Developers reminded ‘wildlife needs good neighbours’
18 December 2006
Town planners should make biodiversity a core consideration within urban and suburban regeneration plans and purposefully create ‘green networks’, reveals the Wild About Gardens Discovery Survey, carried out by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and The Wildlife Trusts (TWT) in partnership with Ribena.
According to the findings, garden owners are responding to wildlife gardening advice and taking action but there is still considerable room for improvement even among the most wildlife-friendly gardeners. The survey’s findings that mini-habitats are spread between different gardens emphasises the importance of making it easier for wildlife to move within a connected network of ‘green corridors’ by using trees, ponds and hedgerows, and providing a greater variety of food sources from nectar, berry and seed-producing plants.
Simon Thornton-Wood, Director of Science & Learning for the RHS, explains, “Developers should be careful not to create ‘token gesture’ green spaces in anticipation they might provide real benefit for wildlife. From our preliminary findings we looked at the gardens that recorded sightings of all five of our key species and found that they nearly all had tall trees, but only a third shared other important features such as ponds, woodpiles and long grass. Not everyone, especially those with small gardens, has the room for the ultimate checklist of features which means that neighbours need to pull together to help improve wildlife communities as well as social ones. Individuals who have created a wildlife oasis in a conservation desert provide a welcome refuge but its value multiplies when connected to neighbouring habitats, as last month’s Stern Report touched upon by calling for greater linkage of ‘green’ habitats to better accommodate species movement.”
Over 1,500 garden owners responded to the survey between 2 and 17 September to help investigate links between garden habitats, gardening practices and key garden species. Participants were asked to complete an inventory of types of plants and features in their garden including the garden’s location, their gardening practices, and whether the following species visited their garden within the two-week survey period: Hedgehog, Goldfinch, Common frog, Toad, Bumblebee, and specifically the Brown Bumblebee. The data is being analysed in depth with more comprehensive findings to be released next year.
Stephanie Hilborne, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, added, “The survey showed whilst wildlife gardeners are busy supporting the ‘attractive’ species such as birds, hedgehogs and frogs, they’re not so aware of the need to encourage invertebrates, with the possible exception of butterflies, through planting buddleia and sedum. The importance of varying ground cover and shrubs should not be underestimated in supporting the less popular ‘creepy crawlies’ which play a vital role in the food chain and in making gardens effective as self-sustaining wildlife habitats. These are the sort of perceptions the RHS and The Wildlife Trusts hope to change through Wild About Gardens or through wildaboutgardens.org.”
Giles Coode-Adams, Treasurer of the RHS and a blackcurrant grower whose family has grown blackcurrants for the popular soft drink for 16 years, added, “Our farm is made up of a patchwork of fields. During the last few years, we have implemented a wildlife-friendly conservation plan to help protect the creatures that inhabit the farm. We used to think of each field in isolation, but we quickly realised that in creatures’ eyes, trees and hedgerows aren’t boundaries: they are vital sources of food and shelter. I’d like to encourage people to take a similar approach to their gardens – the principle is exactly the same, and the difference it will make for wildlife is tremendous.”
Other preliminary findings from the survey include:
Gardens with seed or nut-producing plants were over three times more likely to attract goldfinches than those with none (72% compared to 22%).
Nearly twice as many participants who owned a garden pond spotted frogs during the survey period than those without.
Gardens with a larger area of long grass (over foursquare metres) were more likely to attract brown bumblebees.
London gardens recorded the lowest average number of sightings of hedgehogs and frogs compared to the rest of the UK.
Toads were found to be in gardens frequented by frogs but seldom in gardens without frogs (toads were spotted by 25% of garden owners, frogs by 58%).
(All five key species were chosen due to their decline or fluctuation in number over the past few years.)
For more information and hints and tips on creating a wildlife-friendly garden, visit wildaboutgardens.org.