But no, in the UK some animals now depend on gardens to a greater extent than ever before. And with about 16 million gardens out there, we can collectively make a huge difference. We’ve chosen six species or groups whose recent declines could be turned around by gardeners’ actions.

Stag beetle

Why it needs your help

It’s a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. It’s usually found south of a line from the Wash to Bristol, and gardens are now thought to be a relatively safe haven.

How to help

It relies on dead wood for a large part of its lifecycle, so build a log pile. You can half bury some logs, leave dead wood where it falls, and keep tree stumps in place. Heaped wood chippings around logs, reapplied when they rot down, will also help. Keep water butts covered, as stag beetles are attracted to water, but drown once in it.

Song thrush

Why it needs your help

The song thrush suffered a severe decline from the 1970s to the 1990s, after which it levelled off. There was a slight rise around the turn of the century but this has levelled off again. (Source: British Trust for Ornithology)

How to help

Plant a tall tree if you can; song thrushes use them as staging and singing posts. Hedging, shrubs and lawn are also vital as foraging and nesting areas.

Because thrushes eat slugs and snails, don’t use slug pellets, which can contain harmful metaldehydes. Keep the grass 1.5-2 inches long to encourage worms, and avoid any chemical treatments. For autumn food, plant bushes and trees with berries, particularly red ones: holly, rowan, and pyracantha always go down well.

A pond with a shallow, stony shore will make your garden more attractive to song thrushes (and other birds), as will an ‘anvil’ to smash snail shells on: paving slabs and flat rocks seem to suit them best.

House sparrow

Why it needs your help

Once very widespread, the house sparrow has declined rapidly since 1975. (Source: British Trust for Ornithology).

How to help

The decline is puzzling, and the subject of research, but you can provide food, water, cover and breeding sites. Sparrows eat seeds, so appreciate long grasses as well as the contents of garden bird feeders. They also need a variety of insects to feed their young.

They’ll make good use of dense hedges, shrubs and climbers – especially if they’re prickly. Good ones to try are blackthorn, alder buckthorn, hawthorn, privet, berberis, ivy, pyracantha, gorse and dog rose.

As for breeding sites, there are plenty of ‘sparrow terraces’ (multiple nest boxes) around or you can build your own box from an untreated plank. Just make sure it’s at least 100mm square inside, with a 32mm entrance hole, and sited high up, away from cats and direct sun.

If you’ve got the space, provide a dustbin lid-sized area of dry earth, sparrows love a dust bath – and it’s great fun to watch too.


Why they need your help

You are most likely to see the following bats in your garden: pipistrelle bat, brown long-eared bat, noctule bat and Daubenton’s bat (over water). The noctule and the long-eared bat are listed as priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, as is the soprano pipistrelle. Bats suffer a variety of threats, such as loss of habitat for hunting prey or loss of roosting sites to development.

How to help

Pipistrelles often hunt in gardens, and you are also likely to see the others. You’ll see them at dusk in summer, flying just above head height (if you’re young you may even be able to hear their ultrasonic calls).

Bats like different places to roost – ranging from old trees to modern eaves. For example, in summer pipistrelles frequently roost in modern estate houses under hanging tiles or soffit boards, switching between buildings according to the weather. So the main way to help is to keep cats away from roost exit holes (which can be as narrow as 5mm). Bats live for 15-20 years and breed very slowly, so an efficient moggy can wipe out a colony.

Once airborne, pipstrelles can eat 3000 midges a night. So plant your garden to attract insects and dig a pond.

Night-scented plants also help to attract insects:

  • Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
  • Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)
  • Night scented stock (Matthiola longipetala)
  • Tobacco plant (Nicotiana spp)
  • White campion (Silene latifolia)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
  • Summer jasmine (Jasminium officinale)
  • Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)


Why it needs your help

This familiar mammal has seen an alarming decline, possibly by 50 per cent in 15 years, according to surveys by the Mammals Trust UK and The People’s Trust for Endangered Species. The reasons are still unclear.

How to help

In the wider countryside hedgehogs are ‘edge specialists’, snuffling along woodland boundaries and hedgrows searching for food. Gardens can replicate that habitat very well, especially if hedgehogs can wander between several different gardens easily. So resist the urge to tidy up too much, leave a few holes in the fence, and create shrubby borders.

Because hedgehogs eat slugs, snails, beetles, worms and caterpillars, a chemical-free garden is essential. If you’ve got a big garden you may even be able to provide a hibernation area. Leafy, twiggy areas, large log piles, rock heaps and holes in old walls are all potential sites.

Formal fish ponds with vertical sides can trap and drown hedgehogs. Shallow-sloping wildlife ponds, on the other hand, are a big help.


Why they need your help

All 25 species in the British Isles are suffering severe declines, and three are now extinct in England. One factor is the dramatic decline of wild flowers on farmed land. The six species usually seen in gardens are the common carder bee; red-tailed, buff-tailed, white tailed and early bumblebee; and the garden bumblebee.

How to help

Bees need pollen and nectar, both of which are most plentiful in wild flowers and traditional cottage garden plants. The crucial thing is to provide this resource as early in the year as possible (even snowdrops can help on warm days in January). If your local garden centre does not to have enough variety of suitable plants, try contacting a specialist wild flower nursery or seed supplier. For plant lists and suppliers, see www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk

It’s fun to set aside a border to make a hay meadow, with plants such as clover, sainfoin, bedstraw and vetches. Getting one established from seed takes time, and a disciplined approach to mowing, but it’s very easy, and looks fabulous in the summer months. A faster way is to buy young plants from a specialist supplier.

Finally, you may be lucky enough to have bumblebees nesting in your garden, particularly if you have an old, crumbling wall. To encourage them, leave some tussocky grassy areas, preferably in warm sheltered locations.