CREATE YOUR OWN NATURE RESERVE
This country has more gardens, covering a greater proportion of the land than almost anywhere else. If an Englishman's home is his castle, his garden is his estate. Between us we have 19 million gardens, which together occupy more space than all of our nature reserves put together.
No wonder then that organisations like the Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) are encouraging people to make their gardens more wildlife-friendly. Their top tips include putting up birdfeeders, nesting boxes (for birds, insects and small animals like hedgehogs) planting nectar-rich flowers and building a pond. The RHS even has a 'Perfect for Pollinators' logo to look out for when you are at the garden centre.
Gardeners who want to help the wider environment can do so by not using water worn limestone quarried from our diminishing limestone pavements, using peat-free composts and being very careful when disposing of potentially invasive plants like water fern when carrying out major work in their gardens.
To encourage more people to think about and help wildlife the two organisations are running the 'Big Wildlife Garden' competition. The competition - a little-noticed commitment in the Government's Natural Environment White Paper - is being funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Anyone can participate, including individual householders, community groups, businesses and schools, and anything from a window box to a playing field or retail park is eligible. There are six categories: small, large and new residential, educational, community and business. Entry is free and full details can be found at http://www.bigwildlifegarden.org.uk/wildlife-garden-competition
More help is available from the British Trust for Ornithology which is organising National Nest Box Week starting on 14 February. Go to http://www.bto.org/nnbw/index.htm to learn where, when and how to put up nest boxes, and to order a free information pack.
You have plenty of time to make your entry, the competition closes on Sunday 20 May 2012. Prizes include a wildlife gardening master class at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, where the prize-giving ceremony will take place, along with membership of The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society.
Launching the competition, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, said: "No matter how big or small, every garden is a home for wildlife, and this competition gives gardeners the chance to be recognised for what their hard work has achieved, inspiring others to do what they can to make their gardens more wildlife-friendly."
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: "The UK's wildlife is under pressure from loss of habitat. But, we can all make a difference by gardening with wildlife in mind. We want to see nature reserves around the UK being connected through pockets of healthy habitat within the wider landscape, in both urban and rural areas. Clearly, gardens are an essential part of this vision."