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How to build a wildlife-friendly garden

Two blue tits perched on a green bird feeder with brick wall in the background
Two blue tits perched on a bird feeder | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

You can get closer to your local wildlife by making your back garden a safe haven for nature. Here are nine things you can do in your garden to help birds, insects and animals.

Let the grass grow

Long grass is one of the rarest garden habitats and by letting some or all of your lawn grow you will make space for many plant and insect species. Mowing the lawn only once every four weeks gives ‘short-grass’ plants like daisies and white clover a chance to flower in profusion, boosting nectar production tenfold.

Bird box and feeding

Birds are an important part your garden's ecosystem. Help them thrive by planting trees like rowan and wild cherry, creating bird boxes and putting out bird food (not bread) in winter. Situate boxes and feeders well out of reach of cats and keep feeders clean.

Plant climbers

Climbers are great way of covering walls and fences to hiding and nesting places for wildlife. Ivy is especially useful as the autumn flowers are sources of pollen for insects and the winter berries are loved by birds. Honeysuckle is also good for wildlife and very attractive.

Provide natural highways and byways

We're working with Blue Diamond garden centres to create a range of plants, seeds and bulbs inspired by the gardens we care for. Jim Teague, Head of Blue Diamond Bridgemere Nursery, suggests ways to create habitats and cover for wildlife:

'Trees and hedges offer roosting and nesting sites and become natural highways for birds and mammals to move around safely as well as valuable shelter and cover from inclement weather and possible predators. Even woodpiles of cut branches, twigs, compost and trimmings can be fantastic places for animals and insects to live, feed and hibernate.'

Bug hotel in the orchard at Polesden Lacey, Surrey showingstacked  flower pots, sticks and pine cones to attract insects.
Bug hotel in the orchard at Polesden Lacey, Surrey | © National Trust Images/Mark Wigmore

Build an insect hotel

Leave piles of rocks, twigs and rotting wood in your garden. These will provide shelter for all sorts of important insects, such as beetles and spiders. Dead and rotting wood is a habitat which is in very short supply.

Create a pond

A pond is a real boost for wildlife. It doesn’t have to be huge – you can use a buried bucket or trough. If you do want a big pond however, make sure there are sloping sides to help wildlife get in and out. A pond is best filled with unchlorinated rainwater from a water butt and planted with some native species.


A compost heap is a win-win: it gives you a way of turning waste into compost which will naturally enrich your soil, plus it may also provide a warm hiding place for many creatures including slow-worms. To avoid attracting rats, never add bread or other cooked food.

Leave a gap in your fence

Don’t lock out hedgehogs and frogs. Make sure your garden fences have some gaps at the bottom that can allow wildlife to move through from plot to plot. This will help link different habitats together.

Grow flowers

Flowers look beautiful and bring colour and scent into your garden. They also provide food for many insects. Grow as many varieties as possible to ensure pollen and nectar almost all year round. Choose single-flowered varieties and native species if possible.

Have a break from weeding

Learn to relax about weeds. The leaves of plants such as nettles, dandelions, groundsel and even brambles are important sources of food for the larvae of many insects, including butterflies and moths. Some ‘weeds’ also flower for a long time, whatever the weather, so can provide nectar and pollen when other sources might be absent.

Gardener working in the walled garden at Mottisfont, Hampshire

Get gardening

Our gardeners are on hand with ideas for your garden, plot or window box. From planting veg to tackling weeds, they’ve got all the important topics covered.

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