Gardens are increasingly important as habitat, particularly when a string of gardens join together, effectively becoming a single site. With the increasing loss of natural habitats, man made spaces such as gardens can provide a haven for birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians. A few simple features in your garden can benefit wildlife, and produce rewards in terms of increased biodiversity for very little effort .

A Compost Heap:

A compost heap provides habitat for the larval stages of insects (eg certain species of Soldier Fly Stratiomyidae, Rose Chafers Cetonia aurata); nesting sites for reptiles (eg Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus); and a source of nutrients for fungal mycorrhiza. The flies, beetles and fungi are all acting to break down the organic matter in the compost heap so you can recycle the nutrients back into the garden soil. The snake is simply using the heat, humidity and protection of a pile of rotting plant material as a safe and comfortable nest and hibernacle. Non-venomous snakes such as this are no threat to your safety in the garden and will help keep down the population of nut, vegetable and root munching small rodents (such as voles and mice).

A 'Wild Flower' Meadow:
This 'wild' flower meadow is at la Chatonniere. A mixture of native and non-native seeds are sown in conjunction with a cereal crop such as oats to form a flowery meadow in the summer.

The flowers include Field Poppies, Californian Poppies (not native), Annual Cornflowers and Viper's Bugloss. The choice of flowers is partly aesthetic, but also to encourage biodiversity in this organic garden.

The flowers attract pollinators and the undisturbed long vegetation allows bumble bees to nest safely. Many small creatures will be attracted to the unmown, untreated site.
Safety features:
A stick placed in a water butt allows small creatures that fall in to exit. With no easy to grip 'escape ladder' lizards for example, which often find themselves in the water butt, will get too cold to pull themselves up the plastic sides and will drown. It is a good idea to also place a square of polystyrene as a float that creatures can clamber up onto rather than have to swim and exhaust themselves.
Areas of Semi-Natural Grassland:
If your garden is large enough, or includes an area such as an orchard, one of the easiest ways of managing parts of it are as semi-natural grassland ie native grass rather than lawn, with self seeded wildflowers. It differs from the 'Wildflower Meadow' above because there is no need to augment the plants by sowing extra seed. This type of grass requires mowing just once a year, in September. By this time in the season all the wildflowers will have set seed, and what is left to mow won't be too lush. You can safely leave the mown 'grass' on the ground and it will not increase the fertility of the soil. The system saves a lot of time and effort. You keep woody species (eg self seeded trees) under control and prevent scrub developing because you cut them off annually, and you prevent many weed species (eg nettles) from dominating as the soil remains low in fertility. If you wish you can mow paths through the grass throughout the year, but you must take the clippings away. It is a good idea to stake plants that you particularly wish to protect from being stood on or mowed over in the spring and summer.

If you want to put a bit more work in to maintaining the natural grass and wildflowers and have the time, you can choose to rake up the mown grass rather than leave it lie. The resulting 'hay' can be deposited around fruit trees. The action of raking will lift matted vegetation, reduce soil fertility and create random bare areas for wild flower seeds to germinate and thrive with less competition from the grass. You can also grub out the woody 'volunteers' if you are feeling strong and energetic. It will prevent them coppicing from repeated cutting and annual growth cycles and forming trip hazards or eventually getting too thick for the mower to cope with.

You will be amazed at the variety of wildflowers that will spontaneous appear. With the wildflowers will come bees, butterflies and flower visiting beetles. Dragonflies will appreciate the longer vegetation, as will small mammals and reptiles. Having an area of semi-natural grassland is probably the single easiest and most effective way of increasing and maintaining the biodiversity of your garden.
Our orchard is mowed in the autumn, and by December orchid leaf rosettes are easily visible. They are staked to prevent people accidently standing on them or being mowed over when spring paths are created. The stakes are trimmed prunings from the fruit trees.
An  orchid leaf rosette amongst the grass and other wildflowers in the winter, carefully staked so as to mark its position and protect it from being trodden on or mowed over.
A Brash Pile:
If you have the room, a pile of brash (hedge clippings, fruit tree prunings) makes a great shelter for medium sized mammals such as hedgehogs, as well as reptiles (especially snakes) and amphibians (especially newts). The brash is all the vegetative matter that is too big or woody to compost. You may wish to burn it in the winter, but if you do so, make sure you take material off the pile and make a bonfire in a separate place on the day you plan to burn. Don't burn all of the material at once. By building a new pile for burning and not using all the material you ensure that you don't inadvertently kill creatures living under the pile.
Insect Hotels:
Insect hotels provide nesting sites for solitary bees and wasps, hibernation and resting sites for other insects, sanctuary for amphibians and reptiles. They can be made from old pallets and stocked with a range of dry grass, bamboo of different dimensions, wooden blocks with drilled holes of different dimensions, sticks and twigs, stones and terracotta shards, moss. Give it a roof with eaves to protect the entrances to holes from the weather. Place it is a sunny position facing south or east.


  1. With your extension to this entry...
    I'd like to promote the LPO "Refuge" scheme...
    35€ to join and 10€ a year thereafter...
    for your initial outlay you get a well constructed nestbox...
    assorted literature and a sign that says you are a "Refuge LPO".
    Amongst the literature are instructions and advice on removing your land from La Chasse...
    apparently they will be all too pleased as they can release the equivalent area to hunt!
    After your initial outlay, the money goes towards LPO projects.
    Villandry is a Refuge LPO....