How to look after wildlife in your garden this winter
09th January 2019
Read our 4 simple steps on how to provide the best help to garden-visitors this winter
We all struggle in winter, but so do our garden-visiting friends. Whereas some animals and insects hibernate or go into a dormant state in the cold months, such as bumblebees and hedgehogs, other animals struggle to find food and survive. Below are some quick and simple ways to help wildlife this winter:
1. Feeding time
All wild animals and insects, from your fox to your newt, need two things to survive – food and water. Whilst it’s helpful to feed wildlife all year round, we do not need to worry so much in summer when food is in good supply and the weather is warm. Yet when winter arrives most of the food has been eaten, fruit and berries are rotten, and insects are trapped beneath the frozen ground. During the freezing and often sub-zero temperatures, most animals need more energy to keep their bodies warm and to stay alive. Birds need the most help in the cold season because their normal food source of berries, seeds, worms and fruit has gone. Feed them mixed-seed which is packed full of nutrition as well as foods high in calories and fat such as suet blocks, sunflower seeds and unsalted peanuts. It’s also a good idea to leave out tinned dog and cat food (not fish-based), animal biscuits and water for poor wandering hedgehogs that might have woken up from hibernation before the weather has warmed up.
2. No place like home
One of the best ways to look after wildlife in winter is to create spaces for them to shelter in. A lot of animals and insects prefer natural and overgrown spots in your garden (see step 3) but birds and hedgehogs do better with man-made structures – for example bird boxes and hedgehog homes. Birds boxes can be set up now in time for breeding in spring. Hedgehog homes keep early-rising or late hibernating hedgehogs warm before they try to hibernate again. If you have a compost heap, it will be a warm and welcoming home to a variety of wildlife, such as frogs, toads, and even snakes. Just make sure not to disturb the heap!
3. Go wild in the garden
You can also do lots for wildlife by doing nothing at all! It’s tempting to tidy up wild spots of your garden in preparation for winter but messy borders, piles of leaves, wood and overgrown plants provide excellent shelter for animals and insects. Bumblebees burrow into the ground and frogs hide under rocks and plant pots. Worried you don’t have enough spaces and want to do more? You can even go round your garden recreating small nooks and crannies. Sweep leaves into corners and the bottom of hedges, pile up tree bark and logs donated from your winter fire. It might look like a bit of a mess at first but your wildlife friends will thank you for it. You can tidy up later!
4. Keep an eye out
Putting out food, building bird boxes, and welcoming wild spaces are all great ways to watch wildlife over winter and encourage family and friends to do the same. Watching and documenting wildlife is also a great way to look after them. If you notice a small and struggling hedgehog in your garden (those between 100-300g) it’s best to take it in to look after and contact your nearest wildlife center or the RSPCA for further advice. The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is also kicking off on the 26th of January. By making a note of your garden-visiting friends, you can help the UK’s leading bird charity find out which birds need our help.
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