What’s In My Wild Space

Sophie Hall

This Garden Wildlife Week (27 May -7 June), we delve in to the Wild Space of Communications Officer Sophie Hall as she shares what she’s doing to welcome wildlife to her outdoor area.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the garden. To me, it felt like a jungle teeming with life and waiting to be explored. I’d crouch at the edge of the pond for hours on end to catch glimpses of frogs amongst the duckweed, I’d watch countless Red Admirals fluttering about the buddleia, I’d seek out spiderwebs and watch as unfortunate flies became the spiders’ next meals, and I’d spy on the birds nesting in the wisteria with my tiny binoculars.

When I finally got my own garden, the first thing I did before even unpacking all my moving boxes was to create a pond. I tried to make it as natural as possible – choosing pond plants that were native to the UK, like Hornwort, Frogbit and Water-forget-me-not, providing logs and rocks as hiding places, and using a native pond-edge seed mix. Three years on and the pond is now home to newts, frogs, toads, dragonflies, and even a Water Shrew! Not to mention the countless butterflies, moths and other insects making use of the wildflowers surrounding it. This spring I’ve been watching Mint Moths flit around the Water Mint, carefully avoiding hungry damselflies, and Orange-tips coming to visit the few Cuckooflowers that have popped up. I’m lucky enough to have enough space to put in a bigger pond – but even in smaller spaces, a container pond can work just as well in attracting wildlife.

As well as a pond, I’ve tried to provide a variety of habitats for wildlife in my Wild Space. I let the grass grow long, only cutting a path through with a manual lawnmower, and I’m slowly but surely creating a wildflower meadow, which I scythe (move over Poldark!) in autumn after the flowers have seeded. As Butterfly Conservation’s latest research shows – long grass can make a huge impact on the types and number of butterflies and moths you might see in your Wild Space, with even a small patch making a difference. I’ve had Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and a variety of other species enjoying my no mow approach, and the long grass also helps me spot the paths of the hedgehogs that come snuffling through at night!

My garden is bounded by hedges on most sides and, as I love a messy hedge, I only trim every few years and not during bird nesting season. Reducing how often you trim your hedge, rotating which bits you trim, and leaving trimmings nearby can all make a big difference for wildlife, particularly butterflies and moths. I have also added in a new hedge to section up the space – again I chose native and wildlife-friendly species like Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Privet, and Dog Rose to provide nectar, food for caterpillars and shelter for lots of different species. Eventually, I might add climbers like Ivy and Honeysuckle. Ivy is an incredible plant to include for wildlife – providing nectar to pollinators later in the year when other sources are limited, berries for birds and small mammals, as well as shelter for a host of species, like birds, bats, butterflies and moths. We have a huge wall of Ivy that we’ve let grow at the back of our garden and beneath that I’ve installed a dead hedge with old logs and branches. But again, you don’t need a big space to include Ivy, which can be grown in a pot, or to leave small log piles and leaf piles – even a tray of leaves on a balcony could provide a perfect pupation spot for moths and butterflies.

My latest project is creating a woodland space. We already have fruit trees, including a plum tree which I regularly find Angle Shades moths enjoying the fruit of late in the season. But I’ve also added some native Silver Birches (Betula pendula) which provide food and habitat for more than 300 species of insect, including moths like the Buff-tip, Orange Underwing, and Purple Thorn. When they’re bigger, they’ll also help provide more shade – great for people and plants, particularly with the extreme heat and dry spells we have had in recent years. You can even introduce trees and tall shrubs to smaller spaces, including balconies to create shade and habitat – look out for miniature and patio varieties which don’t get as big and can be grown in pots.

Where possible, I let weeds and wildflowers grow and I leave patches of nettles and brambles here and there. I love seeing what pops up – this year, Garlic Mustard, the foodplant of Orange-tip caterpillars has sprung up everywhere, along with Foxgloves, Wood Avens, Purple Toadflax Wild Carrot, and Cranesbill. Occasionally I’ll supplement what’s growing by adding native wildflower seeds to empty areas and, where I can’t plant directly into the ground, I use pots. Pots are an excellent way to include weeds and wildflowers in your space without them taking over and are brilliant for smaller spaces like patios and balconies.

My main focus when creating my Wild Space has been on insects, but bringing in insects brings in lots of other wildlife, too. Bats, birds, amphibians, small mammals, and even the occasional bigger mammal have paid a visit. I love seeing what appears so much that there is a big temptation to let the whole space go wild. However, I’ve realised that leaving areas for me and my family to enjoy is just as important. Having places to sit and watch, listen to, and smell the nature surrounding me helps with my mental wellbeing, and having spaces that my stepdaughter can play in, surrounded by wildness, helps her connect to nature and understand the importance of protecting it. I also enjoy gardening and creating plant combinations, so I’ve got some more formal borders and areas where I can indulge that passion. When welcoming wildlife to your wild space, it’s about finding a balance for nature and people, but however big a space you have, there’s always room for a little wildness.