Wildlife in Winter
Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014 1:42 pm
Autumn is a distant memory, Christmas is packed up and back in the loft and the New Year celebrations have lost all their appeal. We are in or approaching the coldest (and this year at least, wettest) part of the year. Now is the time to spare a thought for the wildlife in your garden…
Put out stick piles made from old prunings or felled bushes and trees as they provide shelter for wildlife, and can be made into attractive features by planting up with ferns, primroses, or other suitable plants. Piles of slabs or old rockery stones can also act as a wildlife habitat, as will corrugated iron or plastic laid on the soil to provide hiding places for small mammals looking for shelter and warmth. Now would also be a good time to build a compost heap, if you do not have one in your garden already. They will be ready for all the debris produced by the new growing season.
Plants for wildlife
January is the last practical opportunity to coppice garden trees. Coppicing is an established method of producing regular supplies of wood. It is useful in small gardens because it reduces the size of a tree by turning it into a multi-stemmed shrub. This provides shelter for wildlife at a lower level, and lets more light through to any ground cover plants. Bulbs and ground cover plants are therefore more likely to flourish under a coppiced tree than under large specimens. If you are planting new trees and shrubs, it’s a good idea to mix native plants with the more exotic and cultivated specimens. Many insects will happily feed and breed on a selection of plants, but some can be fussy and prefer native plants, especially during breeding. A diversity of plants will encourage a diversity of insects, and this is therefore likely to be the best recipe for a mix of mammals and birds in your garden.
Insects are gardeners’ friend as well as his foe! They are pest controllers, and will keep each other’s populations manageable once your garden has got into a balance.
Many birds can be seen in the garden during the winter months - common ones such as blackbirds, thrushes, tits and robins, but also redwings and siskins that stray into the suburbs for a warmth and shelter. Many of the natural berries, seeds and other food sources that birds rely on are exhausted by this stage in the winter. Feeding birds in the garden therefore becomes even more important. Hang bird feeders. They are attractive to tits, sparrows and other (less common) breeds. Choose a feeder designed to help keep out rats, cats, pigeons and squirrels (possibly even children!). Hanging the bird feeder over a paved area, which can be swept clear of debris; will help to reduce problems with vermin, should it prove a nuisance.
Don’t use salted or coated nuts and only use those labelled with the Bird Food Standards Seal of Approval. Poorly packaged or stored nuts and seeds could contain aflatoxin, which is poisonous to birds (and humans). Remember, the greater the variety of food that you supply in your garden, the greater variety of birds you will see.
Urban gardens are often particularly attractive to birds during cold weather because of the warmth stored inside cities. A bird bath can be a vital source of water for birds in winter. Keep yours full and free of ice.
Hedgehogs sometimes emerge from hibernation for a search or food during mild spells, then return to their hiding place as temperatures drop back to near freezing. It is never a good idea to feed hedgehogs’ bread and milk; this is not their natural diet. Dog food is an alternative but hedgehog and badger food is now available for sale. Foxes are seen in the garden more than usual at this time of year, searching for slugs and beetles (or ravishing your rubbish bins). Muntjac deer may also venture into gardens in the depths of winter.
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