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Nature : Wildlife

Though a garden does not immediately come to mind as a wildlife habitat, most of its animal life is every bit as wild and untamed as anything the jungle ever produced – less spectacular that’s all. Even if birds or hedgehogs become used to being fed, they remain wild animals.

Unnoticed hordes of creatures work in the soil, on its surface, and on plants. Some are plant-eaters (herbivores); others are scavengers of dead animal and plant tissue; a few others are carnivores that eat the herbivores. Certain small animals, mainly insects and mites, are parasitic on larger animals, feeding off them or laying eggs in them.

Relatively few insects, and other animals, have managed to breach the formidable defences of plants – thorns, hairs, stings, sticky surfaces, tough skins, poisons. Of the hundreds of animal species found in gardens, very few are truly harmful to plants. Most are there to feed off dead plant material, or off each other.

The relatively small number of harmful insects; greenflies, some caterpillars, a few beetles and grubs, we recognise easily. The ones we have no names for tend to be disregarded. These are the beneficial insects that turn dead plant material into humus and, by and large, control the harmful insects.

Birds are particularly valuable for their predatory role on insects and snails, as well as for their singing. Some insects play a dual role. For example, wasps are a nuisance but they are also implacable predators of caterpillars; earwigs chew holes in flowers but they eat greenflies too.

Trees and shrubs, particularly berried kinds, provide shelter and food for birds. Flowers and other plants encourage insects. A pool encourages slug-eating frogs.

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