How to make your walls wildlife-friendly

With careful planning, the walls of your house can provide a valuable refuge and source of food for garden wildlife.

 

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Make the walls of your house wildlife-friendly article spread

With careful planning, your whole house and particularly its walls can provide a valuable refuge and source of food for garden wildlife.

It’s easy to forget that the walls of your house (and your garden) may be some of the most important wildlife habitats you own. Depending on their aspect, some will be shady and damp, while others will be hot and sunny. They’ll provide food and shelter for species seeking different climates, so it’s important to make the most of them.

Climbers on house walls offer safe nesting sites for a variety of birds. Their value is enhanced by putting up nestboxes where the birds will be less at risk from predators such as cats. The only downside is that birds appear not to see windows, especially if they are reflecting the sky or a lawn. And the problem seems to be worse if birds scatter from a predator when a feeder is too close to the house.

 
The value of hawk and owl silhouettes stuck on windows is debatable, but several things can help to reduce the problem. Do not hang feeders close to your house, try to break up the reflections from a window using branches from a nearby tree, or hang reflective items on a string across it.
 
THE VALUE OF WALLS
 
  • In addition to a range of microclimates, walls also provide a variety of habitats: cracks where invertebrates can hide and overwinter, flat surfaces for basking and feeding areas. Good planting adds to this diversity.
     
  • Apart from the obvious climbers, you can grow a range of flowering plants up a trellis or among larger climbers. The flowers of runner beans, for example, are very good for bumblebees, as are those of the broad-leaved everlasting pea. The silver Y moth also feeds on everlasting pea flowers, and the foliage is eaten by many caterpillars and beetles.
     
  • Climbing nasturtiums look good and attract numerous butterflies. They may even help to keep small and large white butterflies off your garden brassicas.
     
  • Walls are good places for harvestmen, wall mason wasps and snails. On warm spring days, they provide basking sites for early small tortoiseshell, comma and peacock butterflies, and they serve as overwintering sites for the chrysalises of large white butterflies. Watch flocks of tits foraging through the climbers on a winter’s day to appreciate how many invertebrates they harbour.
     
  • If you need to repair an old wall, do not do so in the nesting season. Birds such as blue and great tits, house sparrows, spotted flycatchers and redstarts all nest in holes in walls, as do woodmice.
     
  • Try to leave as many holes as possible for future nesting birds. And don’t forget to check crevices before blocking them up in case they’re being used by bats.
 
10 WAYS WITH WALLS: Some of the wildlife you can attract and how to do it.
 
  1. Robins
    Grow climbers up walls to provide nesting sites for smaller birds such as robins. Having their nests close to the house will enable you to watch them coming and going, and protect them from cats.
     
  2. Small invertebrates
    Choose drought-resistant plants such as mexican fleabane for cracks on sunny walls, and ferns for shady areas; both provide a variety of habitats for small invertebrates. 
     
  3. Red underwing moths
    Plant buddleia to see these moths feeding during the day. Otherwise, they’re most likely to be seen resting on walls, but can be difficult to spot when their red underwings are hidden from view.
     
  4. Garden spiders
    Climbers on house walls provide great habitat for spiders. A diversity of plants on garden walls attracts prey for both web-building spiders and those that actively pursue their victims.
     
  5. House sparrows
    These birds are noisy, busy and a delight to have in a garden. Nestboxes sited among dense climbers can allow colonies to develop and help to protect them from grey squirrels and rats.
     
  6. Wall mason wasps
    Females lay their eggs in holes in crumbling mortar and around window frames – leave some places where they can nest if you’re doing repairs. These insects resemble social wasps, but are solitary.
     
  7. Rodents 
    Cut your climbers back a little way below the roof to deter rats from climbing up into your roof space. Otherwise, both rats and mice are great fun to watch as they hunt through this foliage at night.
     
  8. Hummingbird hawkmoths
    Honeysuckle flowers give off a great scent that permeates the garden on a warm summer evening. They also attract moths, including, if you’re lucky, hummingbird hawkmoths.
     
  9. Hoverflies
    The flowers of the climbing hydrangea hydrangea petiolaris attract a range of insects, especially hoverflies. It is great for shady and north-facing walls, is self-clinging and the leaves turn a beautiful golden-yellow in the autumn.
     
  10. Common lizards 
    In rural areas, garden walls (especially older, dilapidated ones) attract common lizards, which dart out to hunt insects and spiders. South-facing walls provide basking sites.
 
STEVE'S TOP TIPS:
 
  • Climbing plants can hide ugly walls as well as provide interesting wildlife habitats. Ivy can damage the render on older walls, but generally climbers protect walls. They are only likely to displace gutters and roof tiles if they get out of control.
     
  • The space between the wall and a trellis is good for nesting birds. Wild roses, clematis and honeysuckle provide colour as well as cover, and pyracantha yields berries in the autumn.
     
  • Different types of nestboxes can be placed on walls at a variety of heights: put robin boxes fairly low, tit boxes at mid-height, sparrow boxes among the climbers, starling boxes nearer the top, and house martin boxes under the eaves. Blackbirds, dunnocks and wrens all nest in denser wall foliage. Avoid placing boxes in direct sunlight or too close to your feeders.
     
  • Build a garden wall using irregular-shaped stones, leaving cracks and crevices for drought-tolerant species such as stonecrops, saxifrages and rusty-back ferns. An open compost heap and stone or stick piles against a wall will add to the habitat diversity.
     
  • Grow rosemary, lavenders and other flowering herbs in pots along sunny walls to attract bees.
     
  • Winter-flowering clematis provides food for winter-flying bees. The soil at the base of walls is often full of rubble, so you may need to dig this out and add some topsoil. Make sure the roots are about 30cm out from the wall to avoid the ‘dry zone’ at its base.

 

If you enjoyed this, read the previous part here and the next section in the series here. 

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