Biodiversity is a shortened version of biological diversity, which is a way of simply describing all life on earth in its many shapes and forms. Therefore, biodiversity is essential for the health of the planet. For us, it provides economic prosperity, and food safety and security, as well as many other areas critical to our existence.
Ecosystems are habitats that have arisen based on the biodiversity of the species that inhabit them; think of the tropical rainforests, the Great Plains, the tundra, the steppes; even a small pond in nearby woods. Each of these ecosystems provides us with oxygen to breathe and water to drink; they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and maintain nutrients in the ground, enabling plants to grow; they keep pests and diseases in check, and can help protect against flooding and regulate the climate. Put simply, biodiversity must exist or none of us will.
In recent years, the world’s species have suffered dramatic declines, and that is a dangerous place to be. But awareness is finally spreading, and now we understand that every single one of us can help combat these declines and get the world back on track.
Creating an outside haven for biodiversity where you live is a wonderful and easy way to make a positive impact on the environment. By providing a habitat for birds, insects, and small mammals, you will be helping to support the ecosystem in your area, ergo the wider world.
1. Plant native species
One of the most important steps you can take is to plant native species. Native plants are those that have evolved in your area over thousands of years and are adapted to the local climate, soil, and other conditions. They are often more resistant to pests and diseases and require less maintenance than non-native plants. Non-native plants can undeniably be very attractive and add a unique flourish to any garden on the surface, but alas, introducing unfamiliar species to an environment can have untold consequences, none of them good. They will not be providing the right kind of food, shelter or organic matter that the local environment is used to and needs.
2. Attract birds
Birds are a quintessential part of any ecosystem; indeed they can be found in every single habitat on this planet. Aside from their key importance in pollination and as part of the food web, they bring life and color to your garden, and their presence has been proven to help us deal with anxiety and stress, bringing much needed positivity to our lives. There are several ways you can attract birds to your garden:
Setting up bird feeders with a wide range of seeds, nuts, or fruit is guaranteed to attract birds to your garden. Be patient – it can take a few weeks for birds to not only smell and detect the food, but also to feel safe to come out and eat.
Like all living things, birds need water – both to drink and bathe in. By setting up a bird bath or a shallow dish of water the food won’t be the only draw. Birds are particularly drawn to the sound of trickling or running water, so consider installing a device that will help the water move, such as a cheap solar fountain that gently spins and gets that water flowing in an endless (if the sun is out) circle of movement.
Provide shelter and nesting sites
Birds need a safe place to rest and hide from predators. By planting trees, shrubs, and any other vegetation that provides cover for birds, you are saying to them this is a safe place to rest and maybe if you’re lucky, even a nest when breeding season comes. Competition for habitat is so fierce these days, any new plants are welcome – always native, of course. If you don’t have the space or finances for new plants, installing nest boxes in your garden also helps immeasurably, and you can make these yourself with some basic DIY skills and researching some online plans.
3. Attrach insects
Insects are often overlooked but they are essential for the health of the ecosystem. They pollinate plants, provide food for other animals including those birds, and help to control pests. There are several ways you can attract insects to your garden:
Plant a variety of flowers
By planting a variety of native species, you increase the range of insects that will come.
Insects need places to rest, hide, and lay eggs. By leaving some areas of your garden wild, with leaves, twigs, and other organic material on the ground, you are giving those beasties the best foundation for survival.
Insects also need water to drink. Similar to the bird bath, give insects access to water by setting up a shallow dish of water in your garden. Make sure there are pebbles, twigs and leaves in the water too so those tiny legs can hold onto something and not drown. Refresh the water regularly as too much organic matter can stifle oxygen and make the water toxic.
4. Attrach small mammals
Hedgehogs, squirrels, and mice are important members of the ecosystem. They also help to control pests, disperse seeds, and provide food for other animals. There are several ways you can attract these critters to your garden:
Small mammals need places to hide, rest, and nest. Planting ground cover and shrubs, trees, and other vegetation will help them feel safe. Every Spring, advocates for No Mow May ask people to not cut their lawns for one month, and that advice is extending where possible to last throughout summer if you can. Aside from all the pollinators flowers and long grasses attract, they also provide the perfect environment for small mammals to create a network of tunnels and passages to easily move around undetected by predators, at least enough to establish healthy and sustainable populations.
Provide food and water
Small mammals love fruit-bearing trees and shrubs and may even perform a small cleaning service by eating up any spilled bird food beneath your feeders; be mindful of rats, of course, as whilst these are also essential to the ecosystem as a whole, they can also wreak havoc on nesting birds if left uncontrolled.
5. Hold off on pesticide use
Since the creation of Roundup™ by Monsanto in the 1970s, there has been utter devastation wrought upon the natural world by well-meaning and perhaps slightly overzealous people aiming to maintain the sanitized idea of the perfect garden. That erroneous image has arguably done more damage than any polluting corporations combined, as we in our millions in our urban worlds have disrupted the connectivity of habitats, destroying the corridors that wildlife needs to prosper. By creating isolated pockets we threaten the sustainability of animal populations.
The simple truth is the perfect garden is one that packs in the most diverse range of creatures including plants. A biodiverse garden will self-police pests and maintain the most ecologically balanced habitat there is. By using pesticides you jeopardize the efforts of all those animals you’ve just provided the perfect home for and will inevitably undo all the good you have created. If you are experiencing a plague of some kind of pest that risks killing off something you know you need, then do your research on non-chemical substances.
There are wildlife-friendly insecticidal soap sprays and oils available that can keep things in check, and your local garden center should be able to help if they are worth their while.
Creating a garden that is a biodiversity oasis is not only a rewarding and fulfilling experience as you watch it all come together, knowing that there are all manner of birds, insects and mammals out there living their lives to the full, but it is perhaps the most important thing you can do for the local – and therefore global – environment. In our current times, any step is a huge leap forward.