Making gardens great for wildlife

PUBLISHED: 13:28 06 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:28 06 May 2014

RSPB Small tortoiseshell butterfly

RSPB Small tortoiseshell butterfly


The RSPB’s Aggie Rothon shows how even the smallest backyard plot can help you get close to nature and provide a haven for wildlife

Flatford wildlife garden RSPBFlatford wildlife garden RSPB

Two women smile from a dog-eared photograph. One of the women holds a sparky-looking Jack Russell dog, the other, a more unusual pet. The two ladies pictured are the Richardson sisters who lived beside the River Stour at Flatford where they ran a tea room and spent much of their time caring for injured wild animals. The second pet, sitting comfortably under Ms Richardson’s arm is a badger.

After long and happily unconventional lives, the sisters passed away within nine months of each other in the late 1990s. They left behind them a pocket of south-facing, heavily wooded land – a haven for wildlife at the heart of Constable Country. Having pledged that the land should be left ‘for the birds’ the land was passed to the RSPB which has since created a garden designed specifically for wildlife on the plot – the perfect tribute for the two nature-loving sisters.

The RSPB’s Flatford Wildlife Garden first opened to the public in 2011 and is now preparing for its third season showcasing how even small plots can be invaluable habitat for a whole range of birds, bugs and beasts. The garden consists of flower borders full of nectar and pollen, a small wildflower meadow buzzing with life, a young apple orchard, woodland gardens, and a kitchen garden.

What’s more, the RSPB offers frequent events and activities at the garden, especially during the school holidays, and events and workshops for adults in the time between school holidays. It’s a beautiful place to get closer to nature and learn what you can do for wildlife in your own back garden.

Flatford Wildlife garden RSPBFlatford Wildlife garden RSPB

But what is it that the Richardson sister’s knew all those years ago and that the RSPB still campaign on today? Why are gardens so important for wildlife?

Well, gardens cover three times more land than all RSPB nature reserves put together, and are therefore are a huge potential resource for wildlife if they provide the right conditions.

Gardens could help to create links throughout the wider landscape between the shrinking areas of good habitat. These ‘wildlife corridors’ are vital for freedom of movement and ultimately the stability of wildlife populations in a changing environment.

If this has inspired you to don your gardening gloves and get out in the spring sunshine right away there is plenty you can do at this time of year to help the wildlife in your garden.

One of the easiest and most useful things you can do is to continue topping up your bird feeders. Birds are busy building nests and breeding now and need all the energy they can get. Remember to put whole peanuts in small-mesh feeders – fledglings can choke on whole peanuts at this time of year.

Spring is also a great time to build log piles and keep your compost heaps undisturbed – animals that have come out of hibernation such as hedgehogs and grass snakes will be thankful for a warm spot to bask in the sun or a sheltered hideaway.

You can also try making your garden pond more wildlife friendly or get stuck in building a new pond in your garden. Water is an essential element to any wildlife garden and will encourage frogs, toads and newts as well as dragon and damselflies right on your doorstep.

If you want to make an existing formal pond more wildlife friendly, you could phase out the fish (they will eat frogspawn) and add ‘steps’ so that birds, mammals and amphibians can get in and out of the pond more easily.

Planting around the edges of the pond will provide hiding and breeding places for wildlife – remember to use native and non-invasive species such as marsh marigold, water mint and yellow flag iris.

If you have budding wildlife gardeners at home, as well as helping you out planting and building bring children along to fun and informal activities that are run at Flatford Wildlife Garden including pond dipping, mini-beast hunting, moth mornings and nature trails.

Until November 3 the garden is open seven days a week from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm. Go to for more information and how to get to the garden.

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