Studies in Sheffield4 have shown that bumblebee diversity was strongly negatively influenced by “management intensity”. There was a weak negative relationship to snail diversity, and a weak positive relationship to diversity of beetles caught in pitfall traps. Thirteen other groups showed no relationship at all with management intensity. The index of management intensity included:
1. intensity of weeding
2. intensity of pruning vegetation
3. removing dead flower heads
4. collecting fallen leaves in autumn
5. intensity of watering borders
6. use of fertiliser in garden
7. use of herbicides in garden
8. use of pesticides in garden
9. use of slug pellets
Of these nine factors, only the first four could be considered “tidiness” the rest are about production and control. It is possible the later factors were more influential than the tidiness ones.
As we saw in myth 1
, it is our management actions that keep gardens varied and biodiverse, and it is certain that a garden allowed to “go wild” will soon be covered with a few aggressive plants and lose most of its biodiversity.
We know that garden wildlife loves lots of vegetation, so a garden that is kept “tidy” by big patches of bare earth between sparse shrubs won’t be very useful. One where the vegetation is kept short and heavily pruned won’t have as much food or living space as one with shrubs and trees allowed to grow more naturally. But neat gardens with lots of plants closely grouped in rows or patterns won’t be any worse for bugs than one where the same plants are randomly scattered in a “naturalistic” pattern. Decaying debris and fallen leaves are useful resources for wildlife, but if you consider them untidy, remove them from sight, but put them on a compost heap behind the garden shed. That way wildlife gets the benefit, which it doesn’t if you burn them or pack them off to the Council as garden waste.
If you can delay your tidying a little it can help wildlife. Wait until late winter to dead-head flowers so the birds can extract seeds, and you might find seed heads can be rather attractive. Rather than clearing up fallen apples immediately, remember that they will soon be tidied-up anyway by winter visitors like redwing and fieldfares.
Gardening is a question of taste, and gardens must satisfy their owners as well as wildlife. People who don’t much like the bother of plants and prefer decking, paving and garden features will happily forgo much of the pleasure of wildlife. People who desire neatness and visible control will still have lots of wildlife provided they have plenty of vegetation. People who believe in “rewilding” their gardens by withdrawing all management will soon be disappointed. People who put in regular maintenance but like to see their gardens flourish in as natural a way as possible have probably got the happy medium.
2. Johnson, S. (1755 – and later) Dictionary of the English Language.
3. Owen, J. 2010 Wildlife of a garden: a thirty-year study. RHS Media
4. Smith, R.M., Warren, P.H., Thompson, K. & Gaston, K.J. 2006. Urban domestic gardens (VI): environmental correlates of invertebrate species richness. Biodiversity and Conservation 15, 2415-2438 Available here
Page written by Steve Head: Reviewed by Ken Thompson