With a little effort and planning, many of us can transform our backyards into a haven for wildlife and birds, including Great Blue Herons. JOHN RIOLO

When I first started this column a little more than a year ago, I pointed out that many people come to a virtual paradise like the South Carolina Lowcountry and, deliberately or otherwise, begin with incremental steps to diminish the very thing that attracted us here in the first place.

Remember the line from the Joni Mitchell song, “They paved paradise and put in a parking lot”? While the environment is under constant pressure from increased population and development, there are also efforts by many individuals and groups who work to minimize the environmental impact of development. 

One prominent group in our state is the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. Included among its many conservation activities is wildlife habitat certification of both communities and individual properties as wildlife habitats.

According to Jay Keck, habitat education manager of SCWF, there are many reasons to maintain nature-friendly habits. One of the  primary reasons is being able to enjoy wildlife from your own home – because “it leads to a happier life.”

It is surprising just how easy it is to ensure that one’s property can be wildlife-friendly. In many cases, you might already have all the necessary ingredients to qualify. You probably have at least some of them already.

These elements include food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices.

Most homeowners have some plants and trees on their property. If we make a point to have native plants, trees and shrubs for our native birds and animals to feed upon, we usually can meet the food requirements.

We need to remember that while lawns might be appealing to some, a grass lawn provides relatively little food or shelter for most wildlife, compared to a yard with flowering berry-producing shrubs and trees.

Most animals need some protection from the harshest of the elements and predators. Shelter can be as simple as a log or skag that can provide protection from wind, rain or sometimes be a hiding place.

Often these simple shelters can offer places to raise young. A nesting box for birds, keeping dense shrubs in parts of your yard, and not removing dead trees might be all you need.

Perhaps the most difficult part of maintaining a natural habitat is keeping it sustainable. Ways to do this might include limiting water runoff to reduce erosion, practicing integrated pest management and replacing non-native plants with native plants, reducing lawn and hard surface areas, and perhaps most important, eliminating or at least reducing chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

For extensive information about wildlife gardens, visit scwf.org and nwf.org.

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek. john.a.riolo@gmail.com