Wild Isles: How you can help save the UK’s nature

Sir David Attenborough has asked for our help – these are the things we can do.

The BBC series of Wild Isles has captured the UK public’s imagination with its footage of orcas, puffins, ancient oaks and tiny dormice. Now the presenter and campaigner Sir David Attenborough is asking for your help.

He’s joined together with three of the UK’s biggest conservation charities, The National Trust, the RSPB and WWF, calling on everyone to play a part in protecting the nature and wildlife of the United Kingdom.

The Save our Wild Isles Campaign says that if everyone works together, then nature can thrive again. There are practical things everyone can do, whether it’s planting wildflower seeds, getting involved in community projects or picking up litter.  We spoke to gardening, food, outdoors and community experts to get the best advice on how to make a difference. 

A view of a lake and mountainsCredit: Jonathan Holdsworth
The British Isles is spectacular and we can all play our part in protecting it

How gardeners can make a difference

What we can do in our gardens

Helping wildlife in our gardens

David Domoney, is a RSPB ambassador, ITV’s This Morning resident gardening expert and co-host of Love Your Garden. He says: “All told, UK gardens and balconies cover around 4,000km2 (nearly a million acres), an area more than twice the size of Greater London – that’s huge! Imagine all that space transformed into stepping stones of wildlife-friendly havens. What a difference that could make for garden species such as starlings, bumblebees, and hedgehogs, all of which are struggling and need our help.”  

A man standing in a wild flower meadowCredit: David Domoney
Domoney says gardens can be a haven for wildlife

Provide food

Try planting sunflowers, lavender, or ivy. All of these provide food for birds and bugs in the form of pollen, berries, or seeds. Bird feeders are also a great way to see your local birds up close. Just make sure you clean them regularly.  

Put out water

Birds can’t sweat, so they need water in the summer to stay cool. A birdbath will provide them with somewhere to clean their feathers, which allows them to fly and keep warm in winter. Even a saucer of water will help – just make sure you keep it clean and provide a way for wildlife to climb out. 

Give shelter

Bug hotels, log piles, or nest boxes all provide a home for your local species. Bug hotels and log piles can increase the local number of invertebrates. This in turn provides a natural food source to hedgehogs and birds.

Create a wildlife-friendly garden

Sarah Wilson is a garden designer and horticulturist, and host of the award-winning Roots and All Podcast.  

She says: “Gardens make up a not insignificant part of the UK’s land area and it’s in these spaces that we can conserve and actively encourage our wildlife.” 

a woman in a greenhouse with flowersCredit: Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson says small changes can make a big difference to wildlife in our gardens

Try not to spray

Insecticides, fungicides and herbicides can have some negative effects on certain pollinators. If you’re finding it hard to manage areas of your garden without resorting to sprays, it may be time you took those areas out of cultivation and let them ‘re-wild’ or look at ways of relinquishing some control over how tidy they look.

Get messy

Many insects love to live and feed in those untouched areas of the garden where things like old plant material and wood are left to rot down. But even in a small garden you can do something. Chop prunings up small and leave them under a hedge, sprinkle some grass clippings in that gap behind your shed or reuse woodier material on top of flowerbeds as a mulch.

Do your research

Not enough is still known about how our gardening practices can help (or hinder) wildlife. You can help by searching on the internet for wildlife citizen science projects and becoming involved yourself in research like this. 

If you set aside a section of your garden for wildlife then it can thriveCredit: Sarah Wilson
If you set aside a section of your garden for wildlife then it can thrive

Grow your own

Have a go at growing your own fruit and veg. Even a few herbs and salad leaves can make a difference and taste so much better than shop bought.

Brush up on your wildlife skills

Use your garden as a place where you can observe wildlife up close. If you learn to appreciate their habits then you can pass  that knowledge on to others, especially children, so they can inherit your love of the natural world.  

Buy your food wisely

What we eat can make a difference

Tom Hunt is an award-winning chef and writer. Hunt’s Bristol restaurant Poco has won numerous awards, including Best Ethical Restaurant. 

Hunt says we can all make a difference by making changes to our diet which can help our planet and our health. 

A man standing in front of a greenhouseCredit: Jenny Zarins
Hunt says food that is good for nature is good for us too
  • Buy local – get to know your local farmers and growers and buy direct from them. 
  • Buy seasonal fresh food – if food is fresher, it will be more nutritious than fruit or veg that has been transported long distances. 
  • Choose ingredients grown with organic methods, rather than with pesticides and fertilisers. A Washington State University study found organic fruits and vegetables deliver 20-40% more antioxidants. 
  • Support British farming, good stewardship schemes and buy the best quality produce you can afford. 

Get outside to embrace wildlife

Making a difference in our countryside

Julia Bradbury, the television presenter, walker and campaigner, tells us: “On my travels around the country I’ve been blessed to witness some of the incredible wildlife that calls the British Isles home.”

tv presenter Julia Bradbury next to a signpostCredit: Julia Bradbury
Bradbury says we can see the wild wonders of nature for ourselves

Bradbury adds: “But what if you want to see some of the wild wonders of Britain for yourself? My top tips would be:

  • When out in nature take time to be quiet and still – you’ll be amazed and what you’ll see (and would otherwise have missed!).
  • Make sure you’re wearing the appropriate kit for the environment in which you’re walking.
  • Always tell someone where you’re going and what time you expect to be back.
  • Remember to take only photographs and memories, leave only footprints.”

How walkers can help

Lisa Wells is a mountain leader and ambassador for Ordnance Survey, The Ramblers and Snowdonia National Park.  

A woman on top of a mountain with a dogCredit: Lisa Wells
Wells has practical tips for us all when we’re out walking

She has these practical tips to help us reduce our impact on nature and wildlife when out walking. 

  • Take a small carrier or dog poo bag in your rucksack out on your walks. Any litter spotted can be easily collected and disposed of. 
  • Dogs off leads aren’t just a threat to livestock. If they are left to run free, they can disturb and injure nesting birds. The same goes for us. Keep to the paths to minimise erosion and protect wildlife. 
  • Chat to other walkers. Lots of people aren’t aware that biodegradable food such as banana skins, orange peel and apple cores can take years to decompose. Take it home with you. 
  • If you are going on a group walk, car sharing can contribute to sustainable travel, or consider whether there is a public transport alternative. 
  • Use location tags on social media responsibly. Places that were once untouched, unknown and secluded are sometimes now over run by visitors and often left worse than when they were found. 
  • Look for volunteer opportunities in your local community. I’m proud to be part of the Caru Eryri scheme and an Ambassador for the Snowdonia National Park 

How we can help our coastline

Make a difference to our beaches

Lisa Drewe is the Chair of Whale and Dolphin Conservation and author. 

She says: “Our coastlines are spectacular, but many of these precious habitats and wildlife are in danger and we can all make a difference by taking a few small actions.” 

A close up of a woman in a wetsuit by the seaCredit: Lisa Drewe
Drewe says we can all make a difference

On the beach

Rare and sensitive habitats, including our coastline, are easy to unwittingly disturb, and a few simple actions will keep them wild and free.  

  • Give extra space to bird breeding sites on cliffs and beaches, and seals on land and in the water. This will help prevent injuries and abandonment of their young. 
  • Keep to designated footpaths through some of our rarest and special coastal habitats like shingle beaches, sand dune systems, mudflats, salt marshes and machair grasslands. This will help the plants and bugs in the harshest of environments. 
  • Leave seashells and pebbles on the shore, but take the time to pick up litter, especially plastic.
  • Choose wildlife watching boat trips that are part of the WiSe Scheme who minimise disturbance to wildlife.
A puffin on a clifftop surrounded by flowersCredit: Drew Buckley
We can all help protect coastal birds, including puffins

How we can help our sea life at home

Drewe says the choices we make at home can impact our sea life too.

  • Choose sustainable seafood.
  • Avoid single-use plastics such as bags, takeaway cups and bottles which will help reduce litter on the land and in rivers – which often ends up in the sea.
  • Avoid putting chemicals such as household cleaners, medicines and garden chemicals down our sinks and drains – between them they contain over 30,000 chemicals, many of which persist in our waterways and end up in our ocean.
  • Choose biodegradable cleaning and personal products.

Join a community group

Joining together can make a big difference

There are thousands of community-based organisations around the UK working to preserve and improve the countryside around us. 

Robert Penn is a best-selling author and founder of charity Stump Up For Trees. It’s a community-based charity whose mission is to plant a million trees. 

A group of volunteers with spades planting treesCredit: Stump Up For Trees
Joining a community group isn’t just great for nature, but it’s a great way to make new friends

Penn says it’s important that we all get involved in protecting what’s around us. 

“If you want to make a difference right now, you could do worse than plant a tree,” he says. “Trees give life. It’s hard to overstate their benefits. Trees provide food, better air and water quality, medicine, shade, sustainable timber, natural flood management and healthier soils. Trees also sequester carbon, but most importantly in today’s urgent conversation about saving our ‘Wild Isles’, the right trees planted in the right place provide wonderful wildlife habitat.” 

Sir David Attenborough says: “The truth is, every one of us, no matter who we are, or where we live, can and must play a part in restoring nature. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or powerless by the scale of the issues facing our planet, but we have the solutions. I am hopeful for the future, because although nature is in crisis, now is the time for action, and together we can save it.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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