Encouraging Wildlife

If you want to encourage more wildlife in your local park, here are some ideas from The Friends of Sandringham Park in Wetherby, West Yorkshire.

Local resident Kazia Knight was instrumental in establishing the group in 2010 and continues to be the driving force as Chair. At first the Friends group were focussed on stopping anti-social behaviour so they set about clearing dumped rubbish and tidying-up the park. To keep the momentum going the Friends consulted with other local groups; young people and the local residents' association and this intergenerational activity ensured all the people who used the park were able to have their say about its upkeep and development. But, as Kazia recalls, "at this stage nature wasn't in the picture... it was always about people".

Once the park was clean, tidy and well used by local people Kazia began to think about the green space. She says: "There was one thing the park was missing - there were no flowers, nothing visually pleasing". The Friends group set about making little pocket gardens with a splash of welcoming colour near the park gates. Kazia continues the story: "after planting the first few beds it came onto our radar that there is a whole eco-system in the park - so we set about understanding what was already there and nurturing the nature and wildlife we found within the park. That's when we started to look at the insects, the frogs and the hedgehogs that were using the park, alongside the people, and our concern for the wildlife in the park has grown enormously alongside our love for the pollinators and their importance to our planet".

Kazia explains how a partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society helped them deepen their understanding of the amazing natural resource that Sandringham Park represented to all of it users - human or otherwise!

In a quieter section of the park a number of hedgehog habitats have been established in the undergrowth, along with bird nesting boxes and bat boxes in the trees. The hedgehog habitat is in a part of the park where child-scale "fairy house" models are located - encouraging the youngest children to look closely and explore their environment. The younger children always enjoy making "bug hotels" at workshop sessions, which provide a safe nesting place for insects, especially pollinators, and can deliver an urban solution to declining insect habitats.

In 2018 the group created the innovative Sandringham Park "Bee Bar", a space within a small rockery designed to cater specifically for bees and other pollinators. Working with local scouts, the Friends group cleared brambles and nettles and planted up an area with wildflowers. A children's path has been created to allow youngsters to get up close. As Kazia suggests, "for children to get interested in nature they have to be able to look at things, smell the flowers... touch things".

The area has made a difference: an annual bee census showed both that the overall number of bees has increased and there is also a greater variety of bee species. The Friends were awarded a Green Flag "Bee's Needs" award in 2018 because of their pollinator friendly gardening.

Kazia recommends that Friends groups should engage with environmental charities and government agencies to access information and materials which can help them enhance the natural habitats in local parks and green spaces.

  • The Friends of Sandringham Park follow the guidance set out in the Pollinator Strategy published by DEFRA (equivalents are also published in Wales and Scotland) which includes advice on the type of planting to ensure there are early season bee feeders in spring and that the flowers and nutrition are available right the way through to the end of autumn.
  • As volunteer organisations, Friends groups can access plants and seeds to use in their local parks. For example The Woodland Trust have supplied several hundred whips, young tree saplings, which can be planted-up to make a more nature friendly wooded area in a park.
  • The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew has a Grow Wild project with lots of information and online videos introducing community groups to wildflower and fungi growing.

Reflecting on the impact of the work the Friends have undertaken in Sandringham Park, Kazia says: "The education has been important, not just with children, but with their families and local people who have learned how they can help pollinators simply by having a window box. We know that we have increased the number and the variety of insects in the park. Our small-scale efforts have had an impact on biodiversity: what could we achieve if all our parks used a bee friendly approach?".