It is a sad fact but wildlife is disappearing in the countryside. Loss of habitats is to blame due to intensive farming with the loss of hedgerows and and over-reliance on chemicals. However, it is in the cities where the trend is bucking.
In Cambridge, we have already seen the re-emergence of the otter in the inner-city waterways but it is in our gardens where all creatures great and small now call home. The message is: Don't think your garden is useless, because there will already be wildlife there.
A big cause of this is the eight excellent Local Nature Reserves that run from Chesterton in the north to Trumpington in the south, but it is the thousands of gardens that create a criss-crossing network of welcoming habitats that is another major factor.
The good people who manage the Reserves from the Cambridge Wildlife Trust were at Romsey's one-year old Community Garden to give a talk about encouraging wildlife into our back-gardens and yards. About 20 enthusiastic volunteers were on hand to create a wildlife garden with the help of Iain Webb from the Trust and help out at the community-led project on Marmora Road, which has turned a derelict piece of land into an verdant garden,
“Unless you cover you garden in concrete and decking and spray it with chemicals every week there will be wildlife in your garden,” said Mr. Webb as gardeners young and old took a break and munched on the delightful selection of freshly-baked cakes from Mags of Ad-Lib, the garden's custodians.
“Urban areas are really important habitats for wildlife especially now,” Mr Webb went on. “The house sparrow, song thrushes and frogs, for example, used to be common until very recently, now they are very scarce in the countryside.”
“But they are increasingly common in urban areas, in gardens and and all the nooks and crannies in our sheds and houses.”
He also said, whilst hedgehogs are declining in the cities due to the increasing fragmentation of urban areas and a rise in traffic, there is a way to help our spiky friends. “Hedgehogs have a network of routes covering over a mile in distance. If we make small holes in fences, 3 to 4 inches square, they can link up their habitats with great swathes of green areas.
After a successful first-year crop of vegetables, the garden saw it's first fruit trees planted, to go along with the new lawn. A piece of ground was dug and weeded for a layer of wildflower seeds to be distributed and trampled in by eager green-fingered children.
We were then told of the five best ways to get wildlife into our gardens.
No matter how small, even a pond the size of a kitchen bowl will attract flies, beetles and maybe a frog. Water will also draw birds, hedgehogs and foxes to come and drink. However it is very important not to use tap water to fill ponds up, rain water collected in a water butt will be relatively chemical-free.
The addition of topography gives different spaces for creatures to live and nest. Tall grass and bushes are good, but trees offer great places for insects to live and birds to roost and nest. And why not plant a fruit tree and get a delicious harvest at the end of summer?
Any of them, but wildflowers are some of the best. Most wildflowers are great polonaters and will draw in honeybees, bumble bees, flies and moths. Long grass will also do a good job in attracting butterflies or even voals.
Of course an environmentally-sound way of recycling our garden and domestic waste, but has the twin benefits of naturally fertilising the garden but also providing a home to voals and grass snakes, which are harmless to anything except frogs and tadpoles.
A pile of dead wood
A stack of old, damp, rotting sticks and logs is the perfect draw for frogs, toads, newts, snails, slugs, which, in turn, also provide food for hedgehogs and birds.
Finally, Mr Webb implored us to value our garden: “Go out and appreciate it. Listen to the bird song from your bird-box, see the occasional hedgehog or frog and really and enjoy the garden.”
Romsey Community Garden is run by
Cambridge Local Nature Reserves are managed by