Urban Domestic Gardens and Creative Conservation

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Gardens of domestic dwellings constitute a large proportion of ‘green’ space in the UK. Urban gardens could therefore play a pivotal role in maintaining biodiversity, both through provision of living space, and a network of connections between the larger green spaces of parks and waste ground. This project aims to add empirical evidence to various popular claims of methods to enhance wildlife in gardens.

The project aims to:

  • Examine the relationship between features of urban gardens and the biodiversity which uses them
  • Directly test the effectiveness of a set of simple habitat manipulations in enhancing biodiversity
  • Examine the community structure and dynamics of garden areas on spatial and temporal scales
  • Examine the responses and changes in biodiversity of garden ecosystems to urbanisation
  • Examine creative conservation and urban design to generate empirical recommendations for enhancing biodiversity in urban gardens




The project has two components - a sampling programme and experimental manipulations. 50 gardens will be selected to represent a cross section of the major types and ages of housing in the study region.

Four sampling sets will be collected;

  1. Garden Attributes
    Location, type of housing, composition of surrounding habitat, aspect, slope, total area of major habitat type, management, garden history
  2. Plant Diversity
    Identification of plant species present, and classification into native and alien species, as well as intentionally planted or naturally introduced.
  3. Fungal Diversity
    Macrofungal bodies will be sampled in lawns
  4. Animal Diversity
    Including insect and bird surveys.

Five simple habitat manipulations will be conducted and associated increases in species and biodiversity sampled

  1. introduction of buddleia Buddliea spp. and nettles Urtica dioica and census of insect larvae associated with these plant introductions
  2. development of grasses - census of increases in insects associated with uncut grass
  3. introduction of ponds – recording of colonisation by macroinvertebrates
  4. introduction of nesting sites for solitary wasps and bees
  5. introduction of nesting sites for bumble bees

Start date/duration

January 2000    Three years

Lead Organisation

University of Sheffield


Data resulting from this project will be used to:

  • determine the magnitude of biodiversity associated with urban gardens
  • determine the occurrence of nationally or regionally rare ‘wild’ fungal, plant and animal species in domestic gardens, evidence for the effect of deliberate cultivation of rare plants on the occurrence of their associated animals
  • test how the sampled biodiversity in domestic gardens changes with
    1. the setting of the garden, degree of urbanisation, composition of surrounding habitat, altitude
    2. garden attributes, area history, present management
    3. garden structure, habitat composition, diversity, edge effects
    4. functional measurements of animal diversity in relation to plant diversity

The examination of the data will lead to:

  • Recommendations for the management of gardens for biodiversity
  • Possible media links and an opportunity to develop the public understanding of science


Royal Horticultural Society

Sheffield City Ecology Unit

Henry Doubleday Research Association

Sheffield Wildlife Trust

Further details

Further information is available from the following contacts:

Lead Researcher: Dr K. J. Gaston

Tel: 01142 220030, Fax: 01142 220002, email: k.j.gaston@sheffield.ac.uk

URGENT Programme Manager: Graham Leeks

Tel: 01491 692203, Fax: 01491 692313, e-mail: gjll@ceh.ac.uk