Creating wildlife friendly habitats in your school garden is beneficial for the birds, beetles and butterflies to find food and shelter. From an educational point of view it provides many teaching and learning opportunities right across the curriculum.
Wildlife surrounds us and even the smallest, bleakest school yard will already contain a selection of mini-beasts and a few visiting birds which can be encouraged by adding features to attract them. If you have a large school ground you can increase the amount of diversity found there by following our simple guidlines.
Trees and shrubs
Wildlife flourishes where there are mature trees, but does even better when there is a mix of plants of different sizes to produce layers of vegetation. Each layer will support different species and will provide food, shelter and breeding sites for birds and small mammals and a host of mini-beasts which in turn will provide food for larger creatures (food chains).
The single most effective way to add wildlife value to a garden is to install a pond, however tiny it is. A large pot or even an inverted dustbin lid in an out-of-the-way spot will do. Make sure ponds have at least one sloping side to allow creatures an easy way out and include a good variety of water plants.
Piles of logs can create an interesting feature in their own right and provide useful shelter for a range of wildlife including amphibians. They can also be colonised by fungi and provide food for a range of mini-beasts, especially beetles. Logs that are in the sun, in the shade, or partly buried will all attract slightly different species so more than one pile can be valuable.
A different range of creatures will be attracted to dry materials such as a pile of rocks, stones or rubble. This is likely to be colonised by spiders, and maybe sun-loving lizards will come to warm up there. Frogs and toads may hibernate in the nooks and crannies.
Compost heaps and dead hedges
Dead leaves and flowers, vegetable waste, grass cuttings, weeds and prunings will all provide food for something and if collected together they can provide shelter too. Soft materials can go into a compost heap. Anything that is too tough and woody to break down quickly can be added to a dead hedge. This consists of two rows of upright posts about 1m high and 1m apart with 60cm between the two rows. The space is then filled up with any available material which can include hedge prunings, tough stems, piles of fallen leaves and dead wood. This will gradually decay and over time more material can be added.
Flowers produce nectar and pollen providing vital food supplies for bees, butterflies and many other insects including beetles and hoverflies. They don’t have to be wild flowers, but it’s best to avoid highly bred varieties and double flowers as these often have less nectar and pollen. Try to have suitable plants in flower for as much of the year as possible.
Planting up the vertical surfaces of walls and fences will encourage wildlife. Ivy is particularly valuable as it provides nectar in autumn and berries in late winter, together with shelter for nesting birds and hibernating insects. Evergreen wall shrubs such as firethorn (Pyracantha) are also a good choice for flowers, berries and shelter. (Ensure children know that berries are inedible)
Wildflower meadows are very attractive, but can be difficult to establish and maintain, especially on fertile soil. Allowing some of your mown areas to grow longer will provide shelter for small mammals such as wood mice, voles and shrews, and food for some butterfly caterpillars. You will also get a variety of wild flowers colonising naturally.
Food and water for birds
Garden birds are some of the most conspicuous of garden wildlife and easy to attract by providing food. Ideally, offer a mix of food including peanuts, sunflower hearts, seeds, kitchen scraps and fat balls. Use proprietary seed mixtures, to supplement natural food such as berries and seed heads. Don't forget a supply of clean, unfrozen water and ensure feeding tables are thoroughly cleaned at least once a month.
Established grounds and gardens will probably have lots of hiding places for insects to shelter, but specially made insect shelters are a real bonus in new or sparsely planted spaces. They can enhance the variety of habitats on offer in any garden. They are also a lot of fun to make and larger ones can be a real feature. Many birds will nest in man-made boxes, especially in areas where there are few mature trees, and hedgehogs may take up residence in man-made hibernation boxes. The RSPB and local wildlife trusts can provide instructions.