How to get hands on with wildlife

Blue tit on a nest box

From hedgehogs to house sparrows, many of our species could do with a helping hand, and your garden could be the perfect site for a small conservation construction.

You can welcome wildlife to your garden whether you choose the DIY route, buy one of the many commercially available homes, or make a few simple additions to your garden.

Function obviously wins over fashion for a wildlife des res, so here are a few practical tips to help you make a special space.

Bird boxes

"Many species use artificial nesting boxes, from large birds of prey such as kestrel and barn owl to the smallest garden bird such as blue or coal tit," says Jeff Baker from the British Trust for Ornithology.

Timber tips

Bare is better

Treated timber can contain chemicals that are poisonous to animals whereas untreated boxes will weather and blend in with their background, helping them to stay hidden from predators

Keep trees green

Trees are fantastic habitats for a wealth of creatures so use straps to fix any boxes to them, rather than damaging them with nails

Out in all weather

Choose long-lasting materials to assemble your box, such as galvanised nails. Tyre inner tubes work well as waterproof hinges.

"For many hole-nesting birds the natural and traditional nesting sites such as holes in old trees, holes in house roofs, old buildings, are just not available in the numbers that there used to be."

Mr Baker, who runs the charity's annual National Next Box campaign, advises that September to February is the best time of year to install a home.

"All new nest boxes need a bit of time to 'bed in' so autumn to early winter is the best time," he says.

"A box put up in autumn can sometimes provide winter roosting site for some species, such as great and blue tit, also wren and house sparrow."

  • Choose unplaned wood - birds favour boxes with a rough surface that they can grip rather than a perch that can leave them vulnerable to attack
  • Wood should preferably be 15mm thick to insulate chicks from any poor weather
  • The hole must be at least 125mm from the base of the box so opportunistic predators cannot easily reach in to snatch the young
  • Boxes should be at least 1.5m from the ground and away from structures that predators can easily climb
  • Fix a hinged lid to the box to allow you to easily clean it out in the autumn when the residents have left

The BTO offer detailed instructions for building your own nest boxes to suit a variety of birds including house sparrows, which are in decline.

These sociable birds nest in large numbers, so the more boxes you can accommodate the merrier.

Bat boxes

Of course, birds aren't the only winged creatures that benefit from a box - bats need homes too.

If you have bats living under your roof already, all 17 British species are protected by law so you shouldn't disturb existing nests.

A Kent style bat box A Kent style bat box offers summer roosting space

But if you'd like to provide an alternative home, or encourage bats in your area into a safe space, the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) offer advice on the different types of box available.

"If people are putting bat boxes up, bear in mind that it can take bats a long while to move in - it could be a couple of years" says Heather McFarlane from the BCT.

She explains that boxes should be combined with bat-friendly gardening to provide a rich environment for the mammals to enjoy.

According to the charity, the boxes erected in people's gardens are likely to be summer roosts for a number of bats, rather than for maternity or hibernation.

From home-made wooden structures to specially designed bricks that can be incorporated into a wall, there are a few rules to follow.

  • Bat boxes need to be at least 2m off the ground so fitting one is usually a two-person job
  • Bats prefer a ladder to enter their box and a 15 - 20mm entrance slit will keep predators out
  • Fit a fixed lid, not a hinged one, because the boxes shouldn't be opened without a licence
  • Ensure your box is sheltered from strong winds and preferably south-facing - bats like to be warm, even in summer
  • Site the box close to hedges and tree lines and make sure there's a water source nearby so the bats are close to food and drink
  • Avoid security lights as they can confuse the bats into thinking it's daylight

Bee boxes and beetle buckets

Invertebrates might be small but this makes them some of the easiest animals to accommodate and their roles as pollinators and decomposers are essential to a healthy eco-system.

Bees visit a bee box by Sally Mclaren, via Flickr Bees that don't live in social colonies benefit from bamboo cuttings

You can create the natural nooks and crannies they need in any garden with easily available items.

  • A bundle of bamboo canes tied together can be home to solitary bees. Hang it in a sheltered spot 1.5m off the ground
  • Fill a plant pot with dead leaves, turn it upside down and leave it undisturbed as shelter for a variety of insects
  • Place some flat stones around your garden for minibeasts to thrive beneath
  • Drill holes in a bucket, fill with woodchip and soil, then bury it to provide an egg-laying site for stag beetles
  • Bugs will love a simple wood pile in a shady corner of your green space

The Wildlife Trusts and Royal Horticultural Society recommend combining a few methods to create a bug mansion, detailed instructions can be found on their Wild About Gardens website.

Hedgehog hibernacula

Hedgehogs are another once common species that are now struggling, so sharing your garden with these mammals could really help them out.

Where possible, hedgehogs will live under sheds, log or leaf piles and compost heaps but a well-placed "hibernacula" can provide good shelter in winter as well as a safe place to nest in the spring.

A purpose built hedgehog home, or hibernacula This wall-adjacent property has potential

"Hedgehogs use edges - they could be easily called 'edgehogs' - so keeping it to an edge would be important, against a wall, fence or bank," advises ecologist Hugh Warwick from the British Hedgehog Protection Society.

Through the Hedgehog Street campaign, the charity provide detailed instructions on how to build hedgehog homes: from basic covered domes to partitioned boxes.

Although designs can differ, there are a few key points to cover.

  • Always fit an entrance tunnel or internal passage to a hedgehog house to keep out larger mammals, such as cats and badgers
  • Place newspaper or earth on the floor to cover any rough surfaces
  • Face your hedgehog house away from cold northerly winds
  • Choose a quiet, shady area where it won't be disturbed and it will be protected from the extremes of the weather

Leaving small gaps in fences and encouraging your neighbours to welcome wildlife too will provide animals with a larger, more diverse habitat to roam.

"Our gardens are a wonderful potential refuge - but even the most hedgehog-friendly garden is useless if it is not connected to the wider world," explains Mr Warwick.

Do you have any top tips for making wildlife welcome in your garden? Tell us about them and join the big Summer of Wildlife conversation on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature - #summerofwildlife.

And don't forget to share your wildlife garden photos on the Summer of Wildlife Flickr group - #seeitsnapitshareit.

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