Working to conserve and restore water quality and wildlife habitat in Perth inner city catchments

Encouraging biodiversity at home

The first tip for encouraging biodiversity at home is don't go to your local shop and buy anything labelled "butterfly home" or "food for native birds".

The best way to encourage biodiversity is to grow trees and plants which are native to your area and which will be the ones most likely to provide the best food and shelter for native animals.  The next step is to work with your local catchment group or council to encourage more people to garden this way.

Here are some general principles and links to further information.  This is written for people in Perth city, but the principles will apply anywhere.

1. Do no harm.

That pile of wood in your yard might be a home for geckos, or that pile of weeds a source of insects which local birds are feeding on.  Before doing anything, take the time to observe what is already living in your garden.  In the meantime do some research and find out which plants are native to your area.  Visit nurseries and see which plants might fit into your garden, aesthetically and otherwise.  Make a plan and prepare to introduce new plants in autumn, the best time to establish native plants.  Walk around your neighbourhood to see who else is growing locals.  Strike up a conversation!

Also do no harm in the wider sense.  Never take plants or materials from bush.  A granite boulder removed from bushland will deprive a lizard of its home, where it warmed up in the morning and sheltered at night.

2. Change to a habitat friendly garden

Change your garden to incorporate more plants native to your area.  Known as "local plants", they are the ones most likely to provide food and shelter for native animals.  Plants from elsewhere may provide food, but are also more likely to feed invasive and pest animals.  Find out about growing local plants and catchment friendly gardens elsewhere on this website.  If you live in the Perth inner city check out the Grow Local Plants brochure.  Change your garden over a period of time to minimise disturbance.  Observe which plants grow well.

You will have to develop a new way of thinking about your garden.  For example that gum tree with leaves affected by insect damage is really a bountiful larder to birds like honeyeaters (they are called honeyeaters but most of their food is insects) and that perfect looking exotic tree with not one insect on it, is completely barren to any animal looking for food.  Throw away your pesticides and let the birds deal with the insects.

In time you may want to add a pond to your garden or plants for a specific animal that you have observed in your local area or would like to attract to your area.  There are great books, websites and often support groups who can provide advice to get you started.  In this era of water shortages, a pond may not seem sensible, but a pond filled in winter from rainwater runoff from the roof, and left to dry out naturally in summer will suit several species of frog that live on the swan coastal plain.  After all, winter-wet/summer-dry wetlands were pretty common here.  The frogs will burrow into the ground through summer and be back when winter rains arrive.  Note: You may need to avoid watering your garden too heavily through summer as this can confuse the frogs.

3. Control your pets

People who think the sight of their pussy cat wandering through the local park is beautiful are sadly deluded.  Cats are beautiful, but they shouldn't be wandering at large through parks and bushland.  A bell is not going to stop your clever predator from catching their bird - the bell is often the last sound a bird will hear before it is caught.  Be responsible, keep your cat indoors and consider putting in a cat park (fancy name for large cage).  When designing your garden, include dense thickets of prickly plants around areas like frog ponds to deter predator animals.

4. Read, learn, network

Learn what makes good habitat.  Thick leaf litter is fundamental but many people rake it up for aesthetic reasons.  Be creative and work out how to have a garden that not only looks good but is good, for animals that is.  Join a gardening club, catchment group, conservation group, volunteer with Birds Australia as a bird observer.  You will meet people, talk and learn on the way.  Borrow library books. If you live in Perth, start with Growing Locals (1996) by Robert Powell and Jane Emberson.  Click here for more reading suggestions.  Sign up for email newsletters such as the Victorian Sustainable Gardening e-newsletter.  If you are a Perth reader you may have to ignore the advice about individual species (a WA native plant can be a weed in Victoria), but the general principles remain the same.  Very good reading.

5. Remove weeds

Once you understand your garden, over time, remove weed plants.  They are more likely to be attracting "weed" type animals, the sort of animals that thrive in disturbed environments.  Remove them gradually and replace with local natives. Also plan how you will dispose of the weeds.  Mulch, compost or simply leave in a black plastic bag in the sun for a couple of months. If you do it gradually, you will be able to use the waste in your own garden and not be sending it to landfill where it will create carbon emissions leading to ...

In general don't put out food.  Firstly human food is unlikely to provide a good diet for animals, but also they are wildlife, let them remain wild and feed themselves, not come to rely on your handouts.  We could go on (and on) about this but for now please print out our Don't Feed the Ducks poster to put up at your work, school and fridge.

6. Branch out

Extend your habitat garden to the front verge. Tell your neighbours what you are doing (they will come and ask) and they might do the same on their verge.  Extend it even further to your local park, community garden, community centre.  Contact your council to see if they have any projects you can assist with.

Please contact us and tell us your experiences in habitat gardening.

A colourful collection of plants "local" to the Swan Coastal Plain. Singing honeyeaters will fly down to feed on kangaroo paw flowers even on a verge next to a busy road.

Pink and grey galahs in tree hollow

Willie wagtails and nest

An Australian Ringneck Parrot foraging