Introduction to Garden Ecology


My garden's small, it can't be important!

Most gardens are quite small, averaging 190 square metres. However, adjacent gardens add up to large areas, and the total UK cover is surprisingly large, over 4,300 square kilometres, or more than a million acres. That's a lot less than the total area of protected nature sites, but still bigger than the Exmoor, Dartmoor and Lake District National Parks and the Norfolk Broads put together. It is a fifth the size of Wales. 

This huge garden area holds 28 million trees, and about 3.5 million ponds - more than 8 times the number of ponds left in the countryside. When we factor in how many species live or feed in gardens, we can begin to see just how important they are. Find out more about these numbers on the page Gardens as a resource for wildlife.

How different are gardens from countryside habitats?

The answer is much less than many people would think. The fundamental factors of geology, climate and weather are much the same - or sometimes rather easier since gardens are rather protected. Because gardens are maintained for variety of physical structure as well as lots of different plants, they can be more friendly for animal species than most monoculture areas of farmland.

Gardens do raise special problems for wildlife as well, and the science behind wildlife response to the impact of the garden environment is analysed in the page The physical and chemical environment of gardens.


How are energy and food used by garden wildlife?

Garden inhabitants are no different from those in "natural" habitats. They need food to build their bodies, and energy to run them. Garden plants and animals process energy and materials through their bodies, are eaten in turn by other creatures, and ultimately are decomposed and recycled back into living organisms. Because gardens are usually food rich and complex, there is fascinating diversity in the ways their inhabitants can make a living.  The page Food webs and feeding roles explores this aspect of garden ecology in some detail.


What's going to happen with climate change?

We all know that climate change is coming, and that our weather is already becoming more violent and changeable than it used to be. How could this affect gardens and their wildlife? Changes are already visible, with plants and animals setting leaf and breeding earlier in the year, while some species like the comma butterfly are extending their range northwards, while others, such as the garden tiger moth are now scarce in the south. The page Gardens and climate change has a lot of information, not just on the changes we are likely to see, but excitingly, how gardens can help plants and animals adapt and survive.


But you don't know it all?

There is still much we have to learn about garden ecology, and some of the more important gaps in our knowledge are described in the page Research needs and monitoring


Is there a way I can help increase our knowledge?

In the UK we have a great history of scientific work by gifted and dedicated amateur scientists.  Nowhere is this more true than in developing our understanding of natural history and ecology.  There are many areas where you could make a difference, especially by contributing to some of the valuable garden monitoring surveys run by our partner organisations. Look at Garden wildlife surveys to see what is available.
Introduction to Garden Ecology

My garden's small, it can't be important!

Most gardens are quite small, averaging 190 square metres. However, adjacent gardens add up to large areas, and the total UK cover is surprisingly large, over 4,300 square kilometres, or more than a million acres. That's a lot less than the total area of protected nature sites, but still bigger than the Exmoor, Dartmoor and Lake District National Parks and the Norfolk Broads put together. It is a fifth the size of Wales. 

This huge garden area holds 28 million trees, and about 3.5 million ponds - more than 8 times the number of ponds left in the countryside. When we factor in how many species live or feed in gardens, we can begin to see just how important they are. Find out more about these numbers on the page Gardens as a resource for wildlife.

How different are gardens from countryside habitats?

The answer is much less than many people would think. The fundamental factors of geology, climate and weather are much the same - or sometimes rather easier since gardens are rather protected. Because gardens are maintained for variety of physical structure as well as lots of different plants, they can be more friendly for animal species than most monoculture areas of farmland.

Gardens do raise special problems for wildlife as well, and the science behind wildlife response to the impact of the garden environment is analysed in the page The physical and chemical environment of gardens.


How are energy and food used by garden wildlife?

Garden inhabitants are no different from those in "natural" habitats. They need food to build their bodies, and energy to run them. Garden plants and animals process energy and materials through their bodies, are eaten in turn by other creatures, and ultimately are decomposed and recycled back into living organisms. Because gardens are usually food rich and complex, there is fascinating diversity in the ways their inhabitants can make a living.  The page Food webs and feeding roles explores this aspect of garden ecology in some detail.


What's going to happen with climate change?

We all know that climate change is coming, and that our weather is already becoming more violent and changeable than it used to be. How could this affect gardens and their wildlife? Changes are already visible, with plants and animals setting leaf and breeding earlier in the year, while some species like the comma butterfly are extending their range northwards, while others, such as the garden tiger moth are now scarce in the south. The page Gardens and climate change has a lot of information, not just on the changes we are likely to see, but excitingly, how gardens can help plants and animals adapt and survive.


But you don't know it all?

There is still much we have to learn about garden ecology, and some of the more important gaps in our knowledge are described in the page Research needs and monitoring


Is there a way I can help increase our knowledge?

In the UK we have a great history of scientific work by gifted and dedicated amateur scientists.  Nowhere is this more true than in developing our understanding of natural history and ecology.  There are many areas where you could make a difference, especially by contributing to some of the valuable garden monitoring surveys run by our partner organisations. Look at Garden wildlife surveys to see what is available.
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