Creating wild neighbourhoods

Nick Rodd

Conserving wild spaces for nature has been the leading way to protect biodiversity for hundreds of years. While the idea of keeping nature safe in pockets of greenery is an attractive one, conservationists are increasingly aware that this is a short-term solution to the decline of nature.

Nature reserves can become isolated from each other, preventing the plants and animals who live there from moving around and reaching each other.

Neighbourhood wildlife could be a huge step to solving this problem. If each household in a neighbourhood did one thing for nature, it would allow hundreds of wild species to move through the neighbourhood from one nature reserve to the next. This reduces the chances of local extinction and increases our access to biodiversity – win-win!

So what can neighbourhoods do to maximise their areas for wildlife?

Robin on bird feeder

Robin on bird feeder

Access

Human houses, streets and gardens can provide a bounty of food for wildlife from nectar in the flowers to the seed in the bird feeders. But if you live on the ground, getting into the garden can be tricky. Wood, brick or concrete walls can block entrance to a host of creatures including the humble hedgehog.

If each garden in a neighbourhood put a CD-sized hole in both sides of their garden, wild species such as hedgehogs quickly learn where the entrances are. Hedgehogs can walk two kilometers a night in the search for food, so these neighbourhood entrances can help hedgehogs find food whilst avoiding the road.

Aside from hedgehogs, frogs, newts, toads and beetles will also benefit from a safe way to get into your garden.

Adding a swift box to your house can help populations of these declining birds

Adding a swift box to your house can help these declining birds

Who's in the bird box?

The classic bird box has a small hole as the entrance. This prevents predators from getting inside. But there’s only a small number of bird species that prefer to use such small holes. Blue tits and great tits are the classic species, because in the wild they make their nests in dark tree trunks.

But many other birds will only make nests where they can observe their neighbourhood. Robins are a great example. To encourage them to nest, use a bird box with a large open entrance.

It also helps to check high and low for how you can encourage your neighbourhood birds to nest. Swifts are estimated to have decline by 50% over the last 20 years, with one of the main causes being a loss of breeding habitat. Newer-build houses have far less holes and spaces for swifts to make their nest.

Swift boxes can be set up to encourage their return, but much like humans swifts also enjoy living in neighbourhoods. So the more houses that erect swift boxes on their walls, the more likely the swifts will move in. In return, the swifts will feed on summer biting insects, controlling their numbers and allowing us to watch their mesmerising flight from our back gardens.

Bird bath

Water, water, where?

Put yourself into the ‘shoes’ of your garden bird. Where’s the nearest fresh source of water for drinking and bathing?

A pond? A bird bath? A puddle? If you can’t put your finger on your local source of H2O, adding just a saucer of water could dramatically improve your entire neighbourhood for nature. Birds, mammals and even insects learn where the nearest source of regular water is. This can help them decide whether to make their home in your neighbourhood.

Request your free My Wild Garden guide for more tips on how you can make a space for wildlife.