National Nest Box Week 2024: How to Create a Bird Friendly Garden

National Nest Box Week takes place every year from the 14th - 21st February and is organised by the British Trust for Ornithology. It is a celebratory period designed to raise awareness and encourage more people to help birds by putting up nest boxes.

Our gardens are vital habitats for birds and wildlife especially in towns and cities where natural vegetation is limited. By creating space for plants, shrubs and trees in our urban areas we soon see nature returning, as if by magic!

Placing nest boxes around the garden with various hole sizes is a great way to provide birds with shelter in your garden. Recently I have even put an owl box in our garden, so fingers crossed! Combine this with feeders and a bird bath or shallow pond, and you will really be helping nature find a home.

My first memories of our garden are looking for frogs and toads in and around my pond and marvelling at the pond skaters scurrying about on the water surface. It is truly amazing how quickly nature moves in and finds a way.

Birds in urban areas or new housing estates struggle to find enough nesting sites, so planting a diverse selection of plants can really help. Our wildlife border has flowers for insects and shrubs for nesting birds, making it the perfect way to create a bird friendly garden. For those who really want to do their bit, planting a tree will offer shade and attract wildlife making it the perfect spot to site a nesting box. Before you know it, you will begin to create the foundations for a mini nature reserve.

Things to Consider When Creating a Bird Friendly Garden  

My favourite design projects are often when  a client has a brand new garden, typically with a new build property, as this offers a great blank canvas for creating a wildlife friendly garden. The first step is to ask questions about what the space will be used for and the hopes and dreams the owner has for their garden. 

I’d recommend measuring the site to scale and to start thinking about where things could go such as a patio, lawn, beds, paths, utility area, shed, greenhouse etc. Learning how the sun moves around the garden is very important at this stage as it will determine where to position different plants, especially taller plants or trees which cast shade. This will also help decide the positioning of a patio or terrace to offer a place to sit in the sun. Ponds are also best placed in as much sun as possible to allow for a thriving ecosystem, however if they are more for wildlife to drink from or for aesthetic reasons then a shallower pool in semi shade is fine.

Bird Boxes are best positioned in semi shade away from midday/afternoon sun to protect the chick from overheating. To get the most out of your bird friendly garden, place bird feeders near the house so you can see the birds from your window, always such a pleasure in the winter.

Opt for a Bird Friendly Garden Design 

If you want a truly nature-friendly garden then perhaps consider letting your lawn run wild! Rewilding is a great way to achieve a wildlife friendly garden. Grasses, if left alone, will grow knee high and flower in summer along with all manner of wildflowers that will naturally appear or can be sown. Leaving a small patch of your lawn unmowed so flowers and grasses can do their natural thing is a great way to introduce rewilding, the area can then be expanded as your confidence grows! 

Mow pathways through your wild meadow lawn along natural walkways to  create a designer look. Letting your shrubs grow looser and less manicured also helps to create a bird friendly garden, while covering fences and bare walls with scented honeysuckle and other climbers creates a perfect spot for nesting birds.

Water is vital for all forms of life especially in the garden so a small pond becomes the local watering hole for all sorts of creatures. At night hedgehogs, foxes and all manner of nocturnal insects will use it along with longer term inhabitants such as newts, frogs and toads. Having shallow edges allows birds to drink and bathe and is safer for hedgehogs too. Leaving piles of logs or other means of shelter such as hedgehog houses creates plenty of places for all creatures to hide and hibernate.

Incorporate Bird Friendly Plants and Shrubs  

When designing a bird friendly garden it’s best to use as many native plants as possible, however this can be tricky if you are trying to create the wow factor as weaving natives into the scheme amongst the more exotic plants is always a challenge.

Trees are crucial for the environment in so many ways and even the smallest garden can benefit from a tree. Native trees such as rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and crab apple cotoneaster (malus) are great for wildlife as their flowers are beneficial for insects and the berries attract birds.

If you want to create a separate area in your garden or screen a compost area for instance, why not plant a native hedge with a mixture of species such as hawthorn, field maple, beech, hornbeam, wild rose, and viburnum. Your native hedge is a larder for birds and animals as they have been coexisting with these species for thousands of years, this is why making room for native plants in your garden is so important and can offer so many benefits. Incorporating these native trees and shrubs into your garden will create the ultimate sanctuary, you’ll have the benefits of a mini forest except it can be kept at 1 metre high!

Embrace the Benefits of Low-Maintenance Garden Care  

By creating a bird friendly garden you’ll naturally become an organic gardener, as you won’t be needing any harmful sprays or chemicals and can instead opt for eco-friendly gardening products. With the pressure off to maintain the perfect lawn or totally weed-free border, you can spend this National Nest Box Week relaxing and simply enjoy your little piece of wildlife friendly paradise. Once you get the balance right, nature pretty much takes care of itself, as it has done for millions of years without our help! 

Get the Most Out of This National Nest Box Week

By being sympathetic to the creatures that share our world we get closer to nature ourselves and start appreciating the amazing biodiversity we have all around us. A simple act like placing a bird nesting box in your garden and watching a blue tit investigate and raise its young in it, gives immense pleasure. Feeding birds in winter is a great way to learn about which species live in your local area and is the perfect way to introduce wildlife to all ages. 

So if you’re wondering how you can do your bit for nature this National Nest Box Week, don’t worry about having a perfectly manicured garden. Focus instead on how you can encourage birds to your garden, whether it’s planting a wildlife border, a native tree or allowing a bit of rewilding, or placing nest boxes and feeders wherever you can and encouraging your neighbours to do the same. If we all do a bit, great things can happen!

This year we will be offering trees on our website to add the final touch to your bird friendly garden, and we aim to plant a tree for every border we sell at a school or community project. Stay tuned for more information!