The Best Garden Ideas for Wildlife in the UK

By   | Last Updated :   March 10, 2021 | Filed In :   Garden Landscaping Ideas

Having a garden is like having your own little slice of nature. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than spotting some wild critter frolicking around in your outdoor space – watching wildlife is better than TV! If you’re inclined to agree, hopefully you’ll enjoy some of the simple garden ideas for wildlife I’ll be looking at today.

When you’re trying to attract more birds, bugs and beasts to your garden, the main thing is to give them plenty of places to hide and forage. In this post, you’ll get some garden ideas for wildlife shelters, feeding set ups and other features that can draw them in.

What animals can you see in the UK?

a plump grey squirrel sits atop a grey garden fence

The local wildlife will vary depending on where you live. At the moment, in Brighton, I’m most likely to see squirrels and seagulls (which are universally hated across the city). However, I’m lucky to also overlook a quiet green space that is home to fox cubs each spring. Generally, animals living in built-up areas will have much more limited travel between spaces. Even if you know there are urban foxes and grey squirrels in your city, attracting them will always be hard.

At the other end of the scale, my dad is often sending me pictures of deer, pheasants, badgers, wild rabbits, partridges, canada geese and any number of smaller bird types, all from his rural kitchen window. Where there is lots of open, undisturbed space, you’ll have a much better chance of spotting unusual native animals.

Basically, keep your expectations about the kinds of wildlife that might visit your home low, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, rather than disappointed. If you’re trying to manage kids’ expectations, try talking to your neighbours about the creatures they’ve spotted to get a better idea. Don’t forget you can also help the National Biodiversity Network monitor national species by contributing to their wildlife watchlist.

How to get more birds in your garden

Birds are the most likely critters to travel between gardens, so if you start enticing them to yours, they’ll probably come. Feeding birds, and giving them somewhere comfortable to nest, is hugely beneficial to your local bird populations. Learn how to attract more birds to your garden.

Hedges and trees are natural nesting spots for birds, but you can add birdhouses to encourage more (especially if you’re concerned about predators climbing into the trees).

Make sure you’re providing lots of different food sources in various kinds of feeders. Fat balls are fun, plastic domes can keep squirrels out, and bird feeder tables accommodate larger feathered friends.

When you start adding more garden ideas for wildlife, it’s a good idea to track the animals that are visiting your garden already – especially birds. That way, you can check in every now and then to see how much progress you’re making with new varieties visiting each season.

Welcoming ground-critters

garden ideas for wildlife can encourage foxes

It’s a bit harder to attract mammals to your garden, as they usually have quite specific habitat requirements that can be hard to replicate in a garden environment – but don’t let that stop you from trying!

One of the best garden ideas for wildlife you can try is to minimise the amount of bare, open space – like short lawns and empty paving. If you have lots of connected flower beds and planters, animals will be more comfortable snooping around.

a crowded, cottage style flower bed

You should also try and grow a range of plants that flower and bloom throughout the year. Not only will this provide consistent coverage for shy critters, but it also gives pollinating insects a great time – more on that later!

Lastly, be prepared to do less garden pruning. Most creatures don’t like being disturbed, so leave your hedges to grow until winter, and hold back on the lawn-mowing. If you really can’t bear to have an untidy garden, how about leaving one section to grow a wild meadow, while keeping the rest short?

Ways to help hedgehogs

An animal that really needs our help right now is the hedgehog. Their numbers have been seriously declining in the UK, not helped by urban developments steadily destroying a hedgehog’s natural habitat. Adding specific wildlife friendly garden ideas aimed at hedgehogs can make a big difference!

There are a few ways to help hedgehogs. First, cut a hole in each fence at the edge of your garden to create a “hedgehog highway”. Ask your neighbours if they’ll get involved – the more linked gardens the better! These cute critters travel about 2km every night, so access is important! Next, build them a home where they can make a nest to hibernate and look after their babies. The wildlife trusts have this useful guide to making a simple hedgehog house.

Inviting insect environments

a large insect hotel with various compartments and a green roof

Image by Sabine Fenner

Insects often go underappreciated in gardens – everyone wants to see fat little squirrels and sparrows, but few people are keen for anything that creeps or crawls. In reality, a diverse collection of minibeasts is a free, natural way to keep your garden looking happy and healthy.

Let nature take the wheel, and you’ll gradually find that plant-friendly bugs help reduce more pesky plant eaters, and also attract more birds and mammals looking for a snack. So, what bug-friendly garden ideas can you install?

Build a bug hotel

Insect hotels are boxes that are designed to provide food and shelter for insects, like caterpillars, solitary bees and woodlice. You can buy them in lots of different, whimsical styles, or make your own as a fun, eco-friendly garden project.

Natural insect habitats

a stumpery made from decaying tree logs

A simple pile of logs, or a layer of sticks and leaves beneath a hedge, can create a home for lots of insect species. You could also create a “stumpery” by embedding logs vertically in the soil of a shady flower bed. Add foliage like moss, ivy or clumps of earth to create humidity, and try not to disturb it too much while gardening.

Creating a butterfly-friendly garden

a butterfly with open wings sitting on a buddleia flower

If you have visions of creating a fairy-tale paradise with endless butterflies, there are a few ways to specifically encourage them. Those with cottage style gardens will likely have the most success, and butterflies tend to prefer patches that are warm and sheltered. Read more tips for attracting butterflies.

Focus on growing flowers with lots of nectar, like buddleia, verbena and hebe (which bees also love). Pink sedum is another good one – look out for this if you’re planning a green roof. Pinch off dead blooms as soon as you see them to encourage more flowering, and make sure your plants are well-watered and fertilised with mulch.

garden ideas for wildlife like planting verbena, a favourite of butterflies

If you’re really keen, combine nectar-rich plants with varieties that provide food and shelter for caterpillars. For example, holly blue butterflies lay their eggs on holly and ivy, and their caterpillars eat the ivy flowers. A wildflower meadow is good for gatekeeper butterflies and Essex skippers, while a nettle patch will attract peacock and red admiral varieties.

For the best chance of seeing these beautiful insects, position rocks in sunny areas where they will often sit and open their wings. You can also create a butterfly feeder to supplement your flowers.

Become a bee buddy

Bees – honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees – are essential pollinators that depend on our gardens for shelter and sustenance. Having at least two bee-friendly plants flowering at any given time is a great way to help out bee populations, especially as different bee species are active in different seasons. 

a bumblebee enjoying lavender flowers

Some of the best plants for bees include: bellflowers (campanula), bluebells, crocus, dandelions, dicentra (bleeding hearts), buddleia, hollyhocks, honeysuckle, ivy, lavender, nasturtiums, sweet peas, poppies. Even if you have a small garden, many of these flowers will grow in planters or hanging baskets. Check out Beekind for more pollinator-promoting plant advice.

Pass on the pesticides

Pesticides and chemicals will harm bugs and impact the delicate natural ecosystem of your flower beds. Instead of relying on them, grow a wide variety of companion plants that will work harmoniously to keep pests at bay. For example, greenfly hate marigolds and tomatoes, while garlic will keep aphids away.

Wildlife friendly garden design

What other ways are there to generally make your garden a more enticing environment for British wildlife? The main thing I would recommend is to consider all of the garden features you want for your family, and then think about creative ways to make them more creature-friendly.

You might want a lawn, for instance, but instead of a homogeneous patch of turf, let clover and trefoil grow through to encourage bees and hoverflies. Instead of manicured borders, set aside a “wild” patch that gets a bit thicker with self-seeders and undergrowth for birds and hedgehogs to forage.

Cottage gardens

a stone path between two bushy cottage garden flower beds

Cottage gardens have a wild and unruly vibe, and are packed full of flowers and grasses that are ideal for just about every kind of garden critter there is. If you’ve ever fancied adding some cottage garden ideas, now is the perfect time!

Grow a garden glade

In summer, British woodlands come alive with bluebells, foxgloves and snowdrops, sheltering beneath the trees. You can recreate this to a certain extent with careful planting, and waiting until the end of summer to mow and re-fertilise.

Dig a pond

a koi pond in a Japanese style garden

Ponds are great for biodiversity, and they’re a really pleasant garden feature. Shallow or deep, natural-looking or modern – frogs, dragonflies and newts will care to a greater or lesser extent, so create your pond and see what happens

Composting

Composting is an environmentally-conscious way to reduce your household waste and create fertiliser for your garden. An open compost heap provides a home for hibernating animals, and food for all kinds of insects. Just be cautious about disturbing the heap if there could be animals inside! Read more about composting.

Growing a meadow

garden ideas for wildlife include planting lots of high-pollen native flowers

As we’ve mentioned a couple of times already, growing a miniature meadow is great for biodiversity, and they’re also pretty (and low-maintenance) garden features. Look for a flower mix packed with self-seeders, and once your meadow is established it will come back year after year.

Bet on hedges

Again, we’ve mentioned hedges a couple of times already, but they really are one of the top garden ideas for wildlife. Using hedges in place of borders or fences creates food and shelter that can be used for so many species, from tiny bugs to nesting birds. Hedges also let animals pass through your gardens, while providing greenery and privacy for your home.

Why choose a wildlife-friendly garden?

Okay, so just off the top of my head, here are a few reasons why planning garden ideas for wildlife food and habitats can be a win-win.

  1. Your garden will be healthier. Yes, I know I’ve said this so many times already, but once you start seeing the difference, you’ll appreciate it. Hedgehogs eat slugs. Earthworms eat fallen leaves. Foxes eat daddy-long-legs and their larvae. Yep, you might see more scurrying insects, but the good will outweigh the bad.
  2. You’ll witness some of the more spectacular insects, birds and animals the UK has to offer. Look, I’m not knocking sparrows or pigeons… but would you turn down the chance to watch finches, bats or even pheasants, if you could?
  3. Kids will understand and appreciate nature from a young age. I have a vivid memory, from when I was about nine, of being at my dad’s house and tiptoeing downstairs in the wee hours to watch a mother rabbit and her babies nibble at the daffodils in the front garden. It was a magical experience, and taught me about how good being kind to nature can feel.
  4. It’s just nice knowing that you’re not the only one appreciating your garden! If you’re someone that takes pride in their garden (and if you’re on this blog, I’m guessing you are), then it’s really rewarding to see how other creatures enjoy being in your space.

Build slowly, be patient.

Even if you could grow an authentic patch of nature overnight, it would still take time for new animals to find it. It really takes time for most of these garden ideas for wildlife to become established, so plan carefully, build slowly, and watch with patience.

Once your new features start looking like a natural part of your garden, it’s time to pay closer attention to who’s visiting. The best times to take a peek outside will be in the evenings or early mornings, especially in spring.

We have an incredible range of common species across the UK, and encouraging insects, birds and animals into your garden is an easy way to learn more about them. Watching wildlife and appreciating nature is amazing for children, and enjoyable for just about anyone, of any age. Check out www.wildlifetrusts.org for more useful resources, and happy nature watching!

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By Kirsteen Mackay

Kirsteen is a professional writer who traded a tiny garden for an even smaller balcony when she moved to Brighton in 2015. Her interest in gardening stems from a keen desire to turn her simple slab of concrete into a lush urban oasis, complete with cosy-but-practical garden furniture and delicious edible plants.

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