Gardens for Wildlife: promoting biodiversity conservation in urban areas

Gardens for Wildlife: promoting biodiversity conservation in urban areas

To many, nature conservation is a thing that only occurs in wilderness areas such as national parks and reserves, or areas of private land with conservation covenants or Land for Wildlife. However, as suburban sprawl and other forms of land-clearing continue to fragment and reduce wildlife habitat, gardens can increasingly make important contributions to nature conservation and play a valuable role in providing wildlife with space, food, water, shelter and a place to rear young.  They can also be ‘stepping stones’ or corridors to other habitats nearby (such as natural bush reserves).

‘Gardens for Wildlife’ (GFW) was developed in Tasmania in recognition that there was potential to achieve broader community engagement in nature conservation and sustainable land use practices on private land, largely focusing on properties within the urban or suburban fringe.  It provides an important opportunity for the urbanised population to engage with, and participate in, nature conservation.  This engagement can act as a catalyst for increasing broader community awareness, understanding and support for nature conservation in general, and getting people to think beyond their backyard to the broader issues of biodiversity conservation, both nationally and globally. GFW aims to show that wildlife species and habitat conservation is for everyone, not just large landholders, national parks or reserves.

Many GFW members have planted their gardens using local native plants and have reported great success with increasing the number and variety of native birds which now visit or live in their garden. For many people, seeing native birds in their garden is a great source of enjoyment. Other wildlife welcomed has included pademelons, Eastern Barred Bandicoots, frogs, lizards and brush-tailed possums.

Silvereyes enjoying a good wash – bird baths are great to have in the garden. Image: Stuart Smith
Two Eastern Barred Bandicoots – a mother and her young – spotted in Iona’s garden. They are a threatened species now almost extinct on the mainland. Image: Iona Mitchell
A brush-tailed possum in Iona’s garden. Image: Iona Mitchell

Often people think of wildlife as the larger, more visible species. However, invertebrates, including insects, spiders and worms, are one of the largest and most diverse animal groups, and yet they are among the least understood or appreciated. Invertebrates play a significant role in nature as decomposers, nutrient recyclers, pollinators, pest controllers and prey for other species – without them we would not see larger animals. They are important food sources for many larger species, such as birds, bats, frogs, lizards, bandicoots and quolls. Insects play an important part in pollination, so that vegetable crops, fruit set, and flowers are much more productive, abundant and successful. Bees are not solely responsible for this – butterflies, moths, ants, beetles and native wasps are some of the many different types of insects that assist with pollination.

So while many people may consider their garden too small for larger wildlife, these areas can still provide valuable habitat and food resources for invertebrate wildlife. The biodiversity outcomes may be considered small on an individual basis; however, if properties in the scheme are considered collectively, the outcomes can be significant due to the change in attitude of the landowners participating, and the messages they then convey to others in the community.

The author in her native garden. Image: Fiona Scott
A Tasmanian Bettong in Iona’s garden. Image: Iona Mitchell
A cluster planting of native plants to provide food, shelter and safe nest sites for wildlife in Iona’s garden. Image: Iona Mitchell

The GFW scheme also focuses on environment-friendly sustainable practices, as what we do in our garden can affect other places beyond our property boundaries. Excessive watering uses precious water resources. After watering or rainfall, any chemicals used, such as pesticides or excess fertiliser, will run into stormwater drains and eventually end up in the local river or estuary. Planting native species can reduce the use of water and fertilisers. We can all make a contribution to protecting our environment.

The Tasmanian GFW scheme was officially launched in August 2008. Since that time it has steadily grown, and in December 2017 there are now 600 members with properties collectively covering 2,879 ha. The attractive GFW sign displayed on property gates or fences allows members to be recognised. It also increases awareness, promotes the scheme and encourages others to join. Many membership requests now coming in are due to people seeing the sign and deciding that they would like to support the scheme and be recognised for providing a ‘Garden for Wildlife’.

The attractive GFW sign displayed on property gates or fences allows members to be recognised. Image: GFW

GFW has now spread outside Tasmania and has been adopted by the Barung Landcare Association, based in Maleny (Queensland) and the Euroa Arboretum (Victoria). Barung Landcare has used the same artwork for their GFW sign, only changing the Scarlet Robin of the Tasmanian sign to a more familiar bird species for the Maleny region of Queensland, the Red-backed Fairy Wren. Similarly, Euroa Arboretum has used a Superb Fairy Wren. The images of a frog, kangaroo grass, prickly box flowers, and a skink are reasonably generic in conveying messages such as drought tolerance and wise water use, and highlighting smaller animals and the importance and value of their role. Just imagine what many more Gardens for Wildlife could do around Australia to help protect our wildlife species and natural biodiversity.

Banner image courtesy of Ruth Mollison.

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