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“Simon Says” – Stepping Stones

August 1, 2017

Stepping stones

On this small island of ours where the population continues to increase, space is becoming increasingly limited and areas of protection are getting squeezed and isolated.  What would you say if I offered the UK a further 432,964 ha (over 1 million acres) of protected area potentially available to wildlife?  That’s a fifth of the size of Wales, or more than 1.5 times the size of Dorset.  Of course, we would all jump at the chance of getting hold of that much land if it could be wildlife friendly.  In fact, that is what we do have in the form of the 22.7 million gardens in the country.  What an amazing resource.

Of course, many of those gardens will be far from wildlife friendly, but pretty much all of them have a contribution to make, not just in the total area available to nature, but in forming stepping stones for wildlife criss-crossing the country.  In another sense they may also be stepping stones for people to entice them out into their natural environment.

Wildlife gardening is becoming quite a craze because it has so many aspects of interest to so many people.  It provides a beautiful location just out of the back or front door, somewhere to relax or play, exercise in the form of gardening or games, a hobby tending it, and to many the opportunity to get up-close and personal with a wide range of animals and plants.  The health & wellbeing benefits of gardens are well known, let alone the hike in house price.  For the same reason that I admit to liking zoos, I also think a garden helps people to relate to nature by giving them some ownership of the issue and some relevant knowledge.

Whatever your motivation

That, from the people’s perspective, is the point here.  You don’t need to be a knowledgeable entomologist or a budding (pun intended) botanist, able to identify and conjure up the Latin names of various species.  You can enjoy nature for your own reasons: from football with the kids to somewhere to drink a cup of tea in peace.  Whatever you do in your garden, as long as there is some nature, it isn’t important from the wildlife point of view what your motivation is.

For some ‘real’ wildlife gardeners there can be a little snobiness about decking, artificial grass, even outdoor sofas in the garden. Imagine that!  As far as I’m concerned if making the garden into another room of your home helps get someone out and interested in the green bits, then that’s a success, as long as it has something of use to wildlife.  However, like some agricultural land that looks green but is just a huge monoculture, even the prettiest of gardens can be barren because of a lack of the right infrastructure, poor choice of plants and use of chemicals.

DWT has a great wildlife gardening scheme.  The prize-giving element is supported by a premier group of garden centres The Gardens Group.  The number of people on the scheme and getting plaques is spiralling.  So why isn’t everyone on-board?  Recently I attended a talk by gardening writer Kate Bradbury who showed how she made a beautiful and useful wildlife garden out of a 5m2 mess of rubble and ugly terrace. If she can make an oasis for wildlife in the middle of Brighton then we can all do something, whatever our motivation is.

A wildlife garden border © Simon Cripps (Image at top of page: The wildlife garden at the Kingcombe Centre. © Simon Cripps)

So what’s stopping you?

I wonder if what is stopping yet more progress are a number of preconceptions:

  1. I don’t want a scruffy garden.  Wildlife gardens aren’t just the scruffy bits you don’t look after.  They can be filled with a range of beautiful plants that perform tasks such as shelter, pollination or food.  Also, if you do leave anything scruffy you can always blame it on the wildlife.
  2. I don’t have green fingers.  Many wildlife garden plants can be thought of as weeds in another context.  Easier to grow than some exotic prima donnas.  Impress friends and neighbours with the minimum of knowledge.
  3. 3. I don’t have time for gardening. A wildflower mini-meadow only needs cutting twice per year.  More time for a glass of Pino and a good book to the backdrop of tweets and buzzes.
  4. I don’t have space.  Anything can help, from buckets to baskets and the right sort of hedges.  Provide it and they will come.  A foxglove sticking out of a broken watering can makes you look very artistic.
  5. I don’t want the garden covered in vermin such as rats or slugs. Hopefully you will get more mammals such as hedgehogs or foxes – jewels in your crown.  Make sure you leave gaps in your fence for them.  You should get less pests because the ecosystem will be far more balanced.  A sort of miniature Serengeti out of your window.

Making a difference

I like the idea of stepping stones to join up the countryside again.  On a landscape scale we need to be linking nature reserves and protected areas together.  Towns, roads, monoculture agriculture, all help to isolate pockets of wildlife so that they are more at risk of collapse.  Conservationists need to be working far more with different groups of people and different types of land (and sea) to increase connectivity.  For us at DWT that already includes churchyards, schools, businesses, property developers, farmers and road verges.  What have we missed?  Are there more groups that support the natural environment, possibly without even knowing it?

Nature is too important to just be left to conservationists – professional or otherwise.  Nature and our natural environment is something upon which we all depend.  We all need to play a part in its restoration, whatever our motivations might be.  Your garden / yard / business property can all make a huge difference as we become squeezed into less and less place.

If you think your garden is wildlife friendly, why not send us some photos and you could get one of our “Wildlife Friendly Garden” plaques. Read more here.

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