Wildlife Gardening – Secret Places

Wildlife Gardening – Secret Places

Every wildlife garden needs some secret places where animals can hide away from humans and other predators, where they can sleep at night, produce young and hibernate in winter. Most gardens have odd corners where useful odds and ends accumulate, heaps of wood which will come in useful one day, an assortment of old terracotta flower pots too potentially valuable to discard, a roll of netting with holes that the rabbits get through, or a pile of leaves supposedly making leaf mould. Luckily most of us leave these alone, and they become home to insects and make nesting sites for robins, mice, hedgehogs and even snakes.

Secret places where wildlife can hide and nest range from undisturbed piles of logs or leaves to inviting patches of Urtica dioica (stinging nettles) or Rubus fruticosus (brambles). A compost heap will also provide such a refuge, as well as creating rich organic matter to help improve soil condition throughout the garden.


A ‘forgotten’ pile of logs makes a useful site for insects, spiders, ants and slugs, some of which live on decaying timber; others may use it as a hiding place. If the pile is situated in a damp location, it may even offer shelter to a toad. If you are going to create a log pile, choose a shady place where the timber will not dry out too quickly, and you should ideally have a mixture of different timbers and a range of log sizes within the pile.

Fungi which feed on decaying timber will quickly colonize the pile, followed by most of the insects, including solitary bees looking for nests. Predatory birds like wrens and blackbirds will then come looking for the insects. If the log pile is near the garden shed, the inhabitants can be watched from the windows without disturbance.


A pile of leaves and garden prunings makes a welcome home for hedgehogs; but, before removing the leaves to put on a winter bonfire, do remember that they may be hibernating in the middle of the heap.


These are another important mini-habitat for the caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell, peacock, comma and red admiral butterflies. Stinging nettles are also excellent material for adding to the compost heap. To prevent the nettles becoming a nuisance, create an enclosed rooting area for them by sinking a large container in the ground before planting. The caterpillars prefer young nettle leaves and butterflies will appreciate the nettles being cut back in midsummer to provide food for second broods of caterpillars in late summer.


If you have room, find a space to let a blackberry plant or two go wild; brambles are a valuable source of food for many creatures and provide an ‘armoured’ resting place for birds and small mammals within the tangled mass of stems. It is essential to keep brambles under control; old stems should be removed each year and any suckers escaping into other areas must be ruthlessly eradicated.


Wildlife Gardening - Secret Places All gardens need at least one compost heap so that garden and kitchen waste can be turned into organic matter to add to the soil in beds and borders. The bacteria that break down the waste matter need nitrogen, heat, water and oxygen, and given the right balance they will rapidly multiply and create compost.

It is important to get the balance right between compacting the material in the heap to create heat and leaving it open enough for oxygen from the air to get in. You also need to make sure that there is sufficient moisture without drowning the bacteria. The heap will provide a secret place for wildlife, especially mice and voles.

Hints and Tips for Composting

  • When making compost, if you have room in your garden try operating a system of three heaps – one for filling, one for leaving to break down into compost, and one that is ready for use in the garden.
  • Grass clippings, most prunings, annual flowers and vegetable peelings are all suitable for composting.
  • Always mix up items to be composted, so that air can circulate more freely.
  • To ‘activate’ the heap, use nitrogenous waste such as animal manure or an organic fertilizer such as seaweed meal, available from garden centres.
  • Some waste is unsuitable for composting: this includes anything that has been cooked, prunings from woody plants, diseased material, and weed seeds.

05. February 2011 by admin
Categories: Wildlife Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on Wildlife Gardening – Secret Places


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