How can we help wildlife in winter?
It’s that time of year when it’s cold, wet and miserable outside. Luckily, the central heating is on a timer and the allure of the fire is irresistible. Hearty casseroles are simmering away, and the culinary compensations of winter go some way to warming us up.
But spare a thought for our furry, feathered and spiny friends outside who don’t have an invitation to curl up on the rug. Here are some top tips to help protect wildlife during the winter:
Firstly, it’s not so bad for the hibernators who get to sleep through the worst of it, but when you’re turning your compost heap, keep a careful eye out for any hedgehogs that may be hibernating there. They won’t enjoy being woken up by the sharp tip of a garden fork.
In cold weather, many birds can lose up to 10% of their body weight overnight and they use a great deal of energy flying to feeders and looking for food, so keep bird feeders and baths topped up. This way, they won’t have had a wasted journey and will get the nutrition they need. Finches and tits look for sunflower seeds, while blackbirds and thrushes love fruit and berries including dried fruit like currants or raisins. Don’t give them anything salty and take fat balls out of string nets so that the birds can’t get caught and stuck in them. Give them a variety of foods: suet, seeds, fruit, even dried mealworms to provide a varied winter-proof diet.
After an autumn tidy up, keep hold of any rotten bark or wood that you might have got rid of as it provides a great shelter for insects.
Remember to feed the bees. Yes, they should be hibernating, but sometimes, if it gets a bit milder, they can become a little disorientated. So, give them a fifty-fifty sugar water drink as a treat and don’t be surprised to see them on sunny winter days.
This is a great one to salve your conscience: keep the garden untidy. Unswept leaves make excellent homes and shelters for a range of insects and animals. Underneath the hedgerow should stay dryish and warmish, and snails and slugs often hide beneath leaves, providing food for hedgehogs, frogs and birds.
While they’re not so obvious as in the spring and summer, we should look after the insects too. The pupae or caterpillars wait in long grass or at the base of plants, or even just below the soil, so keep your grass as long as you can stand and don’t cut back all of your perennials. This gives them the best chance of emerging as beautiful butterflies and moths next year.
Finally, assuming that you’ve avoided any snoozing creatures in the compost heap, remember to help the hedgehogs. If the winter is mild, they can stay awake and active throughout the winter months so extra food such as meat-based wet dog or cat food, specific hedgehog food or even cat biscuits can be an essential supply. A dish of fresh water is great, but don’t give them milk – they really struggle to digest it.
It might not seem like much, but with a little bit of care and consideration and not much effort we can really help our wonderful wildlife survive the winter.
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