With the depletion of many natural habitats, our gardens play an increasingly important role in supporting wildlife. Winter, in particular, is a time when many garden visitors could do with a little help when it comes to food and shelter.
Fill up the feeders
Winter is a great time to see birds close up as natural foods such as insects, berries and worms may be hard to come by. At this time of year, a wide array of birds will take advantage of bird feeders instead.
Suet snacks are especially welcome in the colder months as they give smaller birds the energy they need to stay warm. It’s easy to make your own suet cakes by adding bird seed, nuts, berries or porridge oats to melted suet or lard. Put the mixture in the fridge overnight to set hard and then place the cake on a bird table or in a feeder or coconut shell. Starlings will appreciate peanut cakes while finches will be attracted to berry cakes.
Provide clean, fresh water
Food is, of course, always welcome, but fresh water is just as important to birds and visiting mammals such as hedgehogs and badgers.
As well as drinking water, birds also need somewhere to bathe as keeping their plumage in good condition is vital to their survival. If you have a pond or bird bath, break the ice during freezing conditions to give birds access to water.
Another reason to break the ice of a frozen pond is to avoid gases from building up in the water as this can kill fish and frogs lurking at the bottom of the pond.
Make a hedgehog feel at home
The decline in hedgehog numbers since the 1950s has been dramatic. Some estimates say that numbers of hedgehogs have dropped from 30 million to less than one million in that time.
Most hedgehogs hibernate between November and March as they have enough fat reserves to survive during that period. What they need is to find a warm place where they can safely curl up and go to sleep. It’s simple to construct a square wooden hedgehog home, or you can buy a purpose built one. Even a log pile tucked away in the corner of the garden will offer sufficient shelter.
As well as providing a home, it’s also essential to be aware of hibernating species and check before you light bonfires or use mowers and strimmers under hedges or places where mammals may shelter. Also, look into the compost heap before forking it over.
A space for wildlife
One of the best ways to help wildlife is to replicate a natural green space and that means letting a bit of your garden go wild.
Leaf litter provides cover for slugs and insects; perfect food for birds and small mammals. Log piles will create habitats for a range of species including frogs and toads while leaving herbaceous and hollow-stemmed plants unpruned will give a home to overwintering insects.
If you can offer a wild patch of garden; a shallow dish of water at ground level; and additional food such as seed, nuts, and fruit, you’ll be helping a diverse array of species survive this winter.