Beneficial animals and insects in the garden.

Although it may seem like everything in the garden wants to eat your plants, Mother Nature has created a balance to the onslaught of baddies with the insects and animals below.

Table: A list of beneficial insects and animals.
Animal/insect  

Bat

Benefit:

There are 18 bat species found in the UK.

Notes:

Pipistrelle bats are tiny, but can eat up to 3,000 insects per night! To enourage them into your garden to breed, build a roosting box and place it high on an external wall, out of the reach of cats, which along with the use of insecticides and habitat loss are causing the decline in bat numbers. For further information, see www.bats.org.uk for the Bat Conservation Trust. Bats hibernate for the winter.

Bee

Benefit:

It is estimated that a third of our food plants are pollinated by bees.

Recent research suggests that neonicotinoid pesticides may be affecting bee numbers. These have been banned by the European Union, however the UK and USA governments are resisting imposing a outright ban.

The varroa mite (varroa destructor) a parasitic mite of honey bees has also been blamed for the weakening or complete loss of honey bee colonies.

Notes:

Plant brightly coloured, nectar rich plants. Especially in spring (bulbs, primroses, mahonia, erica/heather, aubrieta and pansies) and autumn (dahlias, sedum and Michaelmas daisies).

Birds

Benefit:

Eat slugs, snails and other insects.

Notes:

Attract birds into the garden by providing food in the winter, with a nut feeder, fat ball or planting plenty of berried shrubs. Don't forget fresh, clean water.

Erecting nesting boxes will get the adult birds busy in the spring, collecting insects for their young.

Whilst most garden bird populations, according to the most recent RSPB garden bird survey, are in a steady decline, the robin seems to be thriving and are at a 20-year high.

Centipede

Benefit:

They are predators and eat insect pests such as grubs (including vine weevil), woodlice and slugs.

Notes:

To tell the difference between a centipede and the slightly damaging millipede, the centipede has two legs per body section, where the millipede has four legs (2 pairs) per body section.

Earthworm

Benefit:

They aerate the soil and mix leaves, dead vegetation, animal waste and minerals, excreting a fine rich compost.

Notes:

If you do have worm casts on your lawn, wait for the casts to dry before brushing them into the grass, where they will act as a great compost, improving the quality of the lawn.

Frogs & toads

Benefit:

Eat slugs, snails and other insects. It has been estimated that a single toad will eat approximately 10,000 insects each summer.

Notes:

Frogs and toads normally spend their winters out of the water, hiding in the undergrowth, rocks, stones and under garden buildings. Venturing back to the pond in February / March. They obviously need water in order to breed, so create a pool and the frogs and toads will seem to appear from nowhere.

Hedgehog

Benefit:

Hedgehogs will eat slugs, snails, beetles and other insects.

Notes:

Over the last 40 years, the UK hedgehog population has decreased from an estimated 35 million to less than a millon. It's believed this is caused by loss of habitat with more people paving over their gardens, garden fencing that reaches the ground, the rise in numbers of the urban predators and the increase in number of vehicles on the roads, 200,000 hedgehogs die on British roads each year.

If you want to encourage them into your garden create a small gap in the bottom of your fences where they can come and go as they please. Provide a safe place for them to sleep and hibernate, like a low stack of logs under an evergreen shrub (which will also give winter cover). If you have a pond, create a way of them getting out if they go for a drink and fall in. They like to sleep in long grass, piles of leaves, compost heaps and bonfires so check before strimming, turning the heap or lighting a fire. The young are vunerable for the first couple of months, especailly to predators, if you are going to build a nesting box, try to make it strong enough to deter foxes.

Don't leave out bread and milk, cows milk can upset their stomachs. If you think there is a shortage of insects, maybe leave some meat, cat biscuits or dog food.

For further information see http://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/, hawr.co.uk or save-me.org.uk.

Hoverflies

Benefit:

They should be encouraged into the garden, as during the larva stage they will eat large numbers of aphids, between 500 and 1,000 each. They can be seen flying in the garden from June through to October, depending on the weather.

Notes:

Planting highly scented flowers including roses, sweetpeas, asters, chrysanthemums and umbelliforms like dill and fennel, will encourage them into your garden.

Lacewing

Benefit:

Thin, transparent wings that are nearly twice as long as their body.

Notes:

Lacewing larvae eat large quantities of aphids so should be encouraged into the garden. Provide them with a place in the garden where they can get winter cover. The adults will lay their eggs in the spring when they wake from hibernation.

Ladybird

Benefit:

Love eating aphids, including blackfly and greenfly.

Notes:

If you've got greenfly, the ladybirds will find you.

Spider

Benefit:

Spiders don't do any harm in the garden and should be encouraged, as they eat pest insects, including aphids.

If you do want to reduce the number of spiders in a particular area, remove their hiding places or turn over the soil and the spiders will find another home, or encourage blackbirds to your garden, who'll eat them as part of their normal diet.

However, it's been estimated by London Zoo, that in the autumn, there are up to 2.25 million spiders per acre of countryside. So you'll have your work cut out trying to iradicate all of them.

Toads

Benefit:

Toads come out to hunt at night, eating slugs, snails and beetles. It's been calculated that a single toad consumes over 10,000 insects per year.

Notes:

When threatened toads can secrete bufagin, a toxin, from their skin, if you pick them up to move them, wash your hands afterwards.

Other gardening pest and disease pages: