A lot of what I read when I hit my environmental news sources is unpleasant news: habitat destruction, global warming increasing, another species on the edge of extinction, etc., etc. you know what I mean. There are also – happily – a lot of success stories out there – or at least “we’re working towards success” stories, which is still a nice break from “this is just totally fucked up and awful” stories.
And there are “things you can do” stories.
This post – 4 Simple Steps For Turning Your Yard Over To The Wild Things – mentions some of those things.
The basic concept is to provide water, shelter, food, and places for wildlife to raise young. You can go all out and convert your entire yard, or you can provide a little here and a little there. If you don’t have a yard, even a bird feeder, or some potted, flowering plants on a balcony will provide something for your non-human neighbors.
Last year, I made a bee watering station from a pie pan filled with marbles; the premise is that you only add water to come partway up the marbles, so the bees can reach the water without drowning. (Bird baths are not so great for insects, unless they can easily climb out.) I also planted a few perennial native plants, which provide flowers for pollinators and potentially foliage for munching on. I saw lots of tiny beetles all over the yarrow, and many flies, bees, and wasps – along with spiders, taking advantage of the meals lured in by the flowers. (I was also hoping my dill or parsley (not native, just regular culinary plants) might bring in swallowtail butterflies, but no such luck, although the dill attracted aphids and ladybug larvae EATING the aphids, along with some other little creatures I never could identify.)
Having heard about the trouble monarchs are in, I’d wanted to plant native milkweed, but the plant I bought turned out to be something very different. (Cautionary tale about milkweed: if you buy milkweed from a nursery, make sure it is a species native to your area; the wrong milkweed can be terrible for the monarchs.)
Lots of birds come to the yard, too, without anyone in the apartments doing anything to intentionally lure them in. Some forage in the garden beds; scrub jays have buried things in them, and stolen some plant basket material for nests in the spring. No one quite got around to pulling all the weeds in the yard, and now I’m glad: several times this winter I have seen goldfinches hanging out on those weeds, picking at the seed heads. Why buy a packet of “bird garden” seed when your yard has it built in?? It has been great entertainment watching the various flocks and solitary birds come through and poke through the fallen leaves that no one raked up (fallen leaves: shelter and food for many small invertebrates, which means food for birds as well as better soil health).
There. Justification to not pull weeds or rake leaves: it’s good for the soil, and invertebrates, and birds. No-effort habitat creation!
One day I saw what I am quite sure was a brown creeper, down near the base of a row of large plastic plant pots. It was looking up at them, and then leaping up to pick things off the undersides of the rims (they have slightly rolled edges), and then moving on to the next container, very methodically. Spiders make little webs in those rims, and the bird was picking them off.
I don’t know how long I will be living here – I really like the place, but whether work or other things will take me elsewhere a year from now, or 5, or sooner, I don’t know – so I haven’t done nearly as much with the space to feed birds and insects as I would like. Even without a lot of intentional habitat-creation, there’s a lot of wildlife activity; more variety, more intentional planting, would probably draw more. I see yards around here with signs in them proclaiming they are Certified Backyard Habitats, which is awesome! The more the better; so much of the land is covered with buildings and streets (it is a city), and so many yards provide pretty much nothing for the other creatures that live here. The more this concept spreads, in small ways along with the BIG conservation and restoration ones, the more this can seep into how we view ourselves in context with the other lifeforms sharing this space, as cohabitants, rather than competitors or enemies.
Habitat creation and restoration is important to have at many scales. For people who don’t or can’t get out of the city, having wildness close by is important; and for the animals and plants we have displaced with our presence, it makes our impact a little lighter. Looking bigger picture, and combined with city-driven projects like green streets, or construction projects that include vegetated roofs, it makes dense urban areas less of a “desert” breaking up bigger areas of less-built spaces, and could help knit together those wilder spaces.