Posted 7th Aug 2014
Autumn is the ideal time to give nature a home with just a few simple changes to your outdoor space
Many people think that to create a wildlife-friendly garden you have to make big changes to your existing space. But you may already be creating a haven for wildlife without even knowing it. And just a few small changes can encourage even more wild visitors to your garden. Now is a great time to start before the harsh winter weather sets in.
We met up with Shirley Boyle, the Warden at Stour Estuary & Flatford, at the RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden in Essex, to discover just how easy it can be to give nature a helping hand this autumn. Set on a south-facing slope on the banks of the River Stour just a few yards from Flatford Mill – the picturesque setting for John Constable’s famous painting The Haywain, the RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden nestles snugly within its rural surroundings. You would think it had been there for decades, but in actual fact it has only been in existence for four years. The land for the garden was bequeathed to the RSPB by two sisters on the understanding that the charity made what was a former tea room garden into a wildlife haven. Building began on the garden, which was designed by renowned designers Alex Johnson and Catherine Heatherington, in January 2010 and it opened to the public later that year in June.
Shirley Boyle has been working here for three years and started as project officer for the garden. She maintains the garden with the help of 30 volunteers, half of which form the welcome team who greet and inform visitors, while the other half help tend the garden on Thursdays. ‘You don’t need any qualifications to become a volunteer,’ Shirley explains. ‘I just match the task to the volunteer. We have great fun, there’s a real sense of camaraderie while we’re working,’ she smiles.
The garden consists of a number of different elements which all seamlessly flow into one another. There’s a small woodland area, a wild flower meadow, a mini orchard and a veg patch, as well as a secret garden and a raised butterfly bed along with various bug and bird boxes dotted about.
In testament to how well-planned the garden is, it is teeming with wildlife. They have a wide variety of feathered visitors including goldfinches, great spotted woodpeckers, song thrushes and spotted flycatchers, as well as mammals such as weasels and reptiles such as grass snakes who enjoy its warm sandy soil and its position near water. ‘It’s great to see predators visiting the garden,’ Shirley explains, ‘it means we’ve got the balance of the eco-system right.’
But what does a garden need to create such a wildlife-friendly environment?
‘There are three basic elements which you can include in any garden to encourage wildlife,’ Shirley explains, ‘a tree, a pond and a compost heap. And if you can add a bug box or bird box (you can download instructions on how to make one from the RSPB website) that’s even better,’ she smiles. ‘During the winter months the wildlife in your garden does one of three things: hibernate, migrate or survive. If you can provide food and shelter for nature over these difficult months you’ll make a big difference.’ Many birds are fruit eaters and Shirley suggests adding fruit and berry bearing shrubs to your garden to provide food for them either before they migrate or to help them survive through winter. ‘Small tortoiseshell butterflies need warm dry log piles to hibernate in, so do peacock and comma varieties, so try and leave a small pile of logs in a corner of your garden for them,’ Shirley says.
Read the rest of this feature on p.32 of the September/October 14 issue