As gardeners, we know the benefit that a healthy amount of wildlife, as well as plant life, in our gardens can bring.
By doing things like putting out additional food in winter, gardeners can make a significant contribution to supporting the local wildlife. The added bonuses can often be that when encouraging in wildlife you get to watch nature at its best, even in the smallest of gardens or on balconies, often at very close quarters.
So, we’d like to share some tips for you to try over the winter months into mid-Spring, that will help turn your garden into a wildlife haven, increasing the diversity of creatures that can not only survive but thrive.
1. Helping birds
· Garden birds, in particular, benefit from feeding year-round, but winter is a time to provide foodstuffs with a high-fat content to help keep them warm.
· Putting out fat blocks in wire cages is a great way to provide winter food for birds – beware of balls in plastic nets as birds such as woodpeckers can get their tongues caught.
· You can create your own fat blocks by melting suet into moulds such as coconut shells or logs with holes drilled in.
· You could alternate different recipes to entice a range of birds; peanut cakes for starlings, insect cakes for tits, berry cakes for finches or finely chopped bacon rind and grated cheese for small birds such as wrens.
· Beware birdseed mixes that include lentil, they are often inferior as they are mostly padded out with the lentils. Also mixes with de-husked sunflower hearts means there is less waste.
· Don’t forget ground-feeding birds such as robins and dunnocks – you can place food on a wire mesh held just off the ground to help entice them.
· Some birds like thrushes and blackbirds favour fruit, so you could scatter over-ripe apples and raisins on the ground for them.
· Another good idea, is to consider planting berry and fruit trees and shrubs such as Malus, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha.
· Remember to feed regularly so that birds will not waste vital energy visiting your garden when there is no food.
· In late winter, clean out bird boxes so they are ready for new nests in spring.
· The unfortunate statistics show that hedgehog numbers have been in decline for many years.
· Provide a shallow dish or container of water at ground level. This will benefit other garden wildlife that needs to drink, as well as birds.
· Hedgehogs will be coming out of hibernation towards the end of winter, so you could put a little dog or cat food out for them to help boost their energy levels.
· Check bonfires before they are lit for sheltering and hibernating animals, such as hedgehogs, toads and frogs.
3. Toads and frogs
· Melt a hole in any ice that forms on ponds to allow the wildlife to drink and enter and exit the water – you can fill a saucepan with hot water and sit it on the ice until a hole has been melted. Try not to hit or crack the ice as this can send shockwaves through the water which harms the wildlife.
· Be careful when you turn compost heaps. As these are often warm, they can be the winter resort of frogs, toads and other animals.
· Make a bug hotel and place it in a sheltered position - overwintering ladybirds and lacewings will find this useful.
· Leave any healthy herbaceous and hollow-stemmed plants unpruned until early spring. These can provide great homes for hibernating insects.
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