We are running out of time to be kinder to nature.
Many people report that during lockdown they spent more time outdoors than ever before. Great! But even better is that they recognise that it was nature that helped them through the tough times. So isn’t it time to repay the favour?
Caring for nature not only helps us, but it can also help tackle climate change, ensuring a healthier and greener planet for us all.
1. Be kind to your garden birds
Birds are busy building the perfect homes for their chicks. As well as some lazy gardening – such as not pruning bushes containing nests, and leaving some nest-building debris lying around – you may have space for a bird box. And if you put up a box and it’s not used in the first year, the advice is simply to be patient. I have 3 boxes up and just 1 is being used this year, for the first time. They’ve been there 2 years!
Also, check where your bird food comes from. I was horrified to realise I was buying sunflower seeds imported from the US. I now buy all my bird food from Vine House Farm, who grow their own sunflowers here in the UK. Every sale supports the Wildlife Trusts, too. Yes, it’s a bit more pricey but I’m happy to pay a few pence more to be kinder to nature and do my bit for the planet. There is no planet B.
2. Go peat-free
You might be surprised (and mortified) like I was to find that many of the composts on sale at garden centres now are not peat-free. I had mistakenly assumed that because Monty had been explaining why peat-free was best for years, the majority of compost was already peat-free. The Government is planning to ban peat compost by 2024 but there’s no need to wait. Peatlands are our most vital carbon store and it only regenerates at 1mm a year. I don’t understand why the ban isn’t coming into effect sooner, as the industry has known this was coming for years.
3. Stretch #NoMowMay into #NoMowJune
How is your lawn doing? Mine is completely covered in daisies, buttercups and cowslips, and earlier in the year, it was anemones, snowdrops and celandine. The birds and pollinators are grateful and it’s delightful to look at. Maintaining trendy hyper-manicured lawns often involves petrol mowers and fertilisers which leak more carbon to the atmosphere during their production and use than the grass itself can store.
Adam Bates – an ecologist at Nottingham Trent University suggests four easy steps any gardener can follow to turn their lawn into a wildlife haven that locks away CO₂. Be kinder to nature with a wilder lawn.
1. Cut higher
Most lawn mowers have blades that are set as low to the ground as possible, ensuring that the lawn is cut to be flat and featureless, which is no good for wildlife. Bugs and small creatures need nooks and crannies to hide from predators. Spiders in particular need something to anchor their webs to. By adjusting the blade to the highest possible setting – often around 4 cm off the ground – mowing can leave taller grass with more recesses for insects to hide in.
2. Include mowing gaps
Leaving longer gaps between mowing the lawn can give wildflower species the time they need to flower and provide nectar for pollinating insects to eat. By leaving a gap in spring, early flowering species can thrive.
3. Don’t use fertilisers or herbicides
You might expect herbicides to be a bad idea (in addition to being fatal to plants, Roundup and other glyphosate products may be dangerous to humans, and may even lead to a cancer diagnosis) and when it comes to lawns, fertilisers are only good for ensuring a luxuriant green colour – one or two grass species will soak up the extra nutrients and outcompete everything else. To ensure a rich variety of plants can thrive in your wildflower lawn, reducing the fertility of the soil is essential.
4. Remove the clippings
By collecting the cut grass after you mow you can stop more nutrients from getting into the soil and reduce the lawn’s fertility with every cut. If you’re 100% committed to being kinder to nature, you can leave strips at the sides or patches in the corners to go wild and form small wildflower meadows. Most wildflower seeds will be carried to your garden on the wind or by birds, but if you’re tired of waiting, you can buy and spread the seeds yourself.
4. Your daily dose
Many of us report health and wellbeing benefits after being outdoors. We de-stress, unwind, feel energised, and our physical health is improved. Commit to doing something small for yourself in nature every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Cloud watching, some nature photography or listening to the birds is perfect. Even in your own garden, because it’s just 10 mins, the pressure from the ‘to do list’ will be manageable, I hope.
5. Add more meaning to your life
What does your garden mean to you? Perhaps it’s a space to entertain, to grow your own or to relax. Perhaps you have fond memories of nature hunts, spotting snowdrops appearing or simply listening to the bird song. Explore how nature appears in songs and stories, poems and art, or by celebrating the signs and cycles of nature. Consider the pleasure you take from nurturing your vegetables from seed to seedling to plant to fruit to crop. Spend some time pondering and reflecting on this, and connect with a sense of gratitude for all that your garden and the natural world within it brings you.
6. Plant for pollinators
Spring can be tricky for pollinators as they emerge from hibernation. Try to have native pollinator-friendly flowering plants in your garden or outdoor space all year round. Potted plants and window boxes are great too. The beauty of emerging flowers is a classic sign that winter is over, providing a welcome boost to the spirits. Snowdrops, bluebells and primroses were all incredible this year. Ivy is a great species for providing food and shelter for insects such as butterflies so let it be. And contrary to what we used to be told, it does not damage trees.
7. Give some time
Sign up to your local Wildlife Trust and volunteer. They always need help managing sites or running events, and if you’re able why not be kinder to nature and get involved in setting up a Team Wilder in your local area? I am having the initial meeting on Team Wilder South Wonston next week – yippee!
8. Be part of something
The time is now! Enrol in 30 Days Wild before 1st June and commit to doing one wild thing a day throughout the month of June. That’s 30 simple, fun and exciting Random Acts of Wildness.
It’s also invasive species week. You can register and choose from a selection of events and webinars. There is a webinar on 27th May at 13:00 on wildlife-friendly gardening with non-invasive plants.
9. Create a wildlife pond
This is hands down the best thing I’ve ever done for the garden. As well as frogs and toads a wildlife pond can attract newts, dragonflies and much more. If an actual pond isn’t possible, using an old washing up bowl is fine. Use native pond plants and position the pond in part sun/part shade to (hopefully) keep algae bloom in check.
A pond that’s only a square metre in size could suck as much as 247g of carbon from the air every year. Though small ponds make up a tiny proportion of the UK’s land area – about 0.0006% of it – they punch well above their weight in terms of how much carbon they can bury as sediment. Half of all the UK’s ponds were lost during the 20th century, leaving many native amphibians searching for somewhere to live.
If you do nothing else, putting in a pond is the best possible way to be kinder to nature in your garden.
10. Feed your wild visitors
Keep bird feeders and water bowls regularly topped up and remember to wash all equipment frequently too. To attract a range of garden birds try sunflower hearts, soaked mealworms and raisins, soft apples and pears, and even mild grated cheese. Avoid bread and whole peanuts as these can be a choking hazard if adult birds feed them to their young.
Do you have hedgehogs or even foxes? How would you feel about helping them by leaving out food? Hedgehogs like dried cat food biscuits (and definitely not milk) and foxes like whole eggs. Don’t try to tame them but leave the food out and set up a wildlife camera. It is so exciting to come down and watch last night’s footage.
Would you like to develop your connection to nature?
There are so many more things you can do to be kinder to nature. If you want more inspiration, the Wildlife Trust has loads of ideas. I’d love to hear how you are helping the natural world, however big or small the action. Get in touch.
If you want to explore deepening your connection to nature, which is proven to result in more pro-nature behaviour, join me for group, guided Forest Bathing in Hampshire and Berkshire, or on zoom for Mindful Nature Photography.
All images are my own.