Why have a car park when you can have a nature reserve? That’s our approach to looking after our land – doing the best we can for nature in any area, no matter how big, how small or how unlikely...

OK, so how do you turn a car park into a nature reserve? You’d be forgiven for thinking these places were mutually exclusive. It can be done, however – as Senior Gardener Martin Holt showed before he left the Zoo.

Phase 1 was the ‘things have to get worse before they can get better’ stage. Martin started by quite literally preparing the ground – removing old, overgrown planting of non-native shrubs that had little value for wildlife. Their dense foliage was smothering all plant life underneath, leaving more or less an ecological desert, and they didn’t support much insect life, or any other life, come to that.

We used the felled wood for rustic fencing on site, or as woodchip mulch, or to make habitat piles – refuges for small mammals, insects, and a haven for fungi too, so nothing was wasted.
We reduced the amount of ivy on the ground to open up spaces for wildflowers. Whilst ivy is a great wildlife plant, both as cover for birds and as a late autumn nectar source, if left unchecked it takes over everything, leaving no room for other plants to grow.

Lost amongst the ivy were all kinds of discarded rubbish items that we cleared up as we went. Discarded cans and bottles can be terrible for small animals because they act like pitfall traps – once they’re in, they can’t get out again. Bottles will sometimes have hundreds of insect remains, and even occasionally mice and voles in them. Unbelievably, too, we have to clear up old nappies sometimes. Please, just take them home with you!

Finally, we prepared the ground for planting. This meant raking the bulk of the debris and trip hazards away, which again can go onto the habitat pile, and roughly raking the surface to expose some of the soil under the leaf litter. After all that, we were ready to go on to phase 2…            

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