A spider web maker, in the Restore Café garden
Now that the days are longer and the first flush of spring is over, gardeners all over the country have a chance to step back from frantic seed sowing, transplanting, digging and weeding and carry on gardening at a slower pace over the summer.
It’s an ideal time to look at the bigger picture, and to make room for more wildlife in your garden. It’s possible to buy an amazing array of wildlife homes. You may already have bird and even bat nesting boxes. Or a dry house for a hedgehog to hibernate in, or a dark and damp one for frogs and toads. You may even have bug boxes, insect hotels or a butterfly habitat.
But what if you don’t, and can’t afford to splash out on all that real estate? Perhaps you prefer the DIY approach, or eco-friendly recycling? Or you have a small garden that simply doesn’t have the space for all these different habitats?
A fun garden project, especially in the summer holidays when the kids can get involved, is to build your own wildlife stack. A wildlife stack has accommodation for lots of different creatures, but it’s designed and built by you out of scrap materials. It can be as big or as small as you like, and makes a really attractive garden feature that doesn’t need to be hidden away.
The first step is to collect your building materials. Keep an eye out for old pallets you can rescue, pieces of wood, old tiles and bricks – particularly the ones with holes in. If you have a pile of unused terracotta pots, then find those. Broken ones will be fine as well, but be careful of any sharp edges.
Find a flat area (or level off a space) on which to build your stack. The ‘ground floor’ is for amphibians and reptiles. Pile up pebbles, tiles, and stones from the garden to provide shady nooks and crannies they can shelter in.
For the upper floors of the stack, build a sturdy frame from pallets or pieces of wood supported by bricks or plant pots. If you have an old bookcase or set of shelves, you could use that.
Stuff gaps with handfuls of twigs and sticks, or hollow stems from garden plants. If your bamboo canes have seen better days then cut them into short lengths and add those to the stack. If you have chunks of wood, drill holes (in a variety of sizes) into the ends for insects to crawl into.
Keep building up layers until the stack is as high as you want it to be. Use anything you have to hand to provide different niches for wildlife. Drinking straws, pine cones, straw and dried grass are all useful, as is corrugated cardboard. Try rolling it up and stuffing it into a plastic bottle, or a cardboard tube.
Finish off your stack with a roof to keep the water off – roofing felt, roofing tiles or a layer of plastic are all fine. You could even install a green roof, covered in drought-tolerant plants, to attract even more wildlife!
What might move in?
Keep an eye out to see what’s living in your stack at different times of the year.
- A slow worm might make its home on the ground floor.
- Ladybirds love to hibernate in hollow stems; lacewings like corrugated cardboard.
- Solitary bees move into larger holes, as will spiders.
- Field mice can raise a litter in a nest of straw or shredded paper.
- Insects of all kinds love nooks and crannies.
For more inspiration, check out the RSPB wildlife stack that appeared at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2008.