We’ve written much on the subject of wildlife gardening over
the years, with a number of us at Vine House Farm and guest bloggers
contributing. But here our very own Nicolas Watts gives his personal take on
the subject, and also talks about increasing biodiversity on larger pieces of
land . . .

Most of us would like to see more wildlife, especially birds,
in our gardens, and we also have some superb insects that are well worth
seeing. For this to happen though, we must create more diversity in the form of
flowers, bushes, water and trees – all of which will of course take time to get

A good starter is to feed the birds but bird food does not
produce insects which are the basis of life. All birds have to feed their young
on moist food as they cannot take them water; this moist food has to be insects
or unripe seeds. Most insects live on plants, many of them specific to one or
two plant species, so the more different plants you have in your garden the
more species of insects you will have and especially if you have native plants
and a pond. However small your garden is you should ideally still make room for
a pond.

If you’re lucky enough to have an acre of ground or even 5
acres, you could dig quite a big pond. You may need to get some advice about
whether you should have a liner in your pond as you don’t want your pond to dry
out in the summer. A liner will give you a more stable water level; maybe you
could direct the water from your house roof into the pond as I have done. Water
brings insects and birds, if you want to plant bushes or trees close to the
pond plant them on the north side of the pond so you don’t restrict the
sunlight getting to the pond. Plant native plants around the pond.

Having dug the pond one of the first plants to get going
could well be bull rushes. I always pull bull rushes out of my newly created
ponds for 3 or 4 years as they spread very quickly and will dominate the pond –
they are native but you don’t want just bulrushes. Plant other native pond
plants with flowers such as purple and yellow loosestrife, flowering rush, etc.

Nest boxes are very important as there are obviously no
natural holes in young trees. A Barn Owl box on a pole which will do for
Kestrels as well would be a good idea. The British Trust for Ornithology
produce a very good booklet on nest boxes.

I would plant a hedge of a mix of native bushes such as
Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Guelder Rose, Dog Rose, Buckthorn, Hazel, Honeysuckle,
Ivy and Bramble, to name a few. If you have a big enough area I would plant a
second hedge parallel to the first one 10 yards away, and of course it would be
most important not to trim the hedge very often or not at all so that it
provides lots of berries.

An area for wild flowers to attract butterflies is a nice
feature, pleasant to stroll in and good for bio-diversity but it does need to
be sown on clean land. By clean land I mean free of perennial weeds such as
creeping thistle and twitch or couch grass. Ideally the patch you are going to
have a wild flower meadow needs to be fallowed for a year to allow you to get
all the nasties out of it. A successful wild flower meadow needs to be
harvested as hay every August which is not an easy task if you don’t have any
mechanical equipment. Make sure you have some Yellow Rattle in your wild flower
mix, Yellow rattle will stop coarse grasses establishing. I use Emorsgate seed
from near Kings Lynn for wild flowers 01553829028 but there are many places
that sell wild flower seeds.

If you have a pony or horse that will also make for
diversity and increase the chance of having Swallows as there will be flies
around the animal.

I would also have an area of cultivated land running alongside
of the hedge as there is far more diversity in our native broad leaved plants
than in our grassland plants. The cultivated area would need to be cultivated
each year or every other year, and I control the thistles on such areas with a
knapsack sprayer as they are expensive to control when they grow in my crops.
If you have enough space the cultivated land would be in two halves, so that
one half is cultivated each year and, in my opinion, this would create the
maximum amount of biodiversity without too much hassle. Having a cultivated
area depends on whether you have a tractor and implements to create a
cultivated area, maybe you have a farmer friend who could do the cultivating
for you.

Cocksfoot is a very tussocky grass for voles so any spare
ground could get sown with cocksfoot. The voles would of course be food for
Barn Owls and Kestrels. I expect you will also have a mower which you can keep
paths mown around your acre or two to have some nice summer evening strolls.

Feeding live mealworms from mid-April will provide insects
for birds and so increase the amount of young that will be reared in your
garden, and may even allow them to have an extra brood. I get more enjoyment
out of feeding live mealworms than any other bird food. See
for more information on feeding live mealworms.

Some of you of course will live in a flat and not have a
garden, but you can still do your bit for wildlife by joining your County
Wildlife Trust or the RSPB. You could do some volunteering for one of these
charities or just let the experts provide the diversity.