Wildlife Garden



Can my Parish really help prevent a Mass Extinction? Caring for creatures great & small.


An introduction to Wildlife Gardening

We asked Dr Sarah Gardner to set the scene on our biodiversity crisis and how our humble churchyards can welcome back wildlife.


For millennia, humans, plants and animals have existed together, not in harmony, but in equilibrium. However, animals and plants are dying at an unprecedented rate within human history. Of the 8 million species of life on earth [i], up to 1 million are facing extinction, many within the coming decades [ii]. This current era of extinction loss due to human activity has been named the Anthropocene [iii]. All species are affected, from mammals, birds and fish, to insects, plants, corals and fungi.

It is easy to believe that this accelerated biodiversity loss is restricted to parts of the world being actively ripped apart, like the Amazon, but over 400 species are at risk of extinction here in the UK [v]. According to the 2019 UK State of Nature report, hedgehog numbers have declined by 95% since the 1950s, and in the same timeframe, the common toad has declined by 68%, and turtle doves by 98% [iv].

These UK species are declining because of the way we humans have treated their environment. Our industry, urbanisation and agriculture have polluted and destroyed wildlife habitats like rivers, hedgerows, woodlands, wetlands, peatlands, wildflower meadows. Pesticides, industrial waste and domestic waste that we have released into our roads, railways, weirs and power lines have poisoned and obstructed species from moving between breeding and feeding grounds. In addition, climate change is affecting the life-cycle and distribution of many species. For instance, since the 1990’s many species of birds, butterflies and moths have moved 18km north each decade, seeking more suitable habitats to live and raise their young [vi].

Creatures are going extinct because of us. As we consume more food, water, land, energy, we deprive other species of their share of resources. Our overconsumption generates waste, pollutes oceans, contaminates land, changes climate and degrades the diminishing resources we have left. The average consumption for a person in North America is almost 4 times larger than that of a person in India, central or eastern Africa. For the UK, the difference is almost 3 times [vii]. As the demand for resources in industrialised nations increases, fewer resources are left for our neighbours in less developed countries, for indigenous peoples, for the vulnerable, poor and other living creatures and plants. As Pope Francis says, our lifestyle choices are a matter of social justice, and can have a huge impact; “in debates on the environment, [we need] to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” [#49].

Loss of wildlife species and habitats affects us too. Time spent outside, exploring, working or relaxing with nature helps both our physical and mental well-being [viii]. We benefit from nature because, as Pope Francis reminds us “our lives are interconnected with it” [#16]. Trees and green spaces reduce heat and pollution in our towns and cities, with a recent study from the USA revealing that neighbourhoods with few trees were more than 10 degrees hotter than other, tree-rich neighbourhoods [ix]. The poor usually live in tree-deprived urban areas, carrying the burden of extra heat and pollution and the increased risk of respiratory disease and hospitalization. The plight of the earth and the plight of the poor are directly and inextricably connected.

Even non-native plants like the passion flower provide food and habitats for pollinators.


As humans, we depend on nature for our survival. Animals and plants provide us with food, medicine, clothing, energy, shelter and transport. Life works together in a delicate balance, providing ecosystem services essential to life on earth. When ecosystems function healthily and properly, oxygen is produced, carbon is sequestered, climate and water supply are regulated, waste is broken down, nutrients are recycled, soil is constructed, crops are pollinated, and flooding and sea surges are reduced. Through our lifestyles and consumption and production practices, humans have disrupted this fragile equilibrium, tipping the scales towards biodiversity loss and ecological collapse.

Pope Francis reminds us that each creature “has its own purpose [#84]… reflect[ing] in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness” [#69]. We are called to care for God’s creatures, a practice through which we learn also to care for our fellow human beings [#91]. Pope Francis directs us to the teachings of St Francis of Assisi, specifically to remember that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself” [#66].

Our faith and our survival push us to care for and conserve the creatures around us. Just as many plants need bees and butterflies to facilitate plant reproduction; we too need them to pollinate our food crops. We need to monitor carefully the changes happening in the world around us. The loss of plants and animals indicates that our climate and our environment is changing. Their hunger, decline and migration are indicators of what will come to us unless we change course. Our lives are interwoven with the creatures with whom we share this planet.

Some creature with which we share our planet.


” (St) Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty.”

How can we reconnect with nature?

We can take the first step by literally creating homes and food sources for wildlife in our Parish. Churchyards and burial grounds are known to be potential havens for biodiversity, especially if parts are left unmown for flowers to set seed and animals to forage in [x]. Even if the space outside your church is small, perhaps there is an abandoned flowerbed, a patch of bare ground or a wall (for climbers or hanging gardens – see below) that might just suit some wildflower seeds or plants for insect pollinators. Every small act can help – even a pot of sunflowers can make a difference to bees, butterflies and birds. The creatures you attract may only be small in size but they are the foundation of the food web on which we and all other species depend.

There are many simple actions that you can do to enhance the outside space for wildlife in your Parish: Plant flowers for pollinators, or berry, fruit and nut-bearing shrubs and trees for small mammals and birds; pile up logs or leaves or create a compost heap for winter hibernation; create a pond; hang up bird-feeders, nest boxes or bee hotels; or create passageways for wildlife to move easily between the church ground and neighbouring gardens. All these actions help restore the food sources, shelter and nesting sites that have been lost to wildlife by our treatment of the UK environment. To see how you can take action to encourage and enhance the wildlife in your parish, check out the Wildlife Gardening projects below.

Actions that benefit wildlife benefit us too. The bees and butterflies we attract pollinate our plants and vegetables, and the homes we create for hedgehogs, toads, birds and predatory insects maintain a population hungry for the slugs and snails, aphids and caterpillars that can ravage allotment crops. As all life is interconnected, to care for wildlife is, in a way, to care for ourselves, and what better way is there to practise self-love than to plant sunflowers or to pile up logs?

However, wildlife-enhancing activities must be undertaken with care, for it is a delicate balance that we have been tampering with, and thus a delicate balance that we must work with, not against, to restore. For instance, filling pots and flowerbeds with peat-based compost directly depletes UK and global peatlands – an increasingly rare habitat and one critical for storing carbon to limit global warming. When nettles and thistles invade the carefully sown wildflower bed, remember that butterflies and bees love them; keep off the weedkiller and cut them by hand if absolutely necessary. Use hand tools and manual machinery wherever you can – a broom is just as effective as a leaf-blower and far less air and noise polluting. Remember that our actions and consumption choices are some of the most powerful tools we as individuals have in combating species loss and damage to our environment. As Pope Francis says “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change” [#202], in particular by “cultivating sound virtues that … promote community, the common good and care for the environment [#211 & 232].

Photos copyright John Paul de Quay

About the Author

Sarah is passionate about finding ways to reconcile conflict between human and environmental needs. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis makes clear the connections between human consumptive behaviour, the state of our planet and the plight of the poor. Sarah is pleased to help in promoting his message. Sarah is an ecologist and environmental economist. Originally from a family of hop-growers, she has worked with farmers, land-managers and policymakers on farmland ecology and biodiversity conservation for over 30 years. She has a keen interest in sustainable farming systems and is painfully aware of how their sustainability and resilience can be undermined by retail and market practices purporting to act in the interests of the consumer. Sarah maintains her own ‘scruffy’ allotment and garden and revels in the insects and birds that visit it and the fruit, vegetables and flowers that she can coax to grow there. Happy gardening. 

[i] species are different types of creature e.g fox, rabbit are different species

[ii] IPBES report 2019

[iii] https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/what-is-the-anthropocene.html accessed 7 July 2021

[iv] https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2019/october/the-state-of-nature-41-percent-of-the-uks-species-have-declined.html  accessed 7 July 2021

[v] UK State of Nature Report 2019

[vi] Ibid footnote 5

[vii] consumption measured by Ecological Footprint, see Living Planet Report 2020: https://livingplanet.panda.org/en-gb/  accessed 7 July 2021

[viii] https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/2931/nature-and-mental-health-2018.pdf accessed 03 September 2021

[ix] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/-in-california-extreme-heat-and-ozone-pollution-hit-poor-communities-hardest  accessed 03 September 2021

[x] https://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/resources/biodiversity/  accessed 02 September 2021

# Laudato Si’


To help you explore the importance of biodiversity

Appreciating nature is a really key topic in addressing our ecological emergency, as our actions towards our common home are steered by our spirituality. When we put God first, what should result is a care for creation . When we speak of an ‘ecological spirituality’ we are talking about how our love of God allows us to recognise the gift of creation (the universe) and better look after it for the good of all. Cosmic! Here is some further reading to help you get your teeth into a meaty subject.


The word ‘ecology’ get thrown about a lot. Now Pope Francis is talking about an ‘integral ecology’! What exactly are we talking about?

What is biodiversity? Why does it matter?

The WWF Living Planet Report is an excellent one-stop-shop for understanding the state of nature on our planet. An essential read.



By sharing these inspirational stories with you, we hope to inspire your creativity in your parish and to show that great things can be very simple, and very possible. Please do remember to write to us with any stories of projects that you would like to share.



Here is a selection of ideas to get you started! If you have completed any of these projects, or run these services in your parish please do share your story or resources so that we can improve our guide. When deciding what to do, think about what the needs of your community are; some actions will be possible for some and not for others.

As this site progresses we will add links where you will find toolkits and resources to help you plan these activities. Please do send in any suggestions in the meantime.


There are plenty of ways to get creative and encourage wildlife to return to our parish spaces.
Wildflowers, ponds, and even old logs all go a long way in providing the food and habitat needed for nature to thrive.


Only 2% of the UK’s wildflower meadows that existed in the 1930s survive today.
This has seriously impacted the wildlife populations that rely on them. Could your parish create a meadow? One of the easiest ways of doing this is simply to mow the lawn less. You will be amazed at what grows in your turf if you allow it time. It doesn’t need to look tatty either, just mow round the edges to give your meadow some styling. Like a nice new haircut.


Could you add some bird and bat boxes on the church?
Why not add a webcam so that parishioners can check on the progress of the little chicks and tiny bat creatures?


If you have space why not plant some trees? This provides different habitats and shade for you and other wildlife.
Why not combine with creating an orchard? If you and the parishioners like eating fruit there are many other creatures that will share your good taste.


Why not turn a bland wall into a thriving tower block of life, full of vegetation.
This provides food for bugs to eat, nectar from flowers for pollinators, and of course insects for the birds. It is also a great way to add a bit of life to urban areas with little green space. It will look beautiful. If you are not sure what plants to use check out some of our website suggestions.


A nice idea if you are short on space is plants in pots. These are especially great for children.
They can care for their own pot and learn a lot in the process. Make sure to have spares in case the naughty slugs spoil the party!


There are lots more activities that can help you rewild on our parish allotment and appreciating nature pages. Getting dirt under your nails, growing food, and getting stuck into projects that create a welcome for all creatures great and small, really helps us cultivate a deep appreciation that we are creatures living as part of God’s marvelous creation.




To help your parish rewild

These resources have been tried and recommended by our resident experts, editors and parishioners from across the UK. These are more general and practical resources for a multitude of uses. Simple and accessible, they are a great place to start!


The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has excellent resources on watching birds and lots of citizen science projects to get involved in as you sit and listen to the birdsong.


Countryside Classroom helps teachers to find resources, places to visit and school support relating to the themes of food, farming and the natural environment.


Discover the world of wildflowers and find resources on how to encourage their growth in your community.


The Wildlife Trusts have an amazing collection of project ideas to attract a huge range of wildlife.


Visit the Buglife website for some great tips on attracting a range of exciting and essential insects to your garden.


The feshwater habitats trust have some excellent information about the importance of ponds and how to build and maintain them.


The Naturehood website is another excellent source of information to help you create habitats for wildlife.


The Laudato Si’ Goals are our global Church’s vision for action. Launched by the Vatican in 2021, the 7 goals aim to guide us in our mission to care for our common home by recognising the integral link between all ecological and human systems. 

Have a read below about how the topic of this page helps us to meet each of the goals.

response to the cry of the earth laudato si goal logo


A Wildlife Garden helps to restore our connection with nature and other species. It offers a small haven for local biodiversity; a home for some species, a feeding site and resting place for others. As we tend the garden, we start to care for and value the creatures therein and to realise that they too come from God.

response to the cry of the poor logo


As we care for tender plants and delicate creatures in our Wildlife Garden, we become aware of the fragility of life, of the challenges facing the small and vulnerable. We open our eyes to acknowledge our dependence on others and in so doing, re-consider our habits and behaviours – are they focused on the Common Good?
Wildlife gardens also create spaces for all to enjoy; especially for those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to gardens or green spaces.


A Wildlife Garden offers us a place to pause with nature, to be still and pray. A place for us to observe nature, learn from it, marvel at how it works and to thank God for the beauty of Creation.

Ecological Economics logo


In caring for the plants and animals in our Wildlife Garden, we learn about the needs of nature. As we think of those needs, we can reflect on how our behaviour, demands and economic choices impact on nature. Perhaps we need to curb our consumption so that nature thrives and we all blossom from its benefits. A wildlife garden project helps us to look beyond the traditional “value” of land.

Adoption of simple lifestyles laudato si goal logo


To work with our hands, to build a Wildlife Garden reminds us of the value of creative work; how it builds confidence and self-esteem. In the garden we slow down, learn the rhythm of nature, the value of small things and the importance of being in the present moment. We thank God for the joy of simply being.

Ecological education laudato si goal logo


The Wildlife Garden provides a resource for all ages and abilities to learn about nature, to watch it in action, to monitor how it changes in growth, composition, types of species visiting and to ask why these changes occur. As we observe, we start to appreciate and understand the lessons we can learn from nature.

Community involvement and participatory action laudato si goal logo


Building a Parish Wildlife Garden is a team effort. It requires multiple skills. Everyone can join in and in working together, learning from each other and with the help of the Holy Spirit, the community grows and thrives. A win-win for us, for our neighbours and for God’s Creation.


The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for more just future for people and the planet. Recognising that all injustice is interlinked, the UN invites the world to make these goals a reality by the year 2030.

See below to find out which SDGs relate to the topic of this page.

Cartoon man with a shovel


Write to us

Do you have an inspiring story that you would like us to feature? Write to The Journey to 2030 at info@journeyto2030.org or click the link below.


Find your diocese on the map and click to discover groups and contacts to support you in your diocese.


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read laudato si'

Read the document that inspired The Journey to 2030.