A moth on a flower in the Museum's wildlife garden

The Museum's Wildlife Garden is a haven for urban wildlife. Follow the tips below to create your own wildlife-friendly garden.

Seven simple ways to create a wildlife-friendly garden

The amount of wildlife on our doorsteps is astounding but is increasingly being lost to hard surfacing and paving.

Wildlife needs a helping hand.

Around 87% of households in the UK have a garden. According to The Wildlife Trusts, these cover a larger area than all our nature reserves combined.

But an increasing amount of garden space is being lost to hard surfacing, and some of the wildlife that typically visits is struggling.

Even small changes can help. Here are seven easy ways to make your garden a haven for wildlife.

More than 3,130 species of plants and animal have been identified in the Museum's Wildlife Garden since it opened in 1995

1. Grow butterfly-friendly plants

Adult butterflies and moths will feed on almost any flower's nectar - as will most other pollinators - but their caterpillars are choosy and may only have one or two plant species they'll live on. For example, brimstone butterflies will only feed and lay its eggs on buckthorn bushes.

Planting an array of plant species that flower at different stages of the year will maximise the chances of a variety of butterflies and other insects visiting your garden. 

Blackthorn, also known as sloe, flowers early, making it an important pollen source for bees in spring © AnRo0002 via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Blackthorn and fruit trees such as plum and apple are good additions to the garden for animals that are active earlier in the year. Species that appear or are still active later in the year might be drawn to ling or ivy. Rotting fruit is also an excellent food source for butterflies.

The different shapes of flowers will attract different insects. The long, thin tubes of honeysuckle are particularly popular with butterflies, and bellflowers and foxgloves are great for bees. Flat flowers such as daisies and wild carrots will also attract these and a number of other insects.

Try to find out what butterfly and moth species are active in your area, and plant what their caterpillar's food plants are to maximise your chances of attracting them.

2. Feed the birds

A seed feeder is a quick and simple way to make your garden more attractive to birds. If you're up for some DIY, you could try making a bird feeder out of a reused plastic bottle.

If squirrels are a problem in your area, it might be better to purchase a squirrel-proof feeder instead. These only allow smaller birds access to the food.

The type of food you put in feeders will affect the species visiting your garden. For example, mealworms are popular with insect eaters like sparrows, whereas goldfinches are partial to niger seeds. If you set up a feeder, remember to clean it regularly.

3. Get the most from compost

Creating a compost heap in your garden from kitchen waste is a great way to reduce what goes to landfill and will create a minibeast haven. Minibeasts are small invertebrates such as millipedes, woodlice and spiders. These are an excellent source of food for other wildlife.

Worms help to create compost out of leaves and other organic material, and will likely wriggle their way into your compost heap. Spreading home-made compost on your garden will encourage worms wherever it spreads.  Worms improve soil drainage and transfer important nutrients to the surface.

Worms are an important part of a garden's ecosystem, bringing important nutrients to the surface © schizoform via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Slugs and snails may also be drawn to a compost heap. They are important recyclers, so if you spot them elsewhere in your garden, you can add them to the heap.

Slugs are also a food source for ground beetles and toads, and thrushes will eat snails. Avoid using slug and snail pesticides as these are also poisonous to other wildlife and can cause big problems in drinking water sources.

If you start a compost heap rather than using a bin, be aware that it is a warm spot that animals, including hedgehogs, will choose to hibernate in. If possible, avoid moving compost about during the winter months.

4. Help the creatures of the night

Plenty of wildlife is out in your garden at night, even if you're not awake to see it.

Honeysuckle and evening primrose are night-blooming flowers that release their scents after dark, attracting pollinating insects. There are 18 species of bat living in the UK and night-flying insects are an attractive meal for the insectivores.

You can also help bats by reducing or removing artificial lighting from your garden and around your property. 

Artificial lighting can prevent bats from seeing objects in their path, potentially leading to impacts with obstacles

Hedgehogs are mostly night-time visitors that keep the garden ecosystem balanced. Coordinating with your neighbours to add a hedgehog hole - a gap in garden-dividing fences and walls – will help them get in.

Another way to help hedgehogs is to make them a house for nesting and hibernation.

5. Add water

There are six amphibians native to the UK, including common frogs, smooth newts and common toads. All of them are good pest controllers, feeding on a variety of invertebrates. 

Adding a small pond to your garden is a great way to keep these animals happy and may even attract dragonflies in summer when they're active. The insects that gather by water will also be popular with bats.

Common frogs are one of the amphibious species that would benefit from a pond in your garden © Aiwok via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0

Ponds don't have to be big, but if you do set one up, make sure it has sloping sides so if other animals fall in, they can get out.

Adding plants such as hornwort will help oxygenate a pond and keep it and its inhabitants healthy. You should avoid including plants that are invasive or not native to the UK.

Instead of a pond, you could keep a shallow, sloping-sided dish filled with water in the garden for birds. This offers both fresh drinking water and a bath. You will need to keep the water topped up and refill the dish every so often to keep it fresh.

6. Create a woodpile and leave the leaf litter

Some animals, such as butterflies and wasps, use woodpiles as a place to hide and to hibernate through the colder months. You might even find slow worms, newts, frogs and toads sheltering between the logs, as well as a number of minibeasts.

Kellerassel (Porcellio scaber)

Woodlice are an important food source for other wildlife in the garden, including spiders, toads and shrews © Photopippo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Larger logs with the bark still attached work best, placed in an area that's neither constantly sunny nor always in the shade. Even a single log partially buried provides a good habitat.

In autumn, most gardens are carpeted with a layer of fallen leaves. Piles of leaf litter can be an attractive spot for hedgehogs to hibernate, keeping them warm and dry. It's best to not to tidy the leaves up in winter to avoid disturbing any hibernators.

Additionally, once leaves start to decay, they provide important nutrients for the soil. If you want the best chance of a green garden in summer, it's best to leave the leaves.  Mulch also protects against frost in winter and drought in summer, and encourages mycorrhizal fungi, which are important for plant nutrition.

7. Let things grow a little wild

UK homeowners often go for paved patios, fake grass and over-manicured lawns, but sometimes just letting the grass grow a is exactly what wildlife needs. But you don't need to let it overwhelm you.

Short grass will help birds and other animals access important food sources such as worms, but other animals will benefit from patches of long grass © Rasbak via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Create a variety of habitats in your garden by leaving some parts of your lawn unmown. Longer grass is a good spot for insects, including skipper butterflies, to lay their eggs. You could try having longer grass with mowed paths or a clear area for picnics.

Longer grass provides shelter, creating a microclimate under the stalks. Not mowing also allows flowers to bloom, which helps bees. Yarrow is found in many lawns but needs more time than other plants before it flowers.

But having some mown areas is helpful for animals that feed on animals like worms, such as blackbirds and robins.

Some wild plants can take over - what are often referred to as weeds - but these are an important part of the ecosystem. Dandelions are an excellent source of nectar for insects. Some caterpillars will only feed on plants such as nettles, thistles and ragwort, so it's a good idea to keep some in the garden but to restrict them to a small area. Nettles can even be planted in a pot to stop them from spreading. 

Record what you see

Records of the animals you see are invaluable to those working to protect the futures of wildlife.

Take photos and keep a note of the animals you spot in your garden or local area and when you saw them.

Your records and photos can be shared in a variety of ways - through nationwide schemes such as the Big Garden Birdwatch and the Garden Butterfly Survey, or as and when you see them, such as through the iRecord  or iNaturalist apps and websites.

British wildlife

Find out about the plants and animals that make the UK home.

Wildlife Garden

Explore the Museum's tranquil Wildlife Garden, where more than 3,130 species have been identified since it opened in 1995.