Planting for pollinators
Some of the UK’s most beautiful invertebrate species feed on nectar and need flowering plants for their survival. We help butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other pollinating insects thrive by:
- Growing lots of different types of nectar rich plants around our site e.g. buddleia, foxgloves and hawthorn
- Having flowers in bloom every month of the year
- Leaving dead tree stumps with flaking bark and log piles for adult insects to shelter in over winter
- Not cutting meadow areas any lower than five centimetres and leaving them undisturbed until the spring
- Leaving areas of long grass completely uncut
- Growing ivy and other thick climbing plants against walls so insects can shelter through winter
- Turning areas of unused land into wildflower patches
- Providing plants for butterflies to lay eggs and caterpillars to feed, for example nettles for small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies
Nest sites for birds
Many British birds can be seen around The Big Cat Sanctuary, and we have provided a variety of nest boxes to suit birds of all shapes and sizes. Evergreen hedges and climbers are good natural nesting areas for species such as blackbirds, of which we have plenty across our site.
Even if you do not have much outside space or an area to place a nest box at home you can still help your local birds! A water source is essential for birds to bathe in and drink from year round. Use a shallow container and remember to remove ice in the winter months.
Using bird feeders is a simple way to encourage birds into your garden, but ensure you are using a variety of food types to support different species of bird. Garden plants which grow seeds and berries are also a good natural food source. Birds struggle to find food in the winter months when natural food sources deplete, so ensure feeders are filled regularly during bad weather.
Birds also need shelter, so whether you build your own bird box or plant some natural hedging, provide birds with an area to roost in during the harsh winter months.
Houses for hedgehogs
It is estimated that 30 million hedgehogs roamed our countryside in the 1950s. Sadly there are now less than 1 million! The decline is due to habitat loss from intensive farming, housing developments and an increase in paved/decked gardens, as well as a decrease in insect prey because of pesticide use.
We have built hedgehog homes for our local hedgehogs and hidden them in sheltered areas around the sanctuary, providing them with a nest to hibernate in over the winter months. Here is an example of the houses hidden around the sanctuary.
Hedgehogs are great animals to attract to your garden as they feed on plant-nibbling slugs and snails. Putting a 15cm diameter hole in your fence or wall is a simple way to help hedgehogs roam from garden to garden providing a corridor through urban areas.
Try making your own hedgehog house and place it in a quiet and sheltered area of your garden. Your hedgehog home should have an internal dividing wall to prevent predators from reaching inside.
Provide hedgehogs with water and food, like cat biscuits or meaty dog food, to prevent hedgehogs going hungry in dry and cold periods. Don’t feed hedgehogs milk or bread as it upsets their stomachs.
Made from recycled materials found around site, we have built our own bug hotels to help local wildlife. Our bug hotels will be used by a huge range of insect species to live, hunt and breed. We may also see hedgehogs, toads and frogs taking refuge at the bottom of the hotel. Our hotel includes straw, dead wood and pine cones for hibernating insects, drilled logs and bamboo canes for solitary bees and stones and tiles for amphibians to shelter under.
You can try to create your own bug hotel in your garden at home! Your bug hotel does not have to be as large as ours. By taking some of the ideas from ours, you can create a smaller bug hotel for just one species.
Create a home for solitary bees by filling a wooden box with hollow stems, drilled logs and bamboo tubes and fix it to your garden fence, no higher than chest height.
Create a home for ladybirds by bundling together pine cones, filling the gaps with dried leaves. Wrap the bundle in garden mesh and hang it in a tree or hide it in a sheltered corner.
Of all habitats that can be created to help local wildlife – a pond is probably the best! Our wildlife ponds are havens for lots of plant and animal species. It is a protected area, with plenty of planting and logs both within and surrounding the pond to provide extra shelter, encouraging an even wider diversity of wildlife.
Water is not as available to our local wildlife as it once was, leaving nature in some areas struggling. You can help by making your very own wildlife pond at home!
It does not have to be as big as ours – a large plant pot or old washing up bowl can be repurposed as a pond. Always ensure animals have a safe way in and out of your pond. By creating a small pond or water feature you can provide drinking water, a bath or a home for native species in your own back garden.
Log piles are one of the most effective ways to help local wildlife. Amphibians, reptiles and small mammals can use them as a cool, damp shelter in hot weather and for
hibernation during the winter months.
Rotting wood is a rare habitat type that produces nutrients, enabling mosses, fungi, lichens and ferns to grow. Log piles are a haven for insects, providing food and shelter for invertebrate species such as woodlice, wood-boring beetles, slugs and worms.
Making your own log pile is very easy and needs little maintenance. Gather logs and old branches of all shapes and sizes and build a stable pile in a sheltered area of your garden. Build your log pile in partial shade, keeping it compact to maintain humidity. By placing your log pile near a water source like a pond you may even provide shelter for hibernating amphibians!
Wildlife friendly gardening
All the plant material we cut down in our beds and borders is left to rot down naturally. We use the resulting compost for planting, mulching and improving our soil. Compost heaps also make warm beds for hibernating toads, hedgehogs and slow worms.
Dealing with Pests
We do not use insecticides to control greenfly on our plants as they provide food for birds, such as wrens and blue tits, and food for insects, such as lacewing flies and ladybirds. Hoverflies like to lay their eggs next to greenfly colonies and their larvae eat the greenfly. If we have big infestations, we squish them between our fingers or spray them off with water.
Gardening in winter
Wildlife needs shelter and food to survive through the winter so we leave our beds and borders undisturbed until February.
We leave long grass, moss and fallen leaves on our garden borders to provide a warm blanket for insects, small mammals and amphibians to hide under.
We leave dead hollow plant stems and seed heads standing to provide a safe refuge for insects and a food source for birds, such as wrens and robins, who search out insects in the vegetation. Seed heads also provide food for seed eating birds such as finches.