Gardeners urged to share wildlife experience

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The Independent Online

Think of them as miniature nature reserves - 15 million of them. When you realise just how many gardens there are in gardening-mad Britain, you realise what a potential they have to act as havens for wildlife, as the countryside is increasingly battered by intensive farming and development.

Think of them as miniature nature reserves - 15 million of them. When you realise just how many gardens there are in gardening-mad Britain, you realise what a potential they have to act as havens for wildlife, as the countryside is increasingly battered by intensive farming and development.

Red admirals and hedgehogs, goldfinches and herons, can all co-exist alongside neat lawns and flowerbeds, and add immensely to their attraction. In fact, the total area of Britain's gardens - nearly three-quarters of a million acres - exceeds the total of all the country's official national nature reserves.

Now Britain's senior gardening body is joining with a leading wildlife charity to give the idea of gardening for wildlife the biggest fillip it has ever had.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and The Wildlife Trusts partnership are seeking to create an internet community of enthusiasts who will spread the word about the wild creatures and plants that can thrive just outside the back door. Their Wild About Gardens project, launched today, centres on www.wildaboutgardens.org, the website that will act as a forum for people to share their own experiences of local wildlife.

The project aims to answer questions about local wildlife and which wild animals and plants are important to garden owners. It is hoped the project will reveal much about garden-owners' attitudes to gardening for wildlife - a postcard survey will be carried out over spring and summer with the results announced in the autumn - and for the first time generate a virtual conversation on a national and local level to share stories, successes and tips.

"Research into the environmental value of domestic gardens has given us the popular blueprint for wildlife gardening, but research is still in its infancy and there is much we don't know about species and about local wildlife," said Simon Thornton-Wood, the assistant director of science and learning for the RHS. "Together with the Wildlife Trusts we hope to investigate these unexplored areas and encourage garden owners to view their gardens as a special place for contact with wildlife."

Stephanie Hilborne, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, added: "Creating a home for wildlife in your own garden, however small the space, is good for nature and immensely rewarding. By working with the RHS we hope to encourage more gardeners to get involved with wildlife and to share their experiences. All garden owners have the opportunity to make a difference and Wild About Gardens aims to give everyone the advice and inspiration they need to help maximise the potential of their garden nature reserves."

Through the project, the two charities hope people will share their own stories at a local community level and across the UK, in turn inspiring more people to make their own gardens and green spaces havens for wildlife. Several well-known faces have lent their support, including Kim Wilde, Richard Briers, Jessica Stevenson, Bill Oddie, Antony Worrall Thompson, Roger Lloyd Pack, Raymond Blanc, Chris Beardshaw and David Bellamy.

Events related to wildlife gardening from bug hunts to wildflower talks will be happening at RHS gardens and local Wildlife Trusts across the UK throughout spring and summer.

With natural habitats such a wildflower meadows and ancient woodlands disappearing at an alarming rate, it is being increasingly recognised that gardens are becoming important havens for a wide range of birds, mammals, amphibians and invertebrates.

Cultivating Life

* GOLDFINCH:

The goldfinch Carduelis carduelis is probably the most beautifully-coloured of any small British bird - the collective noun for a flock of goldfinches is a "charm" - and traditionally its principal food was thistledown. It has benefited most from the revolution in garden bird feeding - where people put out specialist foods instead of kitchen scraps. Sunflower or niger seeds in a feeder will bring goldfinches to many gardens.

* BUDDLEIA:

The buddleia, or butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii, is a shrub native to China which does well in Britain, and is better than anything else at attracting butterflies. Species such as the red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell and painted lady find its long lilac-coloured blooms irresistible at the height of summer. (Sometimes the flowers can be purple, pink or even white). A buddleia should be at the centre of any butterfly garden.

* SMOOTH NEWT:

One of the attractions of a garden pond is wildlife it will attract. As well as herons, which are not always welcome, it will bring dragonflies and damselflies, and insects such as water boatmen. It will attract amphibians, in particular the common frog, and perhaps in a quarter of garden ponds, the smooth newt, Triturus vulgaris, an attractive animal which in the breeding season has an orange belly with black spots.

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