In the warmer months our lawns and gardens are teeming with wildlife, but just because the sun has gone away for a little while doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of activity still going on, you just can’t see it as well!
There are a number of ways you can help encourage and support local wildlife in your area as we move into the colder weather, and who knows, if you’re patient enough and lucky enough, you might just get to see some of them!
1. Leave out food
While the rest of us seem to wind down, autumn and winter are actually very busy times for most wildlife as they try to collect as much food as possible. As the majority of this is stored away, you can lend a helping hand to a hurried hedgehog or busy bird by providing some extra food for them. Providing wild bird food such as seeds, suet balls, mealworms and berries are ideal for hungry birds as they provide protein and energy. Tinned dog / cat food is ideal for hungry little hedgehogs, and a mixture of nuts, seeds and veg will be a welcome sight and suitable for most small mammals.
2. Provide fresh water
All that hunting and gathering is thirsty work, so leaving fresh water out for weary travellers is a great help. This will keep puffed-out passers-by hydrated and send them on their way again – water is also great for birds so that they can wash and clean their wings, ready for take-off! You can provide fresh water in a shallow dish, to avoid any mini animal accidents make sure the dish is no deeper than 1 inch.
3. Allow free passage
Just like us, small garden animals such as hedgehogs believe variety is the spice of life, so will travel up to 1 mile per night to get the best out of each garden they come across. Of course, there are many obstacles in their way and one is the common garden fence. If you want to help these spikey wanderers out, you can create a hedgehog ‘highway’. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society recommends creating a hole in your fence that is 13cm x 13cm, simply by sawing / drilling it out of the wood – and who knows, you might just catch a glimpse of them on their way!
4. Clean bird houses
Like all houses, bird houses also need cleaned (although it takes a lot less time to clean one!) and they can get particularly uninhabitable for birds in cold, damp weather if left untouched. Bird houses can become home for more than just birds – as rambunctious rodents, uninvited insects and bacteria and fungus, that could harm baby birds, take over. It’s important to keep on top of cleaning your bird house for it to be a suitable home. To clean your bird house, first give it a light knock to ensure that there are no birds currently using it – also because it’s polite! Once you know that your bird house is bird not in use, you can set about cleaning it up. Remove all nesting material if there is any left from the bird house and sterilise it with hot water (no other chemicals) ensuring that it is fully dry before adding any new nesting material. Add the nesting material of your choice – whether it’s hay or wood shavings, and voilà! Your bird house just turned into a 5-star bird hotel!
5. Create new habitats
If you don’t have a bird box to clean, perhaps it’s time to consider installing one! Relatively inexpensive, bird boxes and other small wildlife homes are a great addition to your lawn and can also make for some great entertainment! If you don’t wish to spend money on this but would like to encourage wildlife naturally, hibernaculum’s are an excellent way to offer refuge to frogs, toads and hedgehogs. You can create one by saving a pile of damp leaves that you have removed from your grass and cordoning off this area in your garden (remember, don’t leave damp leaves on your lawn – it’ll damage it!). You can also create a compost heap of grass clippings and food waste which will play host to a rich range of biodiversity.
It’s easy to invite and encourage wildlife to your garden in winter, and while you may play host to your new and nosey guests, they will definitely provide the entertainment!