It’s a real joy to watch all the birds and animals that might visit our garden in the spring and summer – but did you know that it’s even more important to make an extra effort to support winter wildlife in the colder months?
Although in the winter your garden may look bare and inhospitable, it’s actually still likely to be teeming with life. It’s really helpful for local wildlife if we all follow a couple of tips to make the winter easier for them. At this time of year, food and shelter can be hard to come across for birds, beasts and bugs – and that’s where we come in.
Caring for garden birds in the winter
At this time of year, food sources are scarce for birds and they rely on sources of extra fat to keep them warm. You can really help by setting out a bird feeder or table with fat-rich food sources such as suet blocks, grated cheese and even bacon rind. Supplement this with nuts and seeds to provide a protein boost too. The birds will thank you for it, and you’ll love watching their activities from the window.
Another great option is planting evergreen shrubs that bear berries in the autumn and winter months, which birds will help themselves to. Shrubs like rowan, elder and hawthorn are great for this and also for adding winter colour to your garden.
Birds also need water throughout the winter, and as temperatures plummet this can be harder to come by. You can help by placing a metal dish of water in your garden, cracking any ice as needed, or investing in a bird bath.
Caring for other garden creatures in the winter
Shrubs like the ones mentioned above are brilliant for providing cover and shelter for winter wildlife. It can be tempting to shear and prune your plants back to the ground, but by leaving a bit of growth over the winter you’ll provide an invaluable haven for mice, hedgehogs and other small mammals. You can even create makeshift shelters by using bird boxes, hedgehog homes and other sheltered areas.
Large and small mammals will also appreciate extra food at this time of year. Foxes, badgers, squirrels, hedgehogs and more will all be on the hunt for additional nutrition, so if you spot any creatures in your garden you can lay out food for them. Just make sure you research thoroughly which types of food are healthy for your particular garden visitors, and keep on top of cleaning up any leftovers to avoid attracting rats.
Your winter wildlife will also need access to water, so leaving this out will be a great help for them. If you have a pond in your garden, you could float a plastic ball on it to stave off freezing. If the surface does freeze, melt a hole in it at the edge to allow creatures access to drinking water. A good method for this is to place a saucepan of hot water on the surface until it melts – avoid bashing or cracking the ice by force, as the shockwaves caused by this can damage pondlife.
Additionally, always make sure to check your work areas when you’re carrying out winter tasks in the garden. Whether it’s turning your compost heap, raking fallen leaves or even setting a bonfire – all of these environments can be home to small creatures like toads and hedgehogs. It’s best to leave your compost heap undisturbed through winter if possible.
Caring for minibeasts in the winter
Many bugs and minibeasts will hibernate through the winter, so make sure they have somewhere to hide away by leaving shrubs unpruned, or piles of fallen leaves. You can even bundle up stems and sticks from your prunings to create a makeshift ‘bug hotel’.
See? It’s surprisingly easy to do your bit for winter wildlife. And they’ll thank you for it!