Wildlife Gardening in the Climate Crisis

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Wildlife Gardening in the Climate Crisis – Drought

 

There is a significant overlap between people who care about climate change and people who care about biodiversity. For starters, climate change is a threat to biodiversity – it is a current threat and it is a growing one. On the flip side of that, we depend on our natural ecosystems to regulate our planetary systems – including the climate. In short, ecological collapse means “game over.” We need thriving plants in healthy soil to capture and store carbon. It’s a very clinical way to think about plants and soil, but if your number one concern is climate change, conserving, restoring and expanding ecosystems should be a high priority.

 It is a toasty hot July in the UK. Temperatures are such that there are human health warnings in place, but perhaps even more concerning is how severely affected the plants appear because of the lack of rainfall. We had dry conditions last year and trees shed their leaves early, but the situation, at least locally, looks much worse this year. The wildflower meadow at work, which I helped with, looks dead across a large area. Nettles in the local woodland are wilting. Plants that are usually really drought tolerant seem to be suffering and our local water company are running television advertisement campaigns about conserving water.

This presents a dilemma for my wildlife garden with its ponds and wildflowers. If I turn on the taps to water it, I am aware that the water may be drawn from chalk streams and other sources that wildlife depend on elsewhere. So, in trying to save the wildlife in my garden, all I may be doing is harming wildlife elsewhere. My water butts have long since run dry. 

I reached out to the Twitter community to see what solutions might be possible. Many people reported using grey water (that is the water from washing up, showering etc.) It is important to note that we should probably take care to use cleaning products that are not harmful to wildlife when we do this. This is true even if we are not watering plants with it. Many brands of washing-up liquid and bathroom cleaners are harmful, particularly to aquatic life so it is problematic that they go down our drains and into our rivers. Kate Bradbury also suggested using mulch to help reduce losses. Another suggestion was to install more water butts and the discussion turned to conserving the water we use in our homes in the first place. I have also been careful to water late in the day to reduce evaporation (and to avoid leaf scorch).

I also wondered about how we manage wildlife gardening (and wider conservation) going forwards, given that even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels today, we are likely to see things get worse before they get better.

I think one of the key things is observation and gathering data. What plants are coping with these conditions? One of the things that I have noticed is that the rewilded plants do better as a general rule than the planted ones. Trees, having deeper roots, seem to cope better, but it is worth noting that they do suffer too and can start shedding leaves and even dropping boughs. They are also more susceptible to insect attacks and disease under these conditions and, of course, wildfire. 

It’s probably worth mentioning some of the drought-tolerant plants such as wallflowers and many of the meadow wildflowers will usually go through the season without watering. lavender, yarrow and foxglove all seem to do better than the other plants. Thyme too seems to cope reasonably well where plants like mint struggle. Echinacea does not seem to do so well, but plantains seem to endure almost anything and the ragwort is looking healthy too. I have deliberately chosen the plants that the pollinators also like and which are native. 

So there are a number of questions going forwards about how we can best help through wildlife gardening. Perhaps leaning more towards rewilding over planting is a good plan. I suspect it is not the case of a single approach but rather the most appropriate strategy on a case-by-case basis.

We may also have to look at whether we should be a little more accepting of non-native species, which may be more tolerant of the conditions that we are starting to experience – at least in the heat. Coping with the binge-bust cycle of extreme heat and flooding may be another matter. We will need to think about how these species fit in to the ecosystem and whether they can be part of the web of life, supporting biodiversity or not. Whatever the approach, it is clear that data and collaboration are going to be invaluable – not least listening to and collaborating with the rest of nature. I really look forward to the discussions and working with others to find a path through this sticky issue. Needless to say, we could really do with urgently turning off the fossil fuel taps!

So a few tips in summary

  • do pop out water for wildlife (a wildlife pond with gently sloping sides, shallow areas and stones is perfect but otherwise a dish with stones and water, bird bath and/or a water bowl for the hedgehogs are all helpful however, particularly with bird flu so prevalent, please do keep these clean)
  • use water butts and grey water as much as possible
  • pot plants will dry out quickest
  • brown grass may not look like we have come to expect a well-kept lawn to look but it will spring back when it rains
  • consider planting (or rewilding) with the changing climate in mind – drought tolerant plants for pollinators
  • if you can, try to collect water off as many surfaces as possible with water butts etc. I also like to leave buckets etc standing outside – some to collect rain and some upside-down or sideways for the spiders!  

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Post updated. 
 
 
 
 

Edit Post

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wildlife Gardening in the Climate Crisis – Drought

 

There is a significant overlap between people who care about climate change and people who care about biodiversity. For starters, climate change is a threat to biodiversity – it is a current threat and it is a growing one. As I write, there is widespread drought, extremely high temperatures and wildfires – all of which threaten biodiversity and human lives.

On the flip side of that, we depend on our natural ecosystems to regulate our planetary systems – including the climate. So we have the potential for a horrible positive feedback loop. In short, ecological collapse means “game over.” We need thriving plants in healthy soil to capture and store carbon. It’s a very clinical way to think about plants and soil, but if your number one concern is climate change, conserving, restoring and expanding ecosystems should be a very high priority.

 It is a toasty hot July in the UK. Temperatures are such that there are human health warnings in place (in the UK the first ever red warning), but perhaps equally concerning is how severely affected the plants appear because of the lack of rainfall. We had dry conditions last year and trees shed their leaves early, but the situation, at least locally, looks much worse this year. The wildflower meadow at work, which I helped with, looks dead across a large area. Nettles in the local woodland are wilting. Plants that are usually really drought tolerant seem to be suffering and our local water company are running television advertisement campaigns about conserving water.

This presents a dilemma for my wildlife garden with its ponds and wildflowers. If I turn on the taps to water it, I am aware that the water may be drawn from chalk streams and other sources that wildlife depend on elsewhere. So, in trying to save the wildlife in my garden, all I may be doing is harming wildlife elsewhere. My water butts have long since run dry. The ponds are running dry too.

I reached out to the Twitter community to see what solutions might be possible. Many people reported using grey water (that is the water from washing up, showering etc.) It is important to note that we should take care to use cleaning products that are not harmful to wildlife when we do this. This is true even if we are not watering plants with it. Many brands of washing-up liquid and bathroom cleaners are harmful, particularly to aquatic life so it is problematic that they go down our drains and into our rivers. Kate Bradbury also suggested using mulch to help reduce losses. Another suggestion was to install more water butts and the discussion turned to conserving the water we use in our homes in the first place. I have also been careful to water late in the day to reduce evaporation (and to avoid leaf scorch).

I also wondered about how we manage wildlife gardening (and wider conservation) going forwards, given that even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels today, we are likely to see things get worse before they get better. Very, very few of the wildflower seeds made it to flower this year and, for the first time ever, I am having to water those that did. They seem to be having a very short flowering season this year. We are faced with the question of whether to try conserving the status quo or adapting to minimise the impacts.

I think one of the key things is observation and gathering data. What plants are coping with these conditions? One of the things that I have noticed is that the rewilded plants do better as a general rule than the planted ones. Trees, having deeper roots, seem to cope better, but it is worth noting that they do suffer too and can start shedding leaves and even dropping boughs. They are also more susceptible to insect attacks and disease under these conditions and, of course, wildfire. 

It’s probably worth mentioning some of the drought-tolerant plants such as wallflowers and many of the meadow wildflowers will usually go through the season without watering (although not this year for my garden). Lavender, yarrow and foxglove all seem to do better than the other plants. Thyme too seems to cope reasonably well where plants like mint struggle. Echinacea does not seem to do so well, but plantains seem to endure almost anything and the ragwort is looking healthy too. I have deliberately chosen the plants that the pollinators also like and which are native. 

So there are a number of questions going forwards about how we can best help through wildlife gardening. Perhaps leaning more towards rewilding over planting is a good plan. I suspect it is not the case of a single approach but rather the most appropriate strategy on a case-by-case basis.

We may also have to look at whether we should be a little more accepting of non-native species, which may be more tolerant of the conditions that we are starting to experience – at least in the heat. Coping with the binge-bust cycle of extreme heat and flooding may be another matter. We will need to think about how these species fit in to the ecosystem and whether they can be part of the web of life, supporting biodiversity or not. Whatever the approach, it is clear that data and collaboration are going to be invaluable – not least listening to and collaborating with the rest of nature. I really look forward to the discussions and working with others to find a path through this sticky issue. Needless to say, we could really do with urgently turning off the fossil fuel taps!

So a few tips in summary

  • do pop out water for wildlife (a wildlife pond with gently sloping sides, shallow areas and stones is perfect but otherwise a dish with stones and water, bird bath and/or a water bowl for the hedgehogs are all helpful however, particularly with bird flu so prevalent, please do keep these clean)
  • use water butts and grey water as much as possible
  • pot plants will dry out quickest
  • brown grass may not look like we have come to expect a well-kept lawn to look but it will spring back when it rains
  • consider planting (or rewilding) with the changing climate in mind – drought tolerant plants for pollinators
  • target your watering for the optimum benefit (getting the water to the roots of the plant rather than widespread and targeting those plants that really need it rather than watering everything)
  • if you can, try to collect water off as many surfaces as possible with water butts etc. I also like to leave buckets etc standing outside – some to collect rain and some upside-down or sideways for the spiders!  

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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