With any type of management, from mowing the lawn in a back garden to managing wildflower meadows on a nature reserve, there will always be some form of organic 'waste' materials as a by-product.
For many people this is seen as a problem, another 'issue' to deal with and dispose of. For us, it's a valuable resource we can recycle into another habitat for wildlife.
Let's take 3 different scenarios and look at how we can use them to our advantage:
Case Study 1 ~ Waste Products - Autumn leaves, grass cuttings and wildflower hay in a wildlife garden.
This particular garden is a mosaic of lawn, shrubs, trees, meadow areas, and wildlife ponds (6 in total). Every year a fair amount of waste product is produced, and several quiet areas in the garden lend themselves to what we refer to as "snake heaps".
The process of constructing these is simple; pile up all the leaves, lawn clippings, and wildflower hay in a large heap adjacent to some cover. This could be a patch of nettles, a hedge, some shrubs etc.
Cover the heap with an offcut of pond liner and anchor down with some rocks or logs. This makes the heap heat up and sweat, accelerating the decomposition process and creating a warm and damp environment, covered from predators, perfect for egg laying grass snakes.
This garden in question had no records of grass snakes in at least 40 years; in just 3 years of creating wildlife ponds and adjacent "snake heaps" several adult grass snakes are seen every year, with females now laying their eggs in the heaps in June/July.
Leave the heaps undisturbed between late May and September when eggs and juvenile grass snakes are present, adding fresh material in Autumn and then again in April after snakes (and amphibians etc.) have finished hibernating.
Case Study 2 ~ Waste Products - Branches, twigs and leaves in a wildlife garden.
In this small wildlife garden we make several 'brash piles' every year, simply by piling up any waste branches and leaves. Again, finding a quiet undisturbed corner is key to this, as our main aim is to attract hedgehogs.
Creating piles in this way is so much better than having a bonfire or incinerating your waste.
These piles are of course difficult to monitor, but that's not a bad thing, as leaving them undisturbed is much more likely to increase their success rate. Besides, if you're patient, you'll see the new residents soon enough . . .
Case study 3 ~ Waste Products - Logs piled together in a meadow.
Any area of long, undisturbed grass if left uncut will be very attractive to reptiles (along with plenty of other wildlife species).
Here, in a large meadow surrounded by trees and hedges, we have created several piles of logs varying in size, predominantly to aid common lizards which adore log piles for basking, hunting prey and finding a mate.
On this site there were no known populations of common lizards present when work commenced. 3 years later they are commonplace on a warm day between April and October, basking discreetly on the logs.
As the piles slowly decay and we add more logs, they become a very valuable resource for beetles and invertebrates.
To summarise, by using waste products to your advantage, you can easily create secondary habitat, solving disposal issues and benefiting wildlife with minimum effort in any situation.
Text and images by Jim Ashton