BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: REGENERATING HABITAT AT HOME

Caroline Beddoe, Blomidon Naturalists Society

We are in a biodiversity crisis. Climate collapse, habitat loss, pesticides, invasive species, and many other factors, are causing a serious loss in the variety and number of organisms. Biodiversity loss reduces ecosystems’ abilities to provide life-sustaining services, like producing oxygen, cleaning water, buffering extreme weather events, and sequestering carbon. Pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and beetles, are declining, yet they are essential for supporting 80% of all plants, and directly pollinate a third of our food. We all depend on biodiverse ecosystems for survival.

The good news is that we can help! Biodiversity doesn’t just exist “out there in the wild,” rather we are all a part of nature. With only 4.5% of Kings County currently protected, and with most land privately owned, it is important to support biodiverse habitat in addition to parks and nature preserves.

Entomologist Douglas Tallamy proposed the idea of a “homegrown national park.” Why shouldn’t our homes also be seen as nature preserves? I encourage you to think about how your land, your backyard, your balcony, or other areas in your community can be a space for supporting and regenerating biodiversity. In big or small ways, with a handful of suggestions offered below, we can support backyard (or front yard) biodiversity.

As spring weather brings birdsong and the buzz of bees, it also heralds the drone of lawnmowers. The concept of No Mow May is perhaps already familiar. Take up the pledge and don’t mow your lawn in May, so pollinators have access to early food like dandelions and clovers. Join a growing movement! Acadia University will not mow the area north of Crowell Tower during May to support pollinators. Take inspiration and do the same. Plus, it means less work!

Indeed, doing less is sometimes the answer. Can you resist tidying up your yard as much, at least until the weather is consistently warm, so that overwintering pollinators can emerge from their winter nests in leaf litter and old hollow or pithy stems? Leaving fallen leaves shelters many insects and caterpillars, retains moisture, and adds nutrients back into the living soil. Perhaps plant more perennials, which improve soil health and are less work yearly. Or designate part of your yard as meadow, allowing wildflowers like goldenrod to flourish.

Can you shrink your lawn? While useful for recreation, lawns serve scarce ecological benefit. Replace parts of your lawn with low wildflowers (like wild strawberry), native flower gardens, trees, or a meadow. Try sheet mulching to build rich garden beds on top of existing lawn!

Plant native plants, like perennial flowers, shrubs, and trees. Native plants of the Acadian forest region are adapted to our climate and pests, and will best support local wildlife (like native pollinators) and overall ecological health. Maybe plant large clumps of native pollinator-friendly flowers like milkweeds, coneflowers, and Black-Eyed Susan. Native trees provide many ecosystem functions. Add early-blooming willows for pollinators, and plant other native trees like red oak to support innumerable wildlife. A hedgerow of native berry bushes provides shelter, windbreak and food for you and wildlife. Integrate pollinator-friendly flowers like wild bergamot into your vegetable gardens. Add native plants in abundance and diversity! Can you add more plants, different types, or plants of different heights and functions? Think about mimicking nature, like a forest with all its layers. While you’re at it, remove invasive species and replace them with native ones! Check out the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens for inspiration.

Even if you don’t have access to land, you can help. Add pots of native flowers (or flowering herbs) to a balcony or window box to support pollinators. Encourage friends and neighbours who have property to support biodiversity. You can also support community work, like that of the Blomidon Naturalists Society. Through the Butterflyway Project initiative we are planting pollinator gardens and would love your engagement and support. Learn about this project and our other nature education and conservation work at blomidonnaturalists.ca.

We can play a part at home in preserving and regenerating habitat, supporting pollinators and other wildlife, and sustaining necessary biodiversity. It’s time to garden as if life depends on it!