If you are lover of creatures that visit your garden, then you are likely going to want to help them out through the winter. The cold weather brings with it threats to our wildlife and we can do much to keep them safe and secure until the spring comes round once more.
There are three necessities that are core to the survival of wildlife: shelter, food, and water. We will explore each one in detail.
Cold weather brings the obvious danger of hypothermia for animals, especially where safe hibernating is not possible. While it might not be the cold that kills the animal, it will make them sluggish and unresponsive to potential predation.
The dangers from the weather are such that shelter is one of the best ways to support wildlife. There are obvious choices you can make, such as putting up bird boxes high in trees. However, hedgehogs also benefit from a wooden shelter hidden away on the ground and could be exactly what they need to safely hibernate.
If you do put up boxes for birds, be sure to keep them cleaned out and to clear away stray bird poop. If you keep the area clean, then birds won’t see it as a place to do their toilet and you will therefore protect them diseases. It is the only bit of manicuring we suggest during the winter, as it is best to leave your garden a little haphazard to offer hiding places for creatures.
You might also be surprised how much your compost heap becomes a sanctuary for animals. Frogs and toads will flourish in the warm moist air and will need to be kept safe until April when they will emerge. This means that you need to be careful not to turn the compost during these colder months and to not work with it until you are sure the amphibians have exited.
It’s also a good idea to leave a leaf pile in your garden, which will help overwintering insects. Hedgehogs will also be glad of the warmth of the leaf pile and the ready supply of insect food too.
Of equal importance to shelter is food. The winter months with the bare trees and bushes and hard ground make for a barren time for wildlife. Yet, know what to feed and how much to feed is a difficult balancing act and worth some research. You do not want the local wildlife to be reliant on you for food, as it will stop them from exhibiting their normal instincts for finding food. Equally, you don’t want to feed them the wrong food, as you could make them ill or worse.
The best example of the most misfed animal is the hedgehog. For a long time, people would put out bread and milk, but a hedgehog is lactose intolerant and normally feeds on grubs. Therefore, to properly feed the hedgehog you are better off putting out dog food or cat food – whether meat or biscuits – and some water.
When looking to feed birds through the winter, you want to up their fat intake. It is a great idea to put out a suet or fat ball filled with seeds. Equally, oily nuts are useful, along with mealworms, berries, chopped up fruits and more. The greater the variety of foods you put out the more species of bird you will attract.
Finally, if you have badgers that visit your garden, again dried dog food is a great option and the mealworms you might also put out for the birds.
The final essential for survival is water. While UK winters are becoming milder and rivers and other bodies of water free flowing, it is still a good idea to top up your bird baths and put out small trays of water for small mammals. Make sure any shallow tray of water is replaced often and that it is unfrozen.
The biggest work you can do in your garden is with your pond. If the pond freezes over, you need to boil some water and melt a hole in the middle. While it might be tempting to bash the ice with an object to clear away the ice, the vibrations you cause can be really damaging to creatures.
The fundamentals of life
Taking care of wildlife over the winter is straightforward. Access to food, water, and shelter becomes scarce during these cold months and any help you can give here will be of benefit to the local wildlife. While it means keeping your maintenance jobs for the spring, the life you have invited in to your garden will help it to flourish through the summer.