With thousands of species in decline globally, it’s time to ditch the idea of having a uniform, short-shorn lawn without flowers, trees, water or fallen leaves to harbor wildlife.
By planting native flora, allowing grasses to bloom and giving the lawnmower a well-deserved rest, wild plants and animals are making a comeback in previously sterile areas. Here’s why a backyard wildlife haven is important for the planet and how to build one of your own.
As bee populations plummet worldwide, many people wonder what they can do to help. One suggestion is to let the yard return to its wild roots.
A study found minimally managed green spaces in urban areas had a higher species richness and greater abundance of certain types of bees, which shows even struggling species can recover from the brink of death. Since bees are a keystone species, this is good news for the whole ecosystem.
Longer, diverse grasses support higher insect populations and a greater number of invertebrates overall. Although these aren’t the animals people typically envision when they think of wildlife, invertebrates attract birds, reptiles, small mammals and amphibians, which depend on them for food. A lush yard can also serve as a corridor for migrating animals.
As pollinators return, they help the flowers proliferate, providing food and habitat for the next generation of bugs. So, put down the pesticides and change your definition of weeds. Giving the plants a chance to recover reestablishes the natural order of things.
All this isn’t to say that you can’t ever mow or plant vegetables. Human settlements will always contain developed areas and it’s perfectly fine — natural, even — to curate certain parts of your yard to suit particular needs.
Whether you need to trim the grass to make a play area for kids or dogs, keep a storefront free of weeds or clear a field to plant corn, you’ll inevitably change the environment. The point is to allow some areas to grow wild, letting nature reclaim what was once suppressed. A fully manicured lawn takes more fossil fuels to produce than the grass can ever absorb, so it’s critical to leave some stones unturned, as it were.
How can you create your own wildlife haven to help the planet? Here are some ideas to help you get started.
Although not as natural as letting nature run wild, a decorative pond with fish can provide a water source for birds, insects and other wildlife. During a drought or very hot year, this can save animals who may be desperate for a drink.
You’d be amazed at the diversity of plants native to your region. Whether you want flowers, trees or ornamental shrubs, you can order seeds or buy plants that thrive in your yard’s climatic conditions.
Natives require less upkeep than exotic plants because they’re adapted to the weather, grazing animals and pollinators in your region. Plus, planting native seeds can satisfy your urge to garden without introducing potentially invasive species that can outcompete native species leading to extinction.
A stack of logs or branches is the perfect habitat for small animals. It provides shade and decaying matter invertebrates like woodlice love to eat. Also, the insects that move in can attract animals that may be more fun to watch, like birds.
If your yard is devoid of trees and shrubs, birdhouses can serve as refuges for birds or even bats looking for a place to roost or raise their young. A birdhouse can protect them from the weather and roving predators like cats.
If you’re not ready to ditch your fence entirely, that’s understandable. You can still leave a small hole or gap in your yard’s perimeter to allow small animals to pass through. This lets animals like frogs — which don’t have the benefit of being able to fly — access resources like food, water and a mate that might be just on the other side of the fence.
Giving the ecosystem a chance to thrive is vital to the recovery and sustainability of wildlife. Countless species benefit from longer grass, native plants and access to water and creating a wildlife haven can be as simple as letting nature take its course. It’s time to redefine what it means to have a perfect yard.
See more posts from Jane Marsh at environment.co
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