Natural England
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An online oasis for wildlife

Natural England launches “virtual nature reserve” linking the country’s gardens and open spaces

Launch of England’s ‘Big Wildlife Garden School of the Year’ competition

England’s newest wildlife reserve - the Big Wildlife Garden – is ready for exploration! Launched today by Natural England, this innovative web site creates an online network of gardens and open spaces and encourages people of all ages to discover how to attract more wildlife into their gardens.

Dr Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive, said: “The Big Wildlife Garden is for anyone who is passionate about encouraging wildlife to their garden. By bringing together a community of enthusiasts of all ages and getting them to join forces online, we can create a virtual nature reserve in which wildlife can thrive.”

One of the aims of the Big Wildlife Garden is to inspire children to enjoy the natural world and learn how to enrich outdoor spaces. The site enables users to log their own diaries noting seasonal changes, swap gardening tips and families are encouraged to upload their favourite photos of wildlife. Groups with access to gardens and green spaces, such as scouts and girl guides, can sign up to get recommendations for ways to make their local sites more wildlife-friendly.

Families, individuals and primary schools can collect Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards for their efforts to attract wildlife - with the highest accolade reserved for the appropriately named Green Award. There is also a brand new competition to find England’s ‘Big Wildlife Garden School of the Year’. Schools progress through each Award level by collecting points for each wildlife wonder added to their garden.

Gardening in a wildlife-friendly way can create an oasis for species in decline such as hedgehogs, holly blue butterflies, song thrushes, bumble bees and stag beetles. As the climate changes, a robust nationwide network of wildlife-friendly gardens can help all creatures great and small to adapt and migrate throughout the land.

Helen Phillips continued: “The Big Wildlife Garden is a great way to ensure that the 19 million gardens in England - which together occupy an area the size of Essex - fulfil their potential as hugely valuable habitats on which so many species depend. Our aim for the first year is to attract 10,000 users; if all that garden space is combined, then this enhanced wildlife friendly area could make a real impact.”

In developing the Big Wildlife Garden, Natural England has worked closely with the Wildlife Gardening Forum, an association of approximately 70 leading gardening and conservation organisations.

Its Chair, Dr Steve Head, said: “Domestic gardens are England's rainforest, richer in species than any other single habitat we have. They are home to our favourite birds, and for a bewildering variety of insects and other mini-beasts. And since every garden has its own unique mix of habitats , every patch of land added to the Big Wildlife Garden will increase the number and populations of species we are helping to protect.”

Appearing on the home page of the Big Wildlife Garden, Alan Titchmarsh, the nation’s best-loved gardener, said: “By providing flowers for butterflies and bees, as well as larval food plants, and by putting up bird boxes and bird feeders, we can all do our bit for wildlife conservation. It is vitally important that urban, suburban and rural gardens provide food and shelter for wildlife, and it offers us, the observers, great fun, too. Wildlife gardening is not onerous, it is a positive delight.”

Now, if that is not encouragement enough that the Big Wildlife Garden and its users can really make a difference to wildlife whilst also enjoying it, we don't know what is. So, get your trowel at the ready, and help create the biggest virtual wildlife reserve in the country at:

… one small click on the keyboard today could make a massive difference to England’s wildlife tomorrow!


Top tips for a wildlife-friendly garden:

  • Brighten up your garden: use flowers that provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects all year round. Try aubrieta and flowering currant in the spring; buddleia, lavender and thyme in the summer; and sedum, Michaelmas daisy and hebe in the autumn.

  • Encourage variety: try a mixture of trees, shrubs and climbers, or a mixed hedge, to give food and shelter to wildlife. Good small trees for blossom and berries include rowan, crab apple and hawthorn.

  • Old is awesome: nurture mature trees in and around your garden and they’ll look after the wildlife. Old trees are more important for wildlife than any other single factor – if your garden is too small for big trees, try to get some planted in the neighbourhood and protect any that are already there.

  • Create a bird buffet: provide food and water for birds all year round. Offer a mix of food including peanuts, seeds, kitchen scraps and fat balls, plus natural food such as berries and seed-heads.

  • Don’t be too tidy: piles of leaves and twigs at the bottom of a hedge will shelter frogs, mice and hedgehogs, while the seeds in dead flower heads provide valuable bird food. Encourage wildflowers to grow by leaving a patch of grass un-mown. Your enriched lawn will provide shelter for small mammals and food for caterpillars.

  • Garden in a sustainable way: avoid chemicals and don’t use peat to enrich your soil. Demand for peat threatens the survival of important natural landscapes. Collect water in butts and check the origin of wood used for your garden – the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label indicates wood from sustainable forests.

Notes to Editors:

1. Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. It conserves and enhances the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings.

2. The Big Wildlife Garden is part of Natural England’s ‘One Million Children Outdoors’ programme which launched in April 2009. By summer, children all over the country were taking part in free outdoor activities all over England associated with this campaign:

3. The Big Wildlife Garden web site is operated by Natural England, the government’s statutory conservation advisor for England. The web site recognises the fact that gardens represent an important area of natural habitat for many species, and that gardening in a wildlife friendly manner can considerably increase the diversity of plants and animals in every garden.

The Big Wildlife Garden is free for anyone of any age to join and is open to individuals, schools or community groups.

Once users have registered their garden or green space, they can earn points for everything they do to encourage wildlife and track their progress towards Bronze, Silver, Gold and Green Award levels. They will also be able to share ideas and pictures with other members of the Big Wildlife Garden and keep their own online wildlife diary. All content on the web site is fully monitored by Natural England before it is viewable by other web users.

4. Anyone from the UK can take part, not just in England.

5. The Big Wildlife Garden has been developed with the help from the Wildlife Gardening Forum – an association of around 70 gardening and conservation organisations with an interest in gardens and gardening. Natural England is a leading member of the forum, which includes government agencies, horticultural and scientific bodies, nature conservation NGOs, commercial companies and horticultural journalists. It includes groups such as the RSPB and the Royal Horticultural Society.

6. ‘Big Wildlife Garden, School of the Year’ competition:

The search is on for England’s best school wildlife garden! Schools have until July 2010 to make as many improvements as possible in the school’s green space/garden to qualify for the Green Award level. Children can create a wildflower meadow, build a pond and install nests for bumble bees – whatever it takes to collect enough points!

Once the Green Award level has been reached, schools will be asked to send in an article and photos about its green space/garden. Natural England will keep track of all school entries throughout the academic year. When the closing date arrives, judges will then select a winner from each of the nine English regions, as well as an overall national ‘Big Wildlife Garden, School of the Year’ winner.

Entry to the competition is free. Each winner will be presented with a special commemorative plaque to display in their school’s green space/garden, presented by a local celebrity.

Big Wildlife Garden, School of the Year’ competition: summary of entry procedure and conditions:

  • Schools register their green space/ garden on the Big Wildlife Garden web site, and select the option requesting to enter the ‘Big Wildlife Garden, School of the Year’ competition

  • Schools progress through each Award level – Bronze, Silver, Gold and finally Green – by collecting points for each wildlife wonder added to their garden

  • On submitting entries to the Green Award challenge, all schools that have opted into the competition will be evaluated by Natural England’s judging panel

  • Last date for submission of the Green Awards challenge is 9 July 2010

  • Winning schools will be notified by 7 September 2010.

  • Categories will be:
    a) School of the Year, National Winner x 1
    b) School of the Year, Regional Winners x 9 (East of England, East Midlands, London, North East, North West, South East, South West, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber)

  • Winners will receive a commemorative plaque, presented by a local personality. Presentations will take place by agreement with schools during September or October 2010.

7. For further information contact: Natural England’s Press Office on 0845 603 9953 / / out of hours 07970 098005.

For more information about Natural England, visit:


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