Landscape Design Survey for Wildlife.

By Michael John McGarr

A landscape design survey for wildlife shouldn’t just be an exercise in measuring the site backwards and forwards, anyone with a laser level can accurately achieve this task.

The key to creating a garden design that is beneficial to wildlife is to understand the current site conditions on a deeper level.

More often than not wildlife is abundant on sites that have either been neglected or mismanaged for any length of time.

Ironically the biggest danger to existing wildlife is the potential threat of further construction and development.  The onus is then on the landscape designer to cushion the effects of these changes whilst creating outdoor living spaces that add value whilst increasing wildlife amenity.

It is  common to neglect the landscape survey for wildlife during site analysis and many developers are guilty of this.

There are a series of measures we can take at site analysis level which enable us to design effectively with wildlife and ecology in mind.

andscape design survey for wildlife - Warnes- McGarr & Co.
Protected wildlife pass during landscape design survey for wildlife – Warnes- McGarr & Co.


Perform a thorough sun survey.

Although sun surveys are common in landscape design to zone an outdoor space, careful consideration should to be made to “sun touch points” for an accurate landscape design survey for wildlife.

I am not referring to the cliche of “south facing aspect” but to the small areas of garden the sun touches throughout the day.  These are the areas most likely to warm up and cool down quickly in Winter.

Although you wouldn’t want to position outdoor living spaces in such areas, they offer the most climatic diversity and can home a wider range of flora and fauna.

The sun survey below was produced using a specialist sun surveying app.


Landscape Design Survey for wildlife - Warnes McGarr & Co.
Digital Sun survey as part of a wider Landscape Design Survey for wildlife – Warnes McGarr & Co.

Survey to Design with a nurturing hand rather than a demolition ball.

During the landscape design survey for wildlife prospect to preserve rather than make wholesale changes , the effects of this approach are two fold.

The majority of existing wildlife will be homed adequately in features such as old trees and hedges – so preserve them – at all costs.

If these features are removed, they need to be replaced and this has implicated costs to the environment as well as the project budget.

In any case, I have never heard any complaints when encouraging a client to spend their money on an outdoor TV rather than a new hedge!

Landscape Design Survey for wildlife - Warnes McGarr & Co.
Outdoor Kitchen and Outdoor TV within a wider garden for wildlife in Cheshire by Warnes McGarr & Co.

Survey the approach and landscape ecology, and not just the garden itself.

One of the joys of working in garden design is the requirement for investigation and surveillance of local countryside.

Not just “over the garden fence” as John Brookes pioneered so delicately, but in the mud, in the fields surrounding the client’s site.

The burgeoning designer should be actively engaging with the hills and countryside within a 5 to 10 mile radius of the site to get a feel for a wider landscape ecology.

In many cases this ecology will already have been documented, and is often readily available from various sources,  but who really needs an excuse to get out and study the local landscape for a few hours.

Pay particular attention to the various plant communities/ and ecologies available to study – woodland glades, waterfalls, brooks, open meadows and hedgerows. These all hold clues that can be reimagined into a client’s garden to encourage biodiversity.

Landscape Design Survey for wildlife - Warnes McGarr & Co.
Landscape Design Survey for wildlife – Warnes McGarr & Co.


Think of the potential garden as a condensed countryside.

The surrounding ecology can relate directly back to the landscape design survey for wildlife. By zoning the various areas of the garden during the survey one can accurately create condensed wildlife habitats within the proposed landscape.

Here are some examples of this technique from my notebook.

“Observed  – woodland glade – Garden -Under existing tree canopy (partial shade)  – PLANTS – Acer campestre, Foxglove Digtalis, Anemone nemorosa, hyacinthoides non scripta.( substitute bluebells for cultivated bulb variety)

Observed – Waterfall / brook / fallen deadwood create eddying effect – Garden – locally sourced stone/ deadwood pieces from fallen tree in construction phase – Plants – Caltha palustris, carex pendula.

Observed – Sun drenched meadow / field – Garden – Open border full sun between house paving and outdoor kitchen  – Plants –  Juncus effusus (lower ground), teasels on mounted/ higher areas – wildflower turf interplanted with teasels.”

Further examples of planting ideas for wildlife please read my previous article

Landscape Design Survey for wildlife - Warnes McGarr & Co.
Teasels amongst Purple moor grass observed as part of a Landscape Design survey for wildlife – Warnes McGarr & Co.



Most garden designers can produce a “pretty” garden picture. Great designers can convert these “pictures” into a language that can become a realisable project.

The skill of the ecologist garden designer is to gently nurture the existing site elements  and ensure contractor and craftsmen are wise to existing habitats during construction.

It is also crucial that “buffer zones” between neighbouring properties are accurately plotted on any site survey material and contractors are properly alerted to these areas which are often the most biodiverse.

A landscape designer’s success should be judged on how sensitively they have linked the site with a wider ecology. An accurate landscape design survey for wildlife will produce the foundation for this success.

However unassuming, wildlife and ecology play a big part in our lives. Why not do everything in our power to allow it to flourish within the confines of our gardens?

Warnes McGarr & Co. have carved a niche in creating contemporary outdoor living spaces and gardens which are also beneficial to wildlife. We consult with developers and builders to establish best practice in enhancing landscape ecology during the design and build process and conduct thorough landscape design surveys for wildlife on behalf of our clients. 


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