Garden wildlife specialists and sponsors of the Big Butterfly Count,, share expert tips on attracting wildlife to your garden.

Encouraging wildlife to visit your garden isn’t hard when you provide a suitable environment to use and tempting food to bring them in on a regular basis.

Wildlife-friendly planting is a key element that enables the circle of life to revolve. Native flowers and plants attract insects as both food sources and necessary for our pollinators. Birds, mammals and even amphibians are partial to insects so by having a range of these you will have the beginnings of a wildlife haven.

Additional shrubs and climbers that bear fruit and seeds will keep the birds going throughout the year too, plus provide shelter to a whole host of wildlife. Undergrowth, leaf litter and log piles are a bonus and can provide diverse habitats. Just be mindful that there could be something living there when you come to maintain your garden and be especially careful with rakes and strimmers. By no means do you need a ‘wild’ garden, just be a little more relaxed about tidying up, or dedicate a small patch for wildflowers.

The introduction of a shallow pond or water source can make your garden an oasis to more than just birds who rely on it for drinking and bathing. Mammals need water just as much and it’s important they have a graduated end to climb out should they fall in. In the case of bats, ponds are a great idea as water loving insects are a favourite meal. Not forgetting the frogs and toads that need ponds to breed and enjoy damp vegetation and crevices nearby to live in.

Have a look at the huge range of food and feeders for wildlife, to see what suits your garden and the wildlife you have (or are hoping to see). You can try simple hanging bird feeders filled with sunflower hearts to get you started as this is a staple of many birds, but you’re more likely to get better results by adding variety such as fat balls or peanut cakes. Hedgehogs especially need supplementary food when breeding and then fattening up for winter, and keep any cheeky squirrels to their own side of the garden with a squirrel feeder.

Sometimes our gardens don't provide enough suitable shelter, especially for breeding and hibernation so it’s a good idea to add additional habitats. Birds have their own preferences in the type of nest box they use and putting these up early will encourage them to claim the territory for winter roosting ready for spring nests. Bats rely on existing crevices to make roosts, but if these aren’t available, they will take to a bat box positioned high up.
And the smallest of creatures, bugs, bees and butterflies all need to shelter too. Your garden plants and log piles are perfect for most needs, so concentrate on a pollinator plaza of bee and butterfly habitats that care for those essential pollinating insects. They also give you an opportunity to closely watch how solitary bees make their cocoons - fascinating!

We still need to let nature do its own thing, and remember, that whilst we love seeing all the different species spend time in our gardens, they are not our pets. Wildlife needs to be able to enter and leave at will, and in the case of those without wings, it’s important to leave a few gaps here and there in your garden boundary fences. This enables them to move through neighbouring gardens to find what they need, when they need it - whether for food, shelter or a mate.