This is a personal thank you to Katherine in County Wicklow who wrote me a lovely letter about her garden. I’ve never had a letter like that from a reader and I will treasure it. Thank you. I particularly liked your description of the blue tit that looked like Zorro.
Katherine had seen my blog but wasn’t sure about asking a question on it so wrote to me instead. Her question was ‘how can I clear my overgrown patch without disturbing any wildlife living in it?’
The answer is we will always disturb some wildlife, whatever we do in the garden. Even digging soil will distrub complex communities of soil organisms. The answer is to create a garden that offers a permanent home to a greater variety of garden creatures than the one that exists already. Thus in the long term the work you do is better for wildlife.
I recently took down an old chicken house in my garden because it was rotting and in danger of falling over. During the take down I found a toad, a birds nest (which I believe was the nest of a wren I had seen around the chicken house earlier in the year) and numerous species of spiders, insects and rot lovers like woodlice and milipedes. The chicken house had been a feature in the garden for many years and was obviously home to lots of creatures who relied on its slightly damp shady atmosphere. But it is a small part of my garden and there are lots of other similar patches for all these creatures to move into. Also with the chicken house gone I have opened up a much bigger space for gardening, which in itself will bring new wildlife.
As you suggest, dealing with one small patch of your garden at a time seems the answer – leaving the rest as it is until you have time to move into the next patch. This sounds like it will be better for you anyway. You sound like you will be making good choices for wildlife as you go so I think the things you put in place of the wild patch will be better for a wider variety of wildlife in the long run. You could come up with a sketch of how you want the garden to be and then work towards it, reclaiming a little at a time and putting into place something that will be of equal and perhaps greater value to wildlife than what you have at the moment.
Nature is always disturbing wildlife – a downed tree in a storm, a flooded river bank, a burnt forest. Sometimes such events are exactly what some species need to thrive. So think of yourself as a benign natural force for good in your garden.
I hope this helps. Feel free to write again if you have other questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.