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Gardening with Wildlife in Mind Introduction by Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of English Nature

English Nature is the Government agency that champions the conservation of wildlife and natural features throughout England, so why are we involved with this CD?

Virtually none of the English landscape is truly natural and too much of what we call "the countryside" is now, sadly, almost devoid of wild species as a result of modern farming policy and practices. Most of the surviving areas richest in wildlife are protected to some degree but these cover only a small area.

That leaves towns, villages and cities - and within them, some 15,000,000 gardens - as a significant refuge for wild species. Gardens are already hugely important for wildlife, interest in wildlife gardening has never been higher and is now being increasingly reflected throughout the media. But the untapped potential is still very great and gardens could become more valuable still, if more people gardened with wildlife in mind.

We create gardens first and foremost for our own enjoyment. But any garden, no matter how small, can also be a haven for some wildlife. It's my belief that a wildlife-rich garden provides a far greater source of interest, relaxation and pleasure than one from which nature has been virtually banished by pesticides and herbicides.

This CD is designed to help people make their gardens better places for wildlife, but this doesn't mean turning them into wilderness areas! It has some practical advice about creating habitats important for wild species. It also suggests plants likely to attract bees, moths, butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Most of these are native species as these are usually of most value. But many exotic plants can also be helpful to our wildlife and a selection of these has been included too.

This is not a definitive guide to all the wildlife likely to occur in your garden, which may support as many as 2000 species, most of them invertebrates! Instead, it focuses on a relatively small number of "creatures" that are both distinctive and desirable. It would have been illogical, though, to exclude all the species that most gardeners would rather not have, such as slugs and snails. These may be seen as undesirable but there is no escaping them! On the plus side, they provide food for animals and birds which people enjoy seeing - such as song thrushes, slow-worms, frogs and toads. They also play a valuable part in breaking down dead and decaying vegetation.

Our advice over "pest" species is therefore to live and let live and, as far as possible, to rely on natural methods of control. However selective chemicals are claimed to be, they will almost certainly harm beneficial species as well as those targeted and should only be used as a last resort.

I would just make three pleas. First, avoid the use of peat. This is a non-renewable resource, taken from wildlife-rich sites and almost exclusively for horticultural purposes. Secondly, don't introduce any plant from your garden into the wild: it could be an invasive species and cause problems. Finally, get native plants only from reputable suppliers and never from the wild.

Enjoy your garden and your gardening! Remember, gardens cover a bigger area than nature reserves. Without too much effort, you can make a personal and a positive contribution to the conservation of wildlife in England.

Sir Martin Doughty has been Chair of English Nature since May 2001. He was previously the Leader of Derbyshire County Council and Chair of the Peak District National Park Authority. He is a Patron of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM) and a keen gardener.

© 2003 English Nature

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