Human development hasn’t just claimed vast areas of the planet, it’s
also split up the little patches of wilderness that are left, making life
especially difficult for animals that need large areas to roam and find mates. Nature
reserves are important for protecting biodiversity, but so are other vegetated areas
– even those in the midst of the paved-over metropole.
Humble suburban gardens and back yards can contribute to the biodiversity conservation
effort by forming green islands and corridors that offer local species refuge, resting places and relatively safe passage through the human-altered world.
On International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May), maximise
this effect by including the indigenous, excluding the exotic, and greening
more of the space you have available in your garden.
biodiversity: a few tips:
- The closer your garden is to the original natural vegetation of
the area, the more likely it will be to thrive and support other organisms. Exotic plant
species can look attractive, but indigenous species are much better at attracting
and conserving indigenous butterflies and birds, and they take less water too.
- Practise greater tolerance and appreciation for the insect world, and avoid commercial insecticides as much as possible in your garden.
Caterpillars eat holes in things, it’s true, but then they also turn into
butterflies. More insects mean more insect-eating animals – birds, frogs and small mammals like shrews.
- Don't forget the biodiversity layer beneath our feet: healthy soil should be full of organisms. Keep
it that way by adding compost and mulch; the easiest way to do so is to simply let
garden “litter” (leaves, twigs, seeds etc.) lie where it falls. Biodiversity
gardeners don’t worry themselves too much about neatness.
- Instead of a stretch of single-species lawn, choose a greater mix
of plant types, or maybe a rockery or pond. The greater the variety of plant
species and habitats, the more likely you’ll be to attract a variety of
- Consider all possible surface areas for planting, not just the
ground but also the walls for climbing plants, flat rooftops, terraces, decks and
even window ledges.
- Botanical gardens are excellent places to get information and
ideas for indigenous planting and creating a biodiversity garden. Entry
is free to all National Botanical Gardens on 22 May, and many have events
planned for the day. See the website of the South African National Botanical
Institute (SANBI) for what might be happening in your area.