Wild Wanstead part X

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In the 10th of a series of articles charting the Wild Wanstead project – which aims to transform Wanstead into a multi-garden nature reserve – Susie Knox suggests ways to fill your garden with wildlife throughout 2019, starting with feeding the birds in January.

At the end of last year, a huge reader survey was published in the Daily Mail which showed the enormous value of wildlife-friendly areas in your garden. Based on data from 18,000 people, the survey found that the number of nature-friendly features in gardens had a direct impact on the number of different creatures that lived there or visited – overwhelming evidence that small changes in gardens really do make a big difference. But you don't have to do it all at once.

January: feed the birds
This is the coldest month in London, averaging 5ºC, which is particularly tough on the smallest birds who have to feed all day and consume as much as 30% of their body weight to get through the long, cold nights.

February: put up a nest box
Mature trees and thick hedges provide the best nest sites, but there just aren't enough around, leaving many birds out in the cold. Nest boxes can help. There are different designs suited to different birds.

March: plant wildflower seeds
Wildflowers are so important for pollinating insects that scientists are now studying whether small areas of them in fields will address the annihilation of wildlife caused by intensive farming. It's easy to get in on the action in your garden. Just sprinkle a wildflower seed mix onto roughened soil in a pot or gaps in flowerbeds and gently press in. Cut back and remove the old stems in September.

April: feed hedgehogs
If you're lucky enough to have these rare creatures in your garden, you can help fatten them up in April so they're in peak condition for breeding. Leave out water and meat-based dog or cat food (ideally chicken flavour).

May: go no-mow
Time to get the mower out, groan. So, don't bother! Long grass is a fantastic wildlife habitat and will naturalise with wildflowers too. Why not give up a corner (or more) of your lawn and just mow once a year in late summer (removing the cuttings)?

June: plant pollinator-friendly bedding
It's the time of year when lots of people enjoy planting colourful summer bedding plants in borders and containers – so pick ones loved by the all-important bees. Avoid pelargoniums, which are the flower least liked by pollinators. Instead, try alyssum, cosmos, lantana, snapdragons or verbena.

July: build a log pile
This is the month when baby creatures, including frogs, toads and hedgehogs, begin to emerge. They need food and shelter, and a log pile provides both. Just half-bury a few logs and let plants scramble over them.

August: install a water feature
Hot, dry weather is tough for birds and insects. Even a mini pond or water feature in your garden will help wildlife. If that's not suitable for your situation, a dish of water filled with pebbles can provide a drinking trough for creatures.

September: leave seed heads intact
Many plants have attractive seedheads that are also beneficial to wildlife. Let one border age gracefully to provide food for birds and shelter for insects and other creatures.

October: plant bulbs
This is the best time of year to plant bulbs, some of which provide early food for bees in spring. Great options for pollinators include crocuses, snowdrops, alliums, grape hyacinths and snakes-head fritillary.

November: let leaves pile up out of sight
Most of the leaves are off the trees now, providing an essential habitat for mini-beasts through winter. Rather than clearing them all away, leave a few piles tucked out of sight around the garden.

December: plant a tree
The UK desperately needs more trees – not just for wildlife but to mop up carbon and air pollution too. December is a good time of year to plant trees, and you can even buy bare root plants, which are much cheaper than those in pots. Wildlife-friendly trees for smaller gardens include holly, hawthorn, ornamental cherry, crab apple and fruit trees.

For more information on the Wild Wanstead project, including 10 'wild ways' to make your garden more welcoming to wildlife, visit wildwanstead.org

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