A view from the garden - people and wildlife can coexist

As well as the social, physical and mental health benefits of gardens and gardening to people, gardens and communal open spaces are an essential wildlife resource in the UK. Neighbourhoods and their interconnecting gardens and open spaces provide valuable habitat for a wide variety of British native species, many of which, such as the house sparrow and stag beetle, are in serious decline. Furthermore, the changing climate is shifting lifestyle patterns for our existing species and creating environments for new species to become increasingly familiar in the landscape. All of this wildlife faces daily challenges to find habitat – that is food, nesting and shelter opportunities – to survive.

Planted gardens can be habitat rich resources that work optimally when they are connected either directly or through a chain of green corridors and other networks such as street trees, parks, cemeteries and railway sidings. However, many of these outside spaces are under increasing pressure of fragmentation by public and private development as well as poor gardening technique and the lack of knowledge of local habitats.

Time and again, in my experience as a landscape designer with a special interest in creating habitat rich spaces, people with gardens or access to outside spaces emphasise the importance of engaging with wildlife in their open spaces yet they have an anxiety towards the best ways to achieve this due to a lack of confidence and horticultural knowledge as well as a lack of awareness of the connectivity of wildlife and habitat in their local area. People often also assume, wrongly, that a habitat rich space has to be messy, wild and untamed and is likely to be full of vermin because of this.

In fact, a wildlife friendly garden can be a beautiful and functional space for people too. It might have areas for play, for socialising, tool storage and space to dry clothes for example. Indeed, the distinction between the value of open spaces to people or wildlife should be removed as the two can easily coexist. Planting for seasonal interest can be colourful on the eye, create structure in the garden and provide year round nectar and shelter for a variety of species; shrubs or a tree can provide nesting and shelter for birds who will hang around and devour a few slugs perhaps; some logs here and there provide habitat for invertebrates, which in turn may nourish soil or provide a tasty snack for birds or amphibians. An annual mulch will enrich the soil which in turn provides food and nutrients to a range of flora and fauna and allowing seed heads to remain on a plant often looks delightful well into autumn and winter and also offers food for birds and hibernation spots for insects.

These sorts of small, easy interventions connects wildlife and supports ecosystems, which are ultimately crucial for human survival.

imby.bio’s vision to provide an accessible forum for wildlife-friendly gardening advice and guidance, as well as local species and habitat information, will inform decisions about what techniques, features and plant species a gardener can use to encourage and support wildlife. Further, by connecting gardens, gardeners, neighbourhoods and districts in unique ways, imby.bio will provide valuable data for ecological records agencies, local authorities and other practitioners to use to support broader community decisions.

Ultimately, I believe imby.bio will contribute to a future when our open spaces are inherently wildlife friendly. It is exciting to be working with them to help make this happen.

Elaine Hughes

ELAINE HUGHES

Elaine is an RHS Gold Medal award winning landscape designer with a special interest in creating beautiful and functional spaces that are also as biodiverse and sustainable as possible. She has designed a wide range of projects including private gardens, community gardens, public areas, schools and community sites.