When deciding to make a wildlife garden, you need to be prepared to play host to a wide diversity of creatures, large and small. Some of these creatures may not be ones you particularly like, but to maintain the garden and it’s food chain then you will have to be prepared to tolerate all who enter your garden. Two types of creatures that feature highly in a wildlife garden are mammals and reptiles.
Wildlife such as mice, rats, moles, squirrels, rabbits and foxes belong to the mammal family. This means they are warm blooded creatures that usually have fur on their skin, they give birth to live young and feed their young with milk. On the other hand, a reptile is a cold-blooded, usually egg-laying vertebrate with a skeleton and a body covered with scales and or plates. Reptiles include such species as snakes, lizards and slow worms.
How much wildlife you encourage into your garden will largely depend on the size of it. Any species of wildlife will only visit the garden if it has the correct shelter and food for it’s needs. If your wildlife garden provides them with their needs, the chances are they will not only become regular visitors but will opt for making it their permanent home. Some mammals and reptiles will only be night-time visitors or just passing through. For this reason they may not be seeking a home, but they will require food.
The food chain in a wildlife garden is a very delicate balance of nature. Small mammals such as mice eat insects and spiders. Hedgehogs eat worms, slugs and small animals, while bats eat flying insects. Larger mammals such as foxes eat birds, small animals and insects as do snakes. Rats will eat almost anything they can find, which makes them great cleaners.
If wishing to encourage mammals and reptiles into your wildlife garden, you need to design it with this in mind. It needs to be built and planted as a mammal and reptile refuge, the most vital part of this being some kind of water feature. A pond is ideal with a bog garden along-side it for those creatures that need water but do not live in it constantly.
Lots of ground cover is essential for wildlife to shelter and feed in. Compost heaps will encourage much wildlife as will areas that are left alone to grow wild, particularly with native plants and weeds. Rotting logs are home to many insects such as beetles and woodlice as well log piles which become homes to mammals such as hedgehogs and mice. A wildlife garden planted with as many shrubs, bushes, trees and long grass is ideal for encouraging all sorts of creatures.
Once having built your wildlife garden, you need to be patient as wildlife will not appear overnight. Small creatures need to establish themselves in the garden before larger creatures arrive to feed on them. This could take up to a year or two.
Providing Food For Mammals and Reptiles
Most mammals and reptiles eat plant and animal matter. For this reason it is best to include plants they can eat directly as well as ones that attract creatures that they in turn eat. An example of this is the planting of sunflowers. The seeds are eaten by some insects, birds and small mammals such as mice. These in turn are eaten by larger animals such as bats, rats, rabbits and badgers.
It is very easy to get carried away with feeding the wildlife in your garden as an act of kindness. However, the whole ethos of a wildlife garden is to establish a near natural environment as possible for the animals. This means building an area that should be as self sufficient as possible to sustain the wildlife you attract.
If however, circumstances such as bad weather or your garden has not established itself fully yet, then some form of supplementary feeding may be necessary. This should be done with some restraint and with only high quality feed as natural to their own habit as possible. Feeding the animals incorrectly no matter how good intentioned can have adverse and very damaging consequences. For example, feeding birds nuts and seeds that have been imported from another country may attract one variety over another, disturbing the balance to the wildlife garden.
You need to be aware that if you put out bread for birds or scraps for foxes you might be doing more harm than good. If an animal comes to depend on handouts it could alter it’s natural behaviour, even delay or halt it’s hibernation or learn to store supplies for the winter. This may be alright while you constantly care for it, but what happens if you are away or forget?
The best advice is to restrict supplementary feeding to household food that would otherwise go to waste, such as bread, cake, fruit and so on. Vegetable peelings and scraps can go on the compost heap, indirectly providing supplementary food for slugs, worms, beetles and bugs that live in or around it.
Natural Food For Mammals and Reptiles
The best way to make sure there is plenty of food in your wildlife garden is by making sure it is stuffed with super-food providing plants. It needs to be a breeding ground for beetles, bugs, worms, slugs, and other small creatures that mammals and reptiles will naturally feed on. Once having established this you will in time attract a wide variety of mammals and reptiles.