Category Archives: Trees

Helping wildlife and the planet in your own garden

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British gardens cover 432,964 ha, which is the area of the Norfolk Broads, and the Exmoor, Dartmoor and Lake District National Parks added together. This makes them an amazing resource for British wildlife, at a time when nature is under pressure and being squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces. Not all gardens are equally attractive to wildlife though, but gardeners can easily turn their gardens into wildlife havens.

 Wildlife gardening can fit many different styles and approaches, whether you like you garden neat and tidy or more bohemian, and whether you have little or lots of time to spend gardening. Contrary to some beliefs, it doesn’t mean your garden will turn into an impassable jungle, and a big difference can be made with some small changes.

Attracting wildlife to your garden will also help with natural pest management, and will provide you with your very own wildlife spectacle at home – listening to bird song, watching butterflies aflutter,  spotting a frog hopping away – it’s good for the soul!

In this blog post, we’ll go over some of the things you can do in the garden to help wildlife and the planet. There are already lots of useful resources online though, so we have added some useful links for each tip. Happy gardening!

  1. Provide food for pollinators…

Choose flowers which will offer nectar to pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators. As a general rule, single-flowers- with one row of petals- are better than complex ones, which offer little to no nectar at all.

Ideally, choose a variety of plants which will flower at different times of the year, so pollinators have food all year round.

Brimstone butterfly on forget-me-not

RHS: Plants for pollinators

Butterfly Conservation: nectar-rich plants

  • … and their caterpillars

Whilst many gardeners are keen to provide flowers for butterflies, they often forget their caterpillars! Butterflies and moth will lay their eggs on food-plants specific to each species, so their caterpillars have something to eat when they hatch. Think about leaving some common food plants such as holly, ivy, hops, nettles, cuckoo flowers…

Cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragwort

Butterfly conservation: caterpillar food plants

  • Water for wildlife

Adding a water feature of any size will be beneficial for wildlife, even if only to provide drinking water for birds and small mammals. A mini-pond in an old Belfast sink will provide somewhere for dragonflies and butterflies to breed, a larger one will be a home for newts, frogs and toads.

A pond (not stocked with fish) will attract damselflies

  • Food for the birds

Feeding the birds peanuts and fat balls is great, but it is much cheaper (and eco-friendly) to grow your own. Choose plants that will provide seeds (sunflowers, globe thistle etc.) or berries (ivy, rowan, sorbus…). Also, remember that insects are birds’ favourite food, especially when feeding their chicks. Any feature (flowers, deadwood, pond…) that attracts insects will help the birds immensely.

Teasels provide flowers for pollinators, then seeds for birds, such as goldfinches

  • Dead wood and leaf piles

Insects love deadwood! Leave a stack of logs to rot in a corner of your garden to give insects a home, or build a minibeast hotel if you’d like a tidier look! These will provide a home for insects, and shelter for frogs, toads and newts. Larger stacks and leaf piles might even welcome a hibernating hedgehog.

  • Plant a tree

Much noise has been made recently about trees’ wonderful capacity to capture carbon from the atmosphere and help fight climate change. Trees also provide food, shelter and nesting sites for wildlife; are good for mental wellbeing, and provide welcome shade on hot summer days. Even if your garden is small, you can plant a small tree (rowan, crab apple…) or some shrubs (dogwood, Cornelian cherry…). When autumn comes, gather fallen leaves into a pile which will provide shelter for small creatures such as hedgehogs, and turn into a brilliant soil improver for your flowers and vegetables.

Spider in a dog rose

Tips for planting / maintenance:

What trees / shrubs to plant?

  • Be a bit less tidy

Being overly tidy can be quite detrimental to wildlife, why not try a different approach?

  • Mow your grass less, or not as short. You could leave a longer strip along your hedge or create some interesting shapes like circles underneath trees, wavy edges etc.
  • Create a gap in your fence for hedgehogs and other creatures to come in and out
  • Leave dead-heading until early spring. Seedheads can look very pretty, especially in the frost, and little insects such as ladybirds love to shelter in them.
  • Leave (some) ‘weeds’ alone. Dandelion, daisies, clover etc. are often considered weeds but they are amazing sources of food for bees and other pollinators. “A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.” – Doug Larson
Mow a bit less and watch the flowers grow!

  • Help the planet

What you do in your garden does not only affect your patch, but the health of the planet. Here’s a few things you could do to help the earth:

  • Switch to sustainable planting. Go for bulbs and perennials which will last years, instead of seasonal bedding plants which need to be replaced each season. This requires a lot less resources, and releases much less carbon.
  • Avoid leaving garden lights all night long. This will save energy and avoid confusing and hurting the insects in your garden.
  • Refrain from buying herbicides and pesticides, and try natural pest control methods instead. Pesticides and herbicides will not just kill your ‘target’ but other wild flowers and wildlife too (and potentially harm pets). Some of them are also suspected of causing cancer and other health issues in humans! Lawn fertilisers will stop wildflowers from growing as they prefer nutrient-poor soils.
  • Go peat-free.  Peat extraction destroys peat bogs, which are amazing at storing carbon and home to unique flora and fauna. Destroying peatland is akin to cutting down rainforests. Luckily, plenty of peat-free composts are now available.

Pest control:


  • Going further

And there’s more! Here are a few websites which list even more tips and advice:

Young people’s trust for the environment



The Wildlife Trusts

Greening Small Front Gardens

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The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has published a useful guide to greening small front gardens. A significant proportion of U.K. housing predates the arrival of the motor car; and estimates show that one-third of the 20.8m homes with front gardens have turned them into hard-standings, an area roughly equivalent to around 100 Hyde Parks.


The main cause for the increasing number is the significant rise in car ownership. The number of licensed vehicles in the U.K. in June 2019 was 38.7 million. Cars make up the majority of licensed vehicles. It is estimated that cars are on the move for just 4% of the time, otherwise being parked at home for 80% of the time and parked elsewhere for 16%. This is an enormous amount of metal sitting idly and occupying space most of the time!

The pictures show the RHS Guidance applied to a typical Sutton Coldfield Street; Highbridge Road in Wylde Green where tradional houses have had front drives paved with space for cars.

The findings also raise concerns about the potential effect the increased paving would have for floodwater run-off, making drains more likely to overflow. Reports on climate change adaptation have highlighted the increase in paved-over gardens as a danger during periods of flooding. Also paving over surfaces can intensify the urban heat island effect, potentially magnifying the effects of heatwaves in cities.

And front gardens are an incredibly valuable wildlife resource in any urban environment for example In leafy Sutton Coldfield gardens represent approximately 30% of land. So, the removal of each tree, hedge or square metre of lawn is a loss not only of the plants involved, but also for the wildlife that depends upon them for food and shelter. The U.K.’s gardens provide valuable habitat for a range of wild plants and animals including birds, mammals, amphibia and a huge variety of invertebrates.  And so the RHS guidance is timely . . especially here in the Royal Town, where late Victorian and Edwardian streets such as illustrated on Highbridge Road exude arts and craft character which greener planted front gardens can enhance. And at least for the moment pragmatically the guide doesn’t propose banishing the motor car; simply softening its impact on our environment.

Community Planning Initiatives / Langley Garden Suburb

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Langley Garden Suburb was an Eco Sutton Community Planning initiative for the Langley Sustainable Urban Extension to help make the new development greener and having a similar character to the Royal Town.

Langley SUE would be planned from the outset on garden suburb principles as a natural and green extension of existing local suburban and arts and craft forms.

The plan would be generated from what was appropriate and right for the locality rather than working backwards from artificially imposed targets for housing growth.

On this basis it should be much easier to get local support behind the approach.

Whilst the Community Development Trust (CDT) proposal also adds weight to this Community Planning narrative.

As can be seen by these images The Royal Town has at least if not more charm and character than the other cited Garden Suburbs – both existing and as proposed

The principle of development in the Green Belt has been legally determined but this does not mean that the targeted numbers and densities are appropriate or justifiable

The Royal Town should determine for itself the level and character of development that best suits the defining characteristics of the locality and seek to develop a Langley masterplan modelled on Garden Suburb characteristics

This will help better ensure the true development and integration of a sustainable community at Langley

Acorn Day happened this week

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The Eco Sutton project has taken off: working with Matthew Barker, the Park Ranger, we have collected acorns from sessile oaks and planted them with 2 schools – Maney Hill & Whitehouse Common Primaries.

Emily Norgrove has written an explanatory note about why we are planting this sort of oak tree:

“In preparation for our ‘Acorn Day’ with various primary schools in Sutton Coldfield this week, EcoSutton were treated to a very interesting talk with Matthew Barker, the ranger at Sutton Park, who told us all about the background to the restoration project in Sutton Park and about the different oaks that reside there.


Sutton Park has historically been a man made, working park; for example we encountered a saw pit where they used to cut the wood to be sent off for sale, and all of the pools in the park are also man made for various purposes. There has always been cattle grazing and coppicing was a common practice in the park.


In Holly Hurst, where the extensive work was carried out a few years ago, chopping out the holly and removing dead trees, this area is now rejuvenating nicely, with the appearance of more stoats and rare butterflies. However the oaks that are planted in that area are all English Oaks, which were planted around 200 years ago. They are in poor condition, partly because of the holly which was allowed to grow rampant, and partly because they are not the type of oak that would have been found in the area originally. Unfortunately the English oak is not suited to the sandy, free draining conditions that we have in this area. Sessile Oaks on the other hand, which are found mainly in the Gumslade area of the park up by Four Oaks Gate, are what would have been found originally, and are perfectly suited to the soil conditions in the park. The oaks have tended to hybridise over the years so it is hard to find a true Sessile Oak in the park,  but you can get close.


Hence Acorn Day! During this week, children from 3 Sutton Primary schools will be collecting and planting Sessile acorn oaks from the park, and looking after them for a few years before the best specimens can be selected and planted in the Holly Hurst area of the park. So their work this week will have an impact on the landscape and help towards the restoration of the park for hundreds of years to come!


Matthew also showed us some other types of Oaks; Turkey, American Red Oaks, and Pin Oaks. They all have slightly different leaves and characteristics. Because of the long, hot summer the Pin Oak which is near Wyndley Gate (the original gate to the park), should give us a fantastic show of red leaves this year; in a couple of weeks go straight ahead as you cross the ford, and the oak is labelled up on the right, whose leaves are more pointed than we would normally recognise as an oak.

An extremely interesting visit and great background to the environmental situation in Sutton Park”

On Friday we will be planting more acorns with Boldmere Infants School.

And here is a photo of one of the trees Matthew showed us.

A sessile oak from Sutton Park


Announcing ‘Acorn Day 2018’

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Eco Sutton has responded to the Sutton Park Rangers plea for more sessile oaks to be grown.

We have been contacting schools to see who would like to join in this project.

The first to respond was Boldmere Infants.  Come September they will walk down to the visitor centre; pick up acorns and then, back at school, will plant then in pots.  When the baby oak trees have grown to one metre tall they will be re-planted in the park to maintain the stock of hardwood trees.

Anyone who wants to join this project can email the John Heywood:

The project is open to everyone: schools scouts, cubs, individuals- in fact just anyone.

A leaf from the tree we will plant