In the 19th of a series of articles charting the Wild Wanstead project, Alex Deverill encourages us all to resolve to do more to help local wildlife in 2020.
The latest State of Nature report published in October paints a sorry picture of the UK’s wildlife, which is continuing to decline due to factors like modern farming techniques, use of pesticides and urbanisation. But anyone with a bit of outdoor space can make a big difference. Here are six New Year’s resolutions to help nature thrive in Wanstead.
Love the trees you’ve got
We’re lucky in Wanstead to have some ancient trees in the parks around us. But mature trees in our gardens are just as important. Take the lime trees where I live. These trees are like a wild flower meadow in the sky. The leaves are eaten by many moth caterpillars and attract aphids, which are food for hoverflies, ladybirds and many species of bird. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees. Long-lived trees provide dead wood for wood-boring beetles and nesting holes for birds.
Plant a new tree
Billions of new trees are urgently needed to address the climate crisis, and they have the added benefit of helping wildlife too. TV gardener Joe Swift says some of his favourite garden trees include Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree, 10m high, 9m spread), Amelanchier lamarckii (10m by 10m, but can easily be kept smaller), Malus ‘John Downie’ (crab apple, height 8m, spread 6m), Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (winter-flowering cherry, 8m by 8m), Ilex aquifolium ‘JC van Tol’ (holly, height 6m, spread 4m) and Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree, 5m by 5m). Winter is the perfect time to plant a tree as a cheap, small, bare root sapling – so get that spade out!
Create a mini meadow
Flower-rich meadows support eight times more wildlife than close-cut grass. Just dig up a patch of turf and plant a wild flower seed mix this spring. Alternatively, sit back and let nature do her thing. Cut the grass just once in September – if you remove the cuttings every year to reduce the nutrients in the soil, wild flowers will gradually naturalise without you planting anything.
Plant native shrubs or a hedge
Hedges are brilliant. At the front, they provide a green barrier against pollution from cars. At the back, they create the twiggy, thorny habitat loved by small birds and hated by burglars. It’s not too late to plant one using bare root native species like hawthorn, dogwood, hazel, blackthorn and dog rose – and for evergreen, try beech and hornbeam (which keep their leaves in hedges), or yew, holly and privet. Why not work with your neighbour to swap your last fence panel for native shrubs to let hedgehogs move more easily between gardens?
Build a pond or water feature
Adding water adds a new dimension to a garden. Before you know it, it will be full of newts and a magnet for insects. Woodford Aquatics, just up the road, is great for advice and any materials you need.
Green up hard surfacing
Nothing can live on a paving slab, so why not bring your drive or patio back to life in 2020? Lift bricks, slabs or gravel to find the earth, and plant pollinator-friendly shrubs like weigela, viburnum, sambucus nigra or hebe. Place a large, raised bed direct on the hard surfacing to create a new border (scaling up helps, but even big containers always need more watering than plants in soil). Or make the most of nooks and crannies with plants that can survive in smaller areas of soil like Mexican fleabane, Aubrieta, hardy geraniums, bellfower and thyme.
It’s not too late to stop the decline of our wildlife if we all make the most of the space we’ve got.