Whenever I return to my parents rural, family home I am reminded how powerful gardens are for wildlife. On the terrace street in Preston where we live almost all our back yards are concrete and the only greenery is the small park at the end of the road. We are lucky really, because Preston has many large parks and the close by railway line is surrounded by trees, a vital piece of habitat for a sparrow or goldfinch.
But compare the wildlife we see in the city with what you get in rural Northamptonshire and there's a huge difference. Last night we had a hedgehog encounter on the front doorstep, while sat in the kitchen I can hear flocks of sparrows (to be fair I hear these in Preston too but less so) on the roof and the deluge of other birdsong I cannot hope to identify is distracting. It's also the buttercups, daisies and clover in the lawn that makes a different. In fact the lawn itself is a refreshing change, to look out of the window and see mostly green is lovely.
That's just one garden. And if it was alone in a sea of concrete is would have much less wildlife than it does now. The reason it is so full of life is that it is surrounded by other similar gardens and the network of green spreads across the town, and countryside, creating passageways for nature to flow along. Nature reserves are trying to do a similar thing by linking up and creating habitat corridors across the country so that species can move from one area to the next and so that they have wide ranges to live on, not just an isolated island. This will only become more important as climate change sets in and species are pushed north out of their current ranges and look for pathways to new, cooler habitats.
There are many nature reserves in the country, and they do amazing things but the area made up from gardens and yards and parks and school fields is much, much bigger. If everyone gave 10% of their garden up to be a wildlife haven just think of the networks that could be created across the land. If every farmer and other landowner got involved too and gave 1% of their land up for wildlife the networks could spread even further.
Farmers are being rewarded for helping wildlife through agri-environmental schemes, although not as much as they should be rewarded and organisations like the RSPB are trying to change how farmers are funded by governments to promote wildlife. So hopefully those farming stars who protect wildlife so well already will be thanked more in the future and encourage others to follow their lead.
Even a small change can make a difference in your garden. We're trying to turn our patch of concrete a little greener, with added hanging bird table and water bowl, climbing bean plants and hanging baskets with trailing flowers. It feels nicer to be in, and we're definitely seeing more wildlife. No butterflies yet but bees and sparrows (and slugs and snails- still wildlife if not always wanted) are regular visitors and as the season moves on we look forward to our first crop of home grown food. A space for wildlife, for bbqs, for growing food and for enjoying fresh air, not bad for a 4m x 4m piece of grey concrete. What can you do with your patch of land?