For the last 12 years we have been encouraging parts of our 3-acre plot to go wild in an attempt to increase the habitat for wildlife and to study what arrives. Here is some of the progress to date:

GETTING RID OF CHEMICALS AND PLASTIC

When we first saw this site it was being used as a small plant nursery. The topsoil had been scraped off down to the clay beneath and terrain woven matting laid down with gravel on top to suppress weeds and make a tidy working area. This had then been kept weed free with large quantities of roundup and other chemicals.

There were old plastic trays and racks and plant pots all round the site, many of which had deteriorated in the sun and rain, splitting into tiny fragments that were mixing with the soil. Others were buried in huge overgrown areas, dumped as trays of unwanted plants, which had taken root and grown into thickets.

We decided on a few basic principles:

  • no more pesticides or weedkillers
  • no more plastic on site
  • reduce non-native species as they naturally died or became too large
  • introduce more wildlife-friendly plants
  • have some areas of the site where wildlife had top priority and humans came last

ENCOURAGING NATURE TO RETURN

This involved minimum activity for maximum pleasure. Allowing brambles to grow in certain areas – often providing shelter to young oak trees in those vital few years before they grow beyond the reach of local deer – and watching wildlife paths appear in the long grass as badgers, foxes, deer and rabbits trundled across and around the land. This parcel of land is like an island in an ocean of intensively farmed arable land, so we tend to attract huge numbers of birds and insects too.

Looking out for and noticing new arrivals is fun and always surprising. Wild garlic turned up under the oak trees a couple of years ago and bluebells have also made a comeback in shady patches of the densest undergrowth. Green and both spotted woodpeckers are frequently seen, as are a wide range of finches, sparrow, dunnocks, blackbirds, yellowhammers, robins and wrens galore, tawny and little owls, stock doves and lots we are probably missing because we are not birders.

The recent addition of a permanent pond has brought dragonflies and even some visiting ducks – and it’s only about 3m long. It shows how little habitat you need for wild creatures to find it and move in quite happily.

Previous owners had planted a lot of pine, fir and other evergreen trees on the site as well as cordyline and fan palms. At first, we intended to cut them all down, but we have realised how important to evergreens are for shelter in the winter and the palms have gained our respect through their sheer stubbornness. Time after time, they reappear through the lawn, despite being severed at ground level. Their dead leaves also make excellent fire lighters twisted into a knot – free fuel that’s easy to handle and store.

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