By Fran Southgate
Living Landscape Advisor
We work daily with home and land owners across the County to support and advise them on how to enhance their land for wildlife. It’s a rewarding job, and it’s reassuring to know how many people are responding to the climate and biodiversity crisis with positive action on the ground.
Many of the people we speak to are unconfident of what the best thing to do for wildlife is, or how to do it. Those with smaller landholdings question whether they can even make a difference. Without a doubt everyone can. As the willingness and momentum to help wildlife and the climate crisis grows, every piece of land from small to large which is put into positive wildlife management creates another healthy link in an ever expanding ecological network. From the mapping work that we do, we can see how much of a difference this is making to our wildlife across Sussex.
Nonetheless, for the less confident wildlife managers out there, there are a few key principles that everyone can follow for wildlife, which will help to make your land or garden a thriving place for wildlife. So if you only do twelve things for wildlife – these are the things we recommend :-
- Provide year round food and habitat
We spend a lot of time planting meadows for bees in summer, but they really need food in late autumn, winter and during the hungry gap in spring. Plants like Ivy, Primroses, Blackthorn and Hawthorn, Holly all provide food overwinter and when wildlife needs it most.
- Create connections
It is important for wildlife to be able to move through the countryside in response to disturbance and changing weather and seasons. Something as simple as cutting a hole in your fence to allow Hedgehogs through can be a massive help. Creating, or being part of a pollinator highway, and linking woodlands with hedgerows are all ways to help wildlife move through the countryside when it needs to. Speak to your neighbours too, and see if they can join you in creating more space for nature.
- Create fuzzy edges and bendy bits!
Our countryside is full of straight lines and sharp edges. The graded edge of habitat between tall trees, and short grassland is one of the most biodiverse parts of our countryside. It takes in everything from woodland, to scrub, long grass and flowering plants and is full of nectar, shelter, fruit, nuts and insects. Allowing streams to meander and field corners to curve or regenerate with scrub creates habitat niches which are otherwise absent in our more highly managed areas of countryside.
- Value the ancient
Our ancient woodlands, veteran trees, ancient hedgerows, ancient meadows and old wetlands harbour some of the greatest diversity of species, and provide valuable sanctuaries and seed sources for some of our rarest wildlife.
- Make space for water
Nothing on earth lives without water. Making space for permanent and seasonal water in winter, and in summer, encourages a greater diversity of wildlife. Even a pocket pond can help.
- Value diversity
Wildlife needs lots of different micro niches – everything from anthills and bare ground, to dead wood and temporary ponds. The more variety you have in your habitats and their structure, the better.
- Protect your soils
An inch of soil can take 1,000 years to create, and a day to destroy. There are more organisms in a tablespoon of soil, than there are people on the planet, and soil is one of the biggest carbon stores on earth. Un-compacted soil is a sponge for huge amounts of water. Unusual soils like greensand, peat and chalk also create habitat for unusual wildlife. Protect it, and it will help protect us.
- Observe and record what you have
Just knowing what wildlife is out there helps us to protect it in the long term. You can upload records to irecord, which come directly to us, and use Ispot for help if you don’t know what you’ve seen. Observe what is there on your land, and what recovers when you leave it along for a year before you do anything. With you there as our eyes and ears, together we can safeguard our wildlife.
- Have at least one wild corner
Remove human influences if you can (litter, fences and invasive species) and leave one corner that you walk away from and allow to do its own thing. Manage it or intervene only if absolutely necessary. It’s usually easiest if this is the furthest point away from the home.
- Help insects & bugs
Insects are the keystone of our ecosystems. Without them, very little survives. Our pollinating bees/insects, the bugs that break down dung and wood, and other insects all perform important roles and provide food for myriad other species. Use less chemicals like methaldehyde slug pellets, insecticides and Ivermectin wormers, and we can create a massive boost to our failing wildlife.
- Listen to nature
There are little signs we can look for which tell us where our most natural and thriving areas of wildlife are – patches of fungi and orchids in woodlands and meadows show healthy mycorrhizal fungi, natural wood and gravels in meandering rivers and streams provide habitat for aquatic life, areas of lichen growth in trees are present where pollution is lowest. See where nature is abundant, listen to what nature is telling you, and try not to damage these areas. If birds nest on your land, particularly if they are on the ground, try and keep dogs, cats and people away from them during nesting season.
- Get yourself and others engaged with nature
Nature is a beautiful, wild and fascinating world. The more we engage with it and appreciate it, the healthier we will be, and the more we will protect our wildlife.
There is one last thing you can do for wildlife, and that is to make your own life less impactful on the world. Value and re-use all the resources you have, grow your own and eat local food, use less energy and water, walk instead of drive, use less plastic etc. All these things are important and make a real difference to our local wildlife. If we all do all these things, then our countryside will become a much more thriving place for nature.