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GO WILD.. OUTSIDE; From bristly hedgehogs to beautiful butterflies, a garden rich with wonderful wildlife is a happy, and healthy, one; IN THE GARDEN.

Byline: DIARMUID GAVIN

A couple of weeks ago I was disturbed by the manic sound of dogs barking in the garden. They were incessant and it was unusual to have a chorus of three barking at the same time.

After 10 minutes I couldn't ignore them any more.

I figured it wasn't an intruder of the human kind, as they tend to operate under cover of dark.

Wandering out I discovered Roxie, Coco and Monkey (not my choice of names) peering into the pond which I had drained the day before. Stuck in the centre and unable to escape was a terrified hedgehog. Scared the poor little thing would die of fright, I shooed the dogs off and wrapped a towel around its extended bristles before placing him in the shrubbery. The dogs just poo and pee on the grass whereas this little fellow is of real benefit to all who love nature, wildlife and gardens.

He and his mates must be protected at all costs and as gardeners we have a role to play.

In May it was revealed that 60% of 3,148 animal and plant species assessed in the UK have declined rapidly over the last 50 years.

Hedgehog numbers, for example, have fallen by 33% since 2000 and tortoiseshell butterflies, a once common sight in British gardens, have declined by nearly 80%.

House sparrows, starlings and common frogs are all becoming less common.

Wild About Gardens Week takes place next month (October 25 - 31). Led by the RHS and The Wildlife Trusts, this initiative aims to help save our native wildlife through gardening. Everyone is asked to do one thing during the week, whether it be leaving out some bird seeds or building a bee hotel!

How we garden on a daily basis can impact the environment in a positive way. I've saved a hedgehog, and you can too!

But smaller garden creatures also need a hand. Butterflies happily feast on nectar-rich plants such as sedum, fuchsia and Michaelmas daisies at the moment, and in summer they love verbena, buddleias, marigolds and lavender. But they also need places to breed and, for caterpillars, to feed.

If you want a space for a little wild area in your garden, nettles, sorrel, thistles and bird's foot trefoil will provide good cover. So plant spring bulbs such as crocuses, alliums and muscari now to provide a continuous supply of nectar.

Bees love many of the same plants as butterflies, and different species prefer different varieties depending on the size of their tongues so if you can, include some of the following in your planting plans - clover, honeysuckle, catmint, toadflax, borage, chives, mint, echiums and larkspur. If you don't have time to cut back all your grasses and perennials, you will really be doing wildlife a favour. Seed heads will provide food and the vegetation provides cover for insects to overwinter. This includes every gardener's friends - lacewings and ladybirds that like to feast on aphids, our common enemy. Tucked away in a corner, create a woodpile, just a few bits of cut wood arranged higgledy-piggledy will create a cosy place for the common toad to hibernate and breeding grounds for stag beetles and the woodlouse.

As well as your choice of what to grow, how you garden makes a big difference. For instance, if you're operating a chemical-free policy you will help nature re-establish the balance between the various insects. Tolerate some "pests". Creepy crawlies which seem like an annoyance could be of great benefit to your plot.

This week provides an excuse to be lazy by letting the grass grow long - research has shown that the lawn can contain more native species than any other garden feature.

One thing that will attract wildlife more quickly than anything else is a pond. Mine is home to a fascinating variety of insects that swim or hover, and if you'd like to make another big difference, plant a tree, especially a native one.

Autumn is a great time to plant either container or bare root specimens. If you've got the space, your choice is enormous - hornbeam, birch, alder, hawthorn, rowan mountain ash, crab apple, wild cherry, beech, box, holly, oak, willow, yew, juniper.

So, take a moment to consider the thousands of other creatures that enjoy your garden as much as you do, and give some of them a helping hand this week.

For more information and ideas, visit wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk.

Garden species must be protected... and we all have a role to play

CAPTION(S):

VISITOR Keep grass long to protect ladybirds

WILDLIFE Butterflies (left) and bees (below) need nectar-rich plants, such as crocuses (above). Thistles (below left) are a good if you have a wild area in a garden

AT RISK Hedgehog numbers have fallen 33% since 2000
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 21, 2013
Words:799
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