By Christabel - posted on December 15, 2021

More on Nature and Growing

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Are you curious about re-wilding Britain, keen to see biodiversity return to our cities and suburbs, or just want to make the most of your outdoor space? Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) provide excellent advice and outdoors activities for kids and adults. You can even book a free gardening consultation to help you kick start your green journey. Alternately, learn about Hampshire’s biodiversity hotspots and countryside management from Hampshire County Council

The Problem 

The rolling Hampshire landscape is not nearly as biodiverse as it was 100 years ago. 48% of its 50 notable species are declining, rapidly so in several cases. Without substantial change, nightingales, juniper trees, and Duke of Burgundy butterflies, may disappear from our county altogether. 

This is largely because natural landscapes are repeatedly lost to agriculture and urban developments. 56% of land in Hampshire is used for urban space and farmland; another 17% is improved grassland, which is typically low in biodiversity.  

Just 27% of land remains for natural woodlands, wildlife habitats, and other types of grasslands, making private gardens more important than ever for supporting biodiversity. But, for many people, it’s challenging to find the balance between convenience, aesthetics, and preserving nature. 

Often, front gardens turn into private carparks. Grass means mud, and plants limit parking space, so concrete and paving stones are seen as the practical choice. Back gardens often become a repository for outdoor furniture where occupants will occasionally enjoy lunch al fresco. Mowing, pruning, and planting might seem like a lot of extra work, so lawns and flower beds are commonly replaced by tidy stone patios, wooden terraces, or artificial grass. 

Although about 90% of residences in Southern England have access to a private outdoor space, not all gardens make good habitats for plants or wildlife. 

Hard ground surfaces don’t support the same variety of plants or insects as grass, trees, or shrubs. Likewise, they don’t provide habitats for birds or ground-based wildlife. But a wild garden doesn’t have to be incompatible with a tidy garden. 

Nightingale

What does nature do for you? 

There is already plenty of evidence demonstrating the positive impact of natural environments on physical health and mental wellbeing. Spending time outside and in natural environments can, for example: 

  • Reduce stress and anxiety levels 
  • Elevate mood 
  • Help you recover from illness 
  • Reduce disruptive behaviours (particularly in kids) and encourage development and independence. 
  • Encourage us to maintain an active lifestyle, which reduces the likelihood of physical illness and keeps us fit and active as we age. 

While we can’t all live inside the New Forest – it wouldn’t be much of a forest if we did – there are plenty of things we can do to develop natural spaces in cities and suburbs.  

The Solution(s) 

There is a silver (or, in this case, green) lining. If the combined land area for household gardens in the UK is four and a half times the land area of the UK’s National Nature Reserves, imagine the impact we can make by making our gardens wildlife-friendly!  

Small changes in the way we view and use our outdoor space, particularly in urban environments, can bring nature back into our towns and cities, and back into our daily lives. 

Plant, plants, and more plants 

Planting native species in their preferred position (i.e., full sun, shade, or partial sun) and preferred type of soil will allow your garden to thrive with very little maintenance.  

Flowering plants are particularly important for bees and other pollinators – here’s a quick guide to flowering plants by season. Meanwhile, evergreen plants provide year-round nesting for birds. Planting a mixture of species and a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs will support a wider range of wildlife.  

If you’re lucky enough to have a large garden, consider replacing your garden fence with a hedgerow. Hedgerows support a variety of animal species including mammals, birds, and amphibians, but they’re particularly important for the conservation of invertebrates.    

Grow a green wall or vertical garden

Don’t have much ground space? That’s not a problem. green walls and vertical gardens are a major space saver. Not only do green walls provide habitats for birds and insects, but the leafy blanket also helps to purify the airinsulate your property in winter and keep it cool in summer. 

Admittedly, growing a green wall is a long-term commitment and probably not an option unless you own your home. Fortunately, vertical container gardens are a quicker, cheaper, and more practical alternatives for anyone living in rented property. 

Let it be messy 

Nature doesn’t grow in straight lines or stop at equal heights, so why expect your garden do that? Let the grass grow long, sprinkle with wildflower seeds, and wait to see what happens. If you’re not so keen on garden chaos, perhaps create wildflower meadow in a smaller area of your garden.  

Go organic 

Nitrogen and phosphorus rich fertilisers might help your plant grow but they cause problems elsewhere when run-off reaches waterways. Eutrophication – when excessive nutrients spark rapid and dense aquatic plant growth – contaminates water sources and threatens other aquatic plants and wildlife. 

Instead of using chemical-based fertilisers, consider making organic compost with food scraps. Garden centres also supply compost, manure and organic fertilisers. Simply leaving grass cutting and fallen leaves to decompose naturally will boost soil fertility and aid water retention without any extra products. 

Try easing up on the pesticides too. We know it’s a pain when slugs and bugs nibble through your favourite plants, but most insects are beneficial for garden health. Slugs and snails clean up plant debris and fertilise soil. Meanwhile, beetles, wasps, flies, and ants pollinate plants. Chemical pesticides kill all bugs, not just the bad ones, but learning to pair companion plants can keep unwanted pests at bay. 

Garden

Keep it real 

Artificial grass isn’t a fast-track route to a perfect lawn; it actually takes time and effort to look after. Artificial grass is basically a plastic-and-rubber rug, so you need to clean up any spills, pet or bird droppings. It’s not immune to weeds either! 

Concrete poses a different problem: drainage. While real lawns absorb and retain water in the soil, rainwater runs off hard surfaces and contributes to flooding. Neither concrete nor artificial grass will take carbon out of the air or attract wildlife.  

Water with care 

Hampshire already struggles to meet water demands during the dry summer months (remember the hosepipe bans?). Temporary water bans may become more frequent due to the combination of global warming and local river pollution, so it’s a good idea to learn how to save water in your garden.  

Some solutions are easy, for example, using a watering can and watering at the roots instead of dousing the entire plant with a hose. Other solutions, like installing a water butt, take a bit more preparation but are worth considering. Remember, saving water can save money too. 

Join Team Wilder 

If you want to make a difference and encourage others to do the same, consider adding your name to the Team Wilder Action Map and make pledge to help bring nature back into our urban lives. 

Hedgehog

Grow Your Own FAQ’s 

I don’t have a garden; how can I grow my own plants and vegetables? 

There are a couple of options if you don’t have a private garden or permission from your landlord. Firstly, you can grow plants and vegetables inside in pots. Charity shops can have some great finds or you can upcycle your own. Window boxes and hanging baskets don’t take up much space either. Alternatively, you can apply for an allotment or look for a garden share in your area.  

How can I teach my kids about biodiversity? 

Most kids love playing outside and are naturally curious about nature and wildlife. It shouldn’t take much to stir their interest but if you need some suggestions, here are a some DIY garden projects to get you started: 

Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) are also asking you (adults and children) to explore your garden or look out the window, record the wildlife you see, and send them your findings. Each Wildlife Spotter Survey only takes about an hour, making it a great activity for weeknight or weekends. Your kids won’t miss out if you don’t have access to an outdoor space either because HIWWT run wildlife watch activities for kids across Hampshire. 

Should I use peat-based or peat-free compost? 

Ideally, you should avoid buying peat-based compost for the simple reason that peat is a non-renewable material. It takes over 1,000 years for peatlands to form. Additionally, extracting peat destroys natural landscapes and wildlife habitats. Fortunately, peat is not essential for plant health and you can make your own peat-free compost.  

I don’t have much time for gardening, what can I do? 

Luckily, there are low maintenance options. Many plants grow well with very little care or attention. The trick is choosing the right plants for your space and choosing hardy perennial, rather than annual, plants. Avoid planting in pots if you’re tight for time as the soil will dry out faster and you’ll need to repot the plants as they grow. 

What’s next?