Alan Titchmarsh warns against rewilding, but how can you boost biodiversity in your garden?

Lisa Salmon finds out about the important aspects of returning to nature.

Lisa Salmon
Monday 17 July 2023 15:43 BST
There are different definitions of rewilding, according to the RHS (Alamy/PA)
There are different definitions of rewilding, according to the RHS (Alamy/PA)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Letting manicured domestic gardens get back to nature through rewilding has become increasingly popular over the last few years – but gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh has warned the trend could be “catastrophic” for biodiversity.

The idea behind rewilding, according to the charity Rewilding Britain, is to restore ecosystems so nature can take care of itself, encouraging a balance between people and nature. And the idea seems to be very popular, with a Rewilding Britain poll published last year finding 81% of Britons support rewilding.

But former Gardeners’ World presenter Titchmarsh, who stressed rewilding is important in many places including farms, the countryside in general, woodlands, riverbanks and roadside verges, told a House of Lords Horticultural Committee: “Domestic gardens with their greater plant diversity, as well as enriching our own lives immeasurably, offer sustenance and shelter to wildlife from March through to November and beyond. Nine months of nourishment. A ‘rewilded’ garden will offer nothing but straw and hay from August to March. A four-month flowering season is the norm.”

And the 74-year-old broadcaster and author, who has a two-acre wildflower meadow and garden at his Hampshire home, said he found it worrying that “misleading propaganda” suggests only native plants are of value to wildlife and the environment, and added: “The garden is patently far richer – and for far longer – in the variety of insect and bird species it sustains…

“As custodians of the botanical riches of our gardens, domestic gardeners have a duty – and a glorious one at that – to ensure the survival of this unparalleled resource. Should a current fashionable – and ill-considered – trend deplete our gardens of their botanical riches then we have presided over a diminution in biodiversity of catastrophic proportions.”

But it entirely depends on what’s meant by rewilding, suggests Professor Alistair Griffiths, director of science and collections for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). “The word rewilding means many different things to different people,” he says. “What’s the definition of wild, and what kinds of wild nature do we value over others? Can wild nature and people coexist, and what does native mean in the changing climate world? This is why there are different opinions on it.”

So what does rewilding actually involve, and what’s the best way to boost biodiversity in your garden?

How do you rewild a domestic garden?

Rewilding a domestic garden can involve simple actions such as leaving a messy area, putting in a pond, letting wildflowers grow, easing up on the mowing and planting with nature in mind, explains Rewilding Britain spokesman Richard Bunting. “They can make a big difference, and can work well alongside traditional gardening.

“Rewilding offers much-needed hope. If people want to play their part by creating wilder gardens, and enjoy the benefits of bringing more nature into their lives, that should be welcomed.”

Do you have to plant native trees and plants?

There are some really good examples where both native and non-native work together within a garden, explains Griffiths.

 

“It’s really about what you do in your garden as to how you manage biodiversity and improve wildlife,” he says. “Often if you put plants and flowers in your garden, you’ll attract wildlife. We can do a number of things, for example putting in plants for pollinators, which will include natives and non-natives. That will help in providing food and shelter for wildlife.”

Such plants are detailed on the RHS Plants for Pollinators website, and include flowers like lavender, hollyhock, cosmos and hellebore.

Does it matter what you plant?

“Plant perennials,” advises Griffiths. “Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials can help with food and shelter for wildlife.”

 Do you have to stop mowing your lawn?

You don’t have to let your grass grow really long everywhere for insects and other wildlife to be attracted to your garden. “Wildlife likes a little bit of short grass and a bit of long grass,” Griffiths points out. “It’s down to what you want and what space you’ve got.”

Is a water feature necessary?

Again, this depends on space and preference. “Installing a small water feature – be it a bowl of water if you’ve only got a small area, or a pond if you’ve got more space, often brings lots and lots of wildlife. When you add water you significantly improve and increase areas that attract wildlife.”

 Should gardeners avoid using pesticides?

Griffiths says the RHS suggests people try their best not to use pesticides in their gardens.

And he says if gardeners use a good peat-free mulch on the garden to feed plants, “You’re also creating water and encouraging insects. And if you get composting too, that’s a home for lots and lots of biodiversity.”

Do you need to scatter wildflower seeds around your garden?

Griffiths says scattering wildflower seeds depends on how much space you’ve got in your garden and how you want it to look. He says he’s got birdsfoot trefoil – a yellow-flowering wildflower which attracts bees and butterflies – on his lawn. “That grows all over the world,” he says.

“What we’re really doing is looking at how can we best garden and manage land for increased wildlife and biodiversity, with the challenges of a changing climate. There are many different ways to do that.”

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