BIODIVERSITY - LARISSA COOPER
I’m a freelance ecologist and wildlife gardener and from March onwards with the start of the survey season, I’ll spend many spring and summer dusks and dawns surveying areas for bat activity. However, when I’m at home I spend a lot of my spare time gardening for wildlife, especially invertebrates. I also offer this as a service to clients too.
Whilst not the most charismatic creatures, I love encouraging invertebrates to my garden as by doing so I inevitably attract creatures higher up the food chain. There are two main ways to attract invertebrates; create a suitable habitat and provide a food source. Different bugs require different habitats and by creating as many of these as possible you can encourage a diverse range of critters. Open compost piles can prevent removal of creatures living on it such as ladybirds or shield bugs and log piles are ideal for woodlouse and spiders to hide in. If you can, leave the garden over winter to allow anything hibernating in the leaf litter or the dead stems of plants to stay safe until spring, and and leave bare patches of earth for mining bees.
Bugs also need a food source so I try to provide as many useful plants as possible. I have quite strict rules on what plants can be added; it must be either edible, has found its own way there, or be beneficial for pollinators. This does mean that my garden is home to many plants some people may call weeds, but once you start learning about the benefits many of these species bring you will soon see them in a different light. Take the dandelion for example, the plant which is on all weedkiller packages.
Not only is it incredibly important to any early emerging bees, it’s loved by flies, beetles and butterflies. It is also a wonderful plant for our own wellbeing – packed full of nutrients, helping with circulation, digestion and much more. In fact, many plants which are often overlooked benefit both wildlife and us. Lemonbalm makes a great tea full of antioxidants and is the larval food plant for the moth Pyrausta aurata, whilst nettles are the foodplant for many butterfly and moth species and are perhaps one of the most useful ‘weeds’ to humans.
Gardening and ecological conservation has also been a saviour to my mental health for many years. I find being outside, close to nature soon calms both my body and mind almost instantly. Just hearing the sounds of the birds in spring, the smell of the fungi in autumn, the cacophony from the rooks in late winter or the buzz of bees in summer brings a feeling of grounding and connection to a world we as a race are becoming more and more distant from. If you make one change this year, get outside more!