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Water friendly gardens

Gardens are amazing spaces. They are an extension of our houses, and give us space to relax, unwind, and quickly connect to the outdoors. Gardens can also be great for wildlife too. Whether you have a pot plant jungle on a balcony, a perfectly manicured lawn, or a garden worthy of the Chelsea Flower Show, you can create water friendly gardens.

Bird boxes and bird feeders are a cheap way of attracting birds into your garden, plus they’ll provide endless entertainment as you observe your visitors. If you have the space a pond can be invaluable. Try to make sure your pond has sloping edges which will enable birds and mammals to drink and bathe. Even a small tub pond can attract wildlife.

Most gardens can also accommodate some specialist habitat areas. A patch of wildflowers can attract a huge variety of insects. Logs, twigs, and leaf piles provide excellent places for hedgehogs to hide and hibernate in. A simple pile of rocks and stones can provide cover for frogs, toads, and even snakes, to hide and bask.

Follow our tips to make sure you’re gardening in a water and wildlife friendly way!

Reduce water usage- water companies draw water from streams when demand is high, which can have devastating impacts on rivers and their wildlife. Instead of grabbing the hose pipe check if your plants need watering first. If the soil is damp to a spade’s depth, then there is no need for water. When you do water your plants do it in the evening (when there is less evaporation) using water from water butts. Mulching can also help to retain water and improves soil structure.

Reduce chemical usage- chemicals pollute groundwater, run off into rivers and provide no food or habitat benefits for wildlife. Always avoid pesticides, including slug pellets, and try alternative methods first. If unavoidable, use organic alternatives containing natural chemical compounds, always apply the correct dosage, and never use them near water or in wet weather. Compost, especially homemade, is a great alternative to fertiliser. Plus you’ll know exactly what has gone into it.

Reduce water runoff- water running off hard surfaces picks up pollutants and chemicals and delivers them straight into rivers and streams. Surface water runoff also increases flash flooding. Grass, plants, and trees are all great at intercepting rainfall. However, rain falling on hard surfaces runs off quickly adding to the volume of water in the streams and rivers.

Choose native species- invasive non-native plant species, such as Himalayan Balsam, can have devastating effects on native wildlife and the environment when they escape from gardens. Instead plant native plants. Native plants are great for supporting native insects and birds, including bumblebees and butterflies. When you buy plants look out for the RHS Perfect for Pollinators logo, or check out their lists of recommended plants here: rhs.org.uk

Only use peat free compost- peat bogs are a rare habitat and wonderful carbon sinks, storing carbon more effectively than any other habitat. However, mining peat unlocks this store of greenhouse gasses and adds carbon dioxide and methane to the air. Plus it removes the area of habitat available for the rare species that call the bogs their home. Peat isn’t the only way to get organic matter into soil. There are many alternatives that are more effective and better for the environment.

Encourage natural predators- hoverflies, ladybirds, and lacewings can all consume an amazing number of aphids. By planting a variety of native plants and wildflowers you can attract insects like these.  Frogs, toads, and hedgehogs all love to eat slugs and snails, so by creating a pond and leaving leaf piles you can attract these slug munching machines.

Compost garden and food waste- compost is nutrient-rich, reduces the need for harmful fertilisers and pesticides, and reduces household waste. It also means that you’ll have a place to throw your grass clippings. Grass clippings and weeds should never be thrown into a stream or river. They cause pollution and nutrient spikes which kill insects and other river dwellers, and cause blockages leading to flooding