Wildlife in your garden

Mammals in your garden

Far more people are now gardening with wildlife in mind, and mammal visitors are often seen as a real bonus. Almost all gardens, including those in the heart of any city, will receive at least occasional visits from some mammals such as hedgehogs, moles, squirrels and bats. The closer you live to places where mammals are often found – woodland, a park, a railway line or piece of rough ground – the greater the likelihood of a variety of mammal visitors. But wherever you are, and whatever the size of your garden, with a little work and patience you should be rewarded with sightings of at least some of our native mammals. Most species of British mammal are nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and many visitors, especially the smaller ones, will go unseen. However, they will often leave signs that they have been present, such as the remains of their prey, marks in the ground, hairs or droppings. Some gardens, even in urban areas, are visited by badgers and deer; and weasels and stoats – together with the rather less welcome rabbits, moles and rats.


It is estimated that there were over 30 million hedgehogs in the UK in the 1950s. But recent estimates suggest there are less than a million left.

How can we help?

  • Give a hog a home – With the UK population of hedgehogs declining alarmingly, it’s vital that we give our prickly friends a home in our gardens.  

By providing a hedgehog home you will be providing them with somewhere they could shelter,            hibernate or raise little hoglets! By putting a hedgehog house in place during spring or summer means it will be ready when they’re house-hunting in autumn. Once your hedgehog home is in place, don’t worry if a hedgehog doesn’t move in right away – they are so scarce these days that it may take time. And remember that you won’t see any activity between October and March or April, when they’re hibernating. Link to hedgehog products

  • Open a hog café – Feed the hungry hogs in your garden to help them build the energy they need when raising hoglets, and their fat reserves for their long winter hibernation.

You won’t get any takers in winter when all your hogs are fast asleep, but you can start your feeding at any other season if there are hogs around.

Providing food and water is a great way to ensure hedgehogs get everything they need. Many areas of the UK no longer provide enough natural food to sustain hedgehog populations and your support may be a lifeline. Never feed hedgehogs bread or milk as they cannot digest these and can become ill or even die. Link to hedgehog products

  • Create a hedgehog Highway – Hedgehogs can roam up to 2 miles in a single night. Making sure that hedgehogs can get in and out of your garden safely can prevent them having to travel across dangerous roads. You can help by making a small hole in your garden fence around 13cm square so that they can travel from garden to garden. Encourage your neighbours to do the same to create a hedgehog highway! Link to hedgehog products
  • Protect hedgehogs from pets – A hedgehog’s spikes are an amazing defensive system, however sometimes hedgehogs are unable to defend themselves if they are sick, injured or are very young. You can help by ensuring hedgehogs are safe from pets. Giving hedgehogs a warning such as noise or by switching a light on before letting out pets can help keep hedgehogs safe.
  • Always check bonfires and leaves – Hedgehogs will seek out piles of wood as hibernating or resting areas as they are dry and warm. Every year many hedgehogs are injured or die when trapped inside burning bonfires. Always check piles of wood and leaves before lighting a bonfire or using a mower or strimmer to ensure there are no hedgehogs nesting in the pile.
  • Make your garden safe – Hedgehogs can fall into grids and drains and easily get trapped if they aren’t covered. Ensure all your drains are covered, if you cannot source a proper cover, scrunched up chicken wire can help. Hedgehogs can also become tangled in garden netting and football nets, ensuring these are stored away or are high enough for hedgehogs to roam underneath will help to prevent unwanted tangles!

·         Make ponds Hedgehog friendly – A garden pond can be a great home for a number of aquatic species and an important year-round water source for lots of wildlife. Although hedgehogs can swim they will eventually become exhausted and die if they cannot get out of the pond. Make sure your pond has an escape route for hedgehogs by creating a raised corner from rocks or leaving an exit ramp.

·         Don’t use slug pellets – Hedgehogs love eating slugs. Don’t use slug pellets in your garden as they are fatal to hedgehogs if eaten or if a hedgehog consumes a slug or snail that has eaten them. There are hedgehog friendly alternatives such as beer traps which work well. Link to slug control products

For more information visit The British Hedgehog Preservation Society at www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk


There are, according to The Bat Conservation Trust, 18 species of bat that we may be fortunate enough to see in our UK gardens, the largest being the noctule which weighs as little as four £1 coins. The smallest, the pipistrelle, weighing the same as a 2p coin, is known to gobble up more than 500 insects in an hour! 

Like so many species of wildlife, bat numbers are in decline. The loss of old buildings, woodland and ancient trees have led to a decline in their habitat. And because they rely on woods and hedgerows to navigate, bats are often left lost and disorientated when landscapes are flattened for development or agriculture.

As gardeners, we can all do our best to try and support our magnificent, nocturnal, winged friends.

Bats are most active in the summer months when they come out of hibernation, hunt insects, give birth and raise young, and the best time to see them is around sunset or sunrise when it is warm and dry. While some bats fly relatively high, others are found closer to the ground. 

Bats need our help, and if you’ve got a garden there are simple steps you can take to support them. From attracting insects to providing roosting spots and navigational aids, here’s our advice on how to make your garden bat-friendly.

  • All British bats eat insects, so grow as many flowers throughout the year as possible to attract a diversity of insects. Ox-eye daisies, wild angelica, lavender and marjoram are popular choices that will attract a wide range of insects. Plant evening-scented flowers such as honeysuckle to attract night-flying insects like moths – a favorite food of bats. Grow plants that flower early and late in the season to support as many insects as you possibly can. Avoid showy, double petaled cultivars. They don’t produce much nectar. Ensure a variety of colours and flower shapes to suit different invertebrates. Link to flower seeds?
  • As well as growing flowers, there are other ways to attract insects to your garden. You can create microhabitats, by making log or leaf piles, mulching garden beds and leaving hollow stems standing over winter for bugs to shelter in.
  • Encourage natural predators to your garden instead of using pesticides. Predatory beetles, centipedes, hoverflies, ladybirds, lacewings and ground beetles are all gardeners’ friends. Ideal habitats for these are compost heaps, log piles and rockeries. You can even install homes for insects in your garden – create these and your new friends will show their appreciation by polishing off your garden pests. Link to insect hotels?
  • Plant trees and hedges to provide navigation aids and spots for roosting. If you have space, plant a tree or two in your garden. Oak, beech and ash are really useful to bats, but any native tree has potential for a roost – especially as it develops cavities, woodpecker holes, loose bark, cracks, splits and a covering of ivy. Mature shrubs can also be good roosts.
  • Consider creating a pond. Even small ponds boost insect biodiversity for species such as hoverflies, mosquitoes and midges.

·         Provide shelter – Install bat boxes on mature trees or the sides of buildings. Bats will generally find their own places to shelter but bat boxes can be placed on tree trunks or walls of buildings. Bat boxes can be purchased from garden centres or made from unplaned wood that has not been treated with wood preservatives. Unlike birds, bats seek warm sheltered places in summer. When placing bat boxes, choose locations with a sunny southerly or westerly aspect. Avoid placing boxes above doors or windows, or anywhere that the bats might be disturbed by people or pets. Be aware of the sorts of places that bats use as shelter and do not disturb them

Link to bat products?

All bats in Britain are legally protected. This protection extends to the places where bats roost or hibernate. Check if bats are in residence when building works are being planned or tree surgery is required.

For more information visit The Bat Conservation Trust at www.bats.org.uk

Amphibians in your garden

Amphibians and reptiles are key parts of the food chain, for example it is estimated that only 5 in every 1,000 frog eggs survive to adulthood, the rest provide food for other wildlife. Amphibians act as indicators of the health of our environment, both aquatic and terrestrial but many of the habitats for frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards have vanished due to intensive agriculture and building development. The disappearance of ponds, hedgerows, heathland, dunes and grasslands have all contributed to their decline but by making some small changes to your garden you can encourage amphibians and reptiles to seek refuge there.


Like many of the UK’s native species, the common toad has been impacted by loss of habitat, particularly the loss of breeding ponds. An increasing number of toads are also killed by traffic during the spring as they attempt to travel to their breeding ponds.

Toads are the gardener’s friends as they naturally prey on insects, slugs, and snails— up to 10,000 in a single summer. Having a resident toad keeps the pest population down and reduces the need for harsh pesticides.

Building a large deep pond would be the ideal way to help toads, however in many small gardens this would be impractical. There are however other ways to help toads and encourage them into your garden.

How to attract toads to your garden.

  • Cover from predators– Cats are a particular predator of toads and other amphibians in urban areas. Reduce the likelihood of them catching animals by increasing the number of hiding places in your garden: cracks within rockeries, openings around the compost heap, plenty of foliage and slightly elevated areas where toads can stay safe.
  • Moist cover– Toads are amphibians. This means that they live on both land and in the water and need moisture to survive. While toads are not as closely tied to the water as frogs, they still need a moist place to live. Toads make homes under boards, porches, loose rocks, and roots of trees. You can also support the common toad by leaving part of your garden to grow wild, giving toads somewhere safe to overwinter.
  • You can provide moist hiding spots for toads to encourage them to stay. You can even provide a desirable place for a toad to live by adding a toad house to your garden. Link to toad products?

  • Eliminate pesticides and chemicals– If you are using pesticides or other chemicals, chances are your garden is too toxic to have toads in the garden. Toads are highly sensitive to chemicals and even small amounts can be damaging to their health. Link to organic garden products?
  • Water– Toads may not live in water, but they need water to reproduce. A small pond or ditch that stays filled with water for at least a significant part of the year will not only help with attracting toads but will help ensure future generations of toads.
  • Leave gaps in fences to allow toads to migrate to their breeding ponds.
  • Take extra care when mowing your lawn as long grass makes a cool shelter for toads. Walk the area to be mown before you start as your footfall will disturb any toads resting in the grass.

Never import toad or frog spawn into your garden pond from elsewhere as you may accidentally bring in disease, undesirable animals or plants which could be detrimental.


The common frog will be helped by many of the things that help toads listed above, however frogs live in water so need a pond with shallow edges or a sloping beach to enable them to get in and out to forage for food. Beware of using  paving slabs around a pond as these can be a hazard for young froglets who can quickly dry out and die on the slabs in hot weather.

Adult frogs return to ponds in early spring to breed and lay clumps of frogspawn in water, these then develop into tadpoles and then little froglets. This life cycle is fascinating to observe, especially for children.


There are three species of newt in the UK, the Great Crested newt, the Smooth newt and the Palmate newt.

All live in water and on land and will benefit from the same measures as toads listed above.

Adult newts of all three species return to ponds to breed in spring and often choose to stay in the water until summer to feed on tadpoles and other pond life.

Females lay individual eggs on the stems and leaves of aquatic plants, wrapping them up for protection.

Newts dislike fish in the pond as these will eat their eggs.


Slow worms (which are in fact legless lizards), grass snakes and common lizards may also sometimes be seen in our gardens. They like undisturbed compost heaps and warm spots for basking as they are cold blooded creatures who need to sunbathe to warm their blood.

Reptiles can be the gardeners friend as between them they eat slugs, fish eggs, insects and spiders.

For more information visit the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust at www.arc-trust.org

Insects in your garden

Many pollinators are facing threats due to insensitive land use, including fragmentation and loss of habitat, reduction in plant species diversity and the use of insecticides and herbicides. All these factors have been linked to declining insect numbers. This is bad news for us and for them. Insects rely on a diverse range of landscapes to find food and shelter, from meadows to heathland, hedgerows and field margins to urban gardens and parks.

It is estimated that 84% of all crops and 80% of wildflowers depend on insect pollination. They are vital to our own survival and they need our help.

How can we help?

Your garden is one of 15 million gardens that criss-cross the UK. Put together, they cover 667,000 acres – an area seven times the size of the Isle of Wight! Our gardens are a network linking urban spaces with countryside areas and can be corridors that enable our insect population to travel between suitable food sources and habitats. By gardening organically to create a self-sustaining eco-system and providing food and shelter for pollinators we can help ourselves and our wildlife. Link to organic garden products?


British bees are in serious decline, without bees we would be unable to grow many food crops, including many of our favourite and staple foods.

Many people know about the role honeybees play in supporting our food chain, but solitary bees and bumblebees also provide an important service.

Solitary bees are heroes of the pollinator world. There are over 200 species of these pollinators in the UK. Unlike bumblebees and other social bees, each female makes her own nest and there are no workers. Different solitary bees use different nesting materials and sites. A female will lay each egg in an individual cell, separated by walls built out of the material favoured by the species of bee. Each cavity will be filled with provisions of enough nectar and pollen to support the development of the larvae. Eggs that become female bees are often laid first, at the back of the cavity, with eggs that become males laid at the front of the nest. This is because males often emerge before females in the spring.

Link to bee house products ?

6 ways to help our bees :

  • Create and protect potential nesting sites – set up a bee house, have areas of long and short grass (both serve as potential nesting sites for different species).
  • Grow a range of nectar and pollen rich plants for year-round flowering. Avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers. Never use pesticides on plants in flower .Have a look at the RHS Perfect for Pollinators lists for inspiration: rhs.org.uk/perfectforpollinators. Link to bee products
  • Provide a water source – bees need to drink too! Can you create a wildlife pond? Or alternatively, how about a pot sunk into the ground or a bird bath containing a few submerged rocks to enable bees to reach the water?
  • Help out a tired bumblebee If you see a bumblebee on the ground it’s likely to be tired and in need of food. You can help by mixing sugar with water, placing on a teaspoon and leaving it in front of the bee.
  • Relax about weeds in your lawn. Some such as daisies and clover are good sources of food for bees.
  • Try to avoid using chemicals, such as pesticides, in your garden. Instead encourage natural predators such as beetles and birds which will eat the pests for you.

For more information visit  www. beeconservation.org.uk

Other beneficial insects

Our  gardens are places of many interlinked relationships. Many of the things we can do to benefit bees also help other insects.

Ladybirds – predator of aphids and other harmful pests such as scale insects. Ladybirds are easily recognized, the adults are red or orange with black spots, the larvae are grey / black with orange or white markings, sometimes spiny. Adults need a sheltered spot to over winter. Link to ladybird products

Ground beetles – these range in size, up to 25mm. often black, sometimes metallic. Ground beetles eat ground and soil dwelling insects such as vine weevil larvae. They live in log piles, leaf litter and compost heaps.

Hoverflies – Small, striped darting and hovering insects, their larvae are semi-transparent maggots. The adults act as pollinators whilst the larvae eat aphids. Benefit from open faced pollen and nectar rich flowers.

Common wasp – Yes these insects really are beneficial! Black and yellow striped winged creatures. Wasps hunt caterpillars and other grubs to feed their offspring. They are also important pollinators.

Lacewings – delicate, pale green insects with transparent veined wings. The larvae are about 8mm long with a tapered, bristled body. The larvae eat other insects especially aphids. Lacewings live in crevice’s, leaf litter and hibernate in evergreen shrubs.

Centipedes – slender yellow or brown, long bodied creatures with a pair of legs per segment. Hunts prey on or below the soil, they are predators, eating a range of insects and invertebrates such as spiders, slugs, worms and flies. They like dark, damp areas and leaf litter.

Link to insect hotel products

Butterflies and moths

The UK has 59 species of butterfly, 57 resident and 2 regular migrants, and 2400 species of moths.

  • Five species of butterfly have become extinct in the last 150 years and many more are in danger, The State of the UKs Butterflies report of 2015 found that 76% of the UKs resident and regular migrant butterflies declined in abundance, occurrence or both over the last 4 decades. 
  • Since 1914 there have been 56 moth extinctions. Six of these have since recolonised or been re-found.
  • The abundance of the UK’s larger moths has crashed during the past 40 years with three species becoming extinct since 2000.
  • The State of Britain’s Larger Moths Report 2013 found that two-thirds of common and widespread larger species (macro-moths) declined in the last 40 years. The losses in abundance were much greater in the southern half of Britain than in the north.

Why they matter

Butterflies and moths play crucial roles in the food chain and are important pollinators. They are highly sensitive indicators of the health of the environment.

  •  Butterflies and moths are indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystems. Areas rich in butterflies and moths are rich in other invertebrates. These collectively provide a wide range of environmental benefits, including pollination and natural pest control.
  • Moths and butterflies are an important element of the food chain and are prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals (for example, in Britain and Ireland, Blue Tits eat an estimated 50 billion moth caterpillars each year).
  • Butterflies and moths support a range of other predators and parasites, many of which are specific to individual species, or groups of species.
  • Butterflies have been widely used by ecologists as model organisms to study the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation, and climate change

Gardens can be important stepping stones between natural habitats by offering supplies of nectar and food plants. Nectar provides butterflies and moths with energy to fly and find a mate. In spring it helps them to refuel after hibernation or a long flight from southern Europe or Africa. In Autumn it helps them to build up energy reserves so they can survive hibernation or a journey back to warmer climes.

Butterflies and moths will visit any garden, regardless of its size, if they can find nectar rich plants to feed on. If you can create breeding habitats then you could attract many more.

How to attract butterflies and moths

  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks. Having a wide variety of plants in the garden will also make it suitable for a wider range of species. Try to have a mixture of large and small flowering plants plus a few shrubs, and a small tree if you have room. Your choice of plant species can also make a big difference. Flowers with plenty of nectar will provide a good source of food for adult butterflies and moths, while certain plants can provide the necessary food for caterpillars. Light coloured and night scented flowers are attractive to moths.
  • Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants. Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season. Spring flowers are vital for butterflies coming out of hibernation and autumn flowers help butterflies build up their reserves for winter.Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers, mulching with organic compost, and watering well to keep the plants healthy.
  • Don’t use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies, moths and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders. Not using pesticides can also benefit your garden by increasing the ‘good’ insects that help to control pests.
  • Don’t buy peat compost. Peat bogs are home to many special animals and plants, including the Large Heath butterfly, which is declining across Europe. There are now good alternatives to peat available from garden centres.
  • One of the easiest ways to make your garden better for butterflies and moths is simply to stop working so hard! Moths and their caterpillars need fallen leaves, old stems and other plant debris to help them hide from predators, and especially to provide suitable places to spend the winter. It’s very helpful to delay cutting back old plants until the spring, rather than doing it in the autumn, and just generally be less tidy. If you want your garden to look tidy in the summer, try leaving some old plant material behind the back of borders or in other places out of sight. Many moth caterpillars feed on the native plants we consider weeds, so tolerating some weeds and long grass in your garden can also be very beneficial to moths.
  • Stinging nettles will attract 5 species of butterfly to feed their caterpillars so try to leave a patch at the back of your garden. Cut them back in June or July to stimulate new shoots to provide more food for caterpillars.
  • Provide shelter for hibernating butterflies – Different species spend the winter in different forms, some as adults and some as chrysalis form. Small tortoise shell, commas, peacock, brimstone and some red admirals all overwinter as adults, while several blues and browns survive the winter in chrysalis form. A cool, dry shelter is important, garden sheds, out houses and garages are all good spots. Natural shelter such as ivy and woodpiles are also suitable or install a butterfly house in a cool spot. Link to butterfly products

For more information visit  www.butterfly-conservation.org