The front garden award for this year’s “Stansted in Bloom” competition had an environmental theme. The winning resident, Sue Cohen, has focused on plants that benefit butterflies, bees, ladybirds and other insects, such as long grasses, verbena, echinacea, allium, geum and echinops. Sue says she is looking to transform her front garden into more of a meadow with garden flower bombs.
According to the Wildlife Gardening Forum, “about 87% of households in the UK have gardens, so there are getting on for 23 million gardens” with an average size of around 190 square metres. This equates to around 4,400 square km of garden space in our country – nearly 2 percent of the UK’s land area.
This large area of intensively managed land is just under eight times the size of the New Forest, a fifth of the size of Wales and 20 percent larger than Essex. Utilising gardens as wildlife habitats has a significant positive effect for the thousands of generalist species that can live in gardens. Even the smallest space can make a difference.
Gardens can also be important for birds, particularly during the winter. Our native species benefit from the presence of insects as well as a regular supply of grains and fresh water we can provide. This is particularly important when the fields are frozen and birds cannot easily dig up worms.
But we should not forget our endangered hedgehogs, whose population has been undermined by habitat loss as well as the toxic effect of slug pellets and modern fencing which prevents them from travelling between gardens. Housing developer Bovis Homes is pioneering “hedgehog highways” – holes that are created at ground level in fencing and other barriers, which are designed to allow access between selected gardens and wilder areas.
I bought a hedgehog hotel from Herts Hogline in Bishop’s Stortford. It did not get any hibernating visitors last year, but hopefully it will get some use this winter.