives on them. One of the main things insects do for you is help transfer pollen between flowers and plants, allowing them to grow to their fullest. To attract these insects, namely butterflies and bees, you should invest in colourful flowers, taking special care to choose ones with lots of nectar ââ?¬â?? more nectar means more food for insects which means more insects for you.

Here are some plants you should try:

Buddleia, know commonly as the Butterfly Bush.

Lupinus, known better as Lupin.

Hesperis Matronalis, or, for those of us who don't speak Latin, Sweet Rocket.

Oenothera, known commonly as the Primrose.

These are just four examples, however any brightly coloured garden flowers, so long as they contain good levels of nectar, are going to attract a butterfly and bee population. Remember, don't just feed the butterfly: feed the caterpillar. Plant some leafy bushes in amongst your butterfly-magnet flowers for their young to feed on. With any luck, these caterpillars will cocoon in your garden and be born into butterflies right under your nose.

Now, many of these plants are not going to thrive in winter, nor are many insects. For the few remaining insects, grow some Ivy. Ivy gives insects a much needed nectar boost during the colder months.

Now, earlier I mentioned bees. ââ?¬Å?Bees!?ââ?¬Â you might exclaim. Yes, specifically the honeybee. They are a dying species. Not only do they provide us with deliciously sweet honey but they pollinate many of our garden flowers and other crops. Opening our gardens to them by planting some of the flowers suggested above is a step every gardener can take towards assisting the honeybee population.

Another important thing is to pay attention to what you use on your garden. Don't put insecticides all over those beautiful flowers you planted otherwise you'll simply be killing the wildlife you attract.

Attracting birds to your garden can be easy too. Place some wire mesh feeders throughout your garden containing different types of grains, seeds, fruits and fats, and a variety of birds will flock to them (the effects of which you may not see fully until the summer). Sparrows and finches will love prying sunflowers seeds from your plants, so make the job easier for them and put some in a wire mesh cage. Some birds, such as thrushes and blackbirds, will thrive on a fruit based diet: try some apples or raisins. Most birds will fly to, and perch on, a wire mesh cage full of food; however some birds such as the robin will need feeders placed lower down. The main thing to remember is in order to attract variety means providing variety. Try different combinations of seeds, nuts and berries to see what types of birds you can attract. Another similar thing to try are ââ?¬Å?fat ballsââ?¬Â. These can be easily purchased, or even homemade. Most will come in a netted packaging but do not hang them up in these, as woodpeckers can get their tongues stuck in them. Transfer them to a wire mesh cage instead.

You can buy squirrel feeders, which are similar to bird feeders. These are not going to attract wild squirrels from the forests into your back garden permanently but if you already live near somewhere populated by squirrels it may incline them to visit your garden more often. Using these specialised feeders, and using squirrel guards on your bird feeders, means that you give food to every animal rather than having one steal it all away.

Hedgehogs and badgers can be left food in order to increase the likelihood of visiting too. Hedgehogs are particularly fond of cat or dog food (so long as it does not contain fish) and dried mealworms. Their usual omnivore diet suffers in the winter so providing them with food will help them survive. Badgers will eat a variety of nuts, berries and fruits, as well as garden pests such as mice. Never leave out milk for these animals! Always be sure to leave a large bowl of water though, to keep them hydrated. Something else to consider is growing a hedge or some large bushes to give these animals somewhere to shelter.

Building a pond is a fantastic idea to attract wildlife but it is a useless one in winter. We will look closely at building a pond when summer comes back around. If you already have a pond, a good idea is to melt a hole in any ice that may have formed, providing a watering hole for wildlife.

Remember, some of these animals depend on us during winter. We can help them and, in turn, they will return to our gardens and help to make them wildlife havens. Taking these steps now means that when summer comes back your garden will be brimming with beautiful wildlife.Ã?Â

By Dylan Blyth.

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