After an exceptionally warm December, the weather is forecast to become much colder. Frosts and perhaps snow will threaten the survival of our garden wildlife but, as Andy Taylor discovers, it's not difficult to provide a little assistance to help birds and other animals survive the severe weather.
In the Wildlife Care section on GardenSite you'll find a huge range of items. These include nesting boxes to provide shelter ovtha.er the winter and a nesting site in the spring, and bird feeders that should be placed at head height and near a sheltered area such as a hedge.
Feeding The Birds
Bags of specialised winter food are available as well as other high protein goodies such as fat balls that you can easily make-up in your kitchen. You can also help birds by not cutting down seeding plants such as sunflowers and planting berry bearing trees and shrubs like holly, viburnum or pyracantha.
Remember not to leave any netting or mesh, that you have used to hang food up, lying around once the fat is eaten - birds will get tangled in it. Also don't use polyunsaturated fats or butter that might get smeared on their feathers.
Fruit is a also a nutritious and juicy bird food, unsalted peanuts and bacon, fresh coconut and uncooked oats are other useful foodstuffs, as are leftovers such as bits of cheese, soaked dog biscuits, boiled rice and spare pet food (although the latter might also attract unwanted attention from cats). Never give birds milk, cooked oats or desiccated coconut.
Bird baths, or just a dish of water, away from predators are also vital not only as a drinking source but also somewhere to clean feathers. Make sure the water is fresh and unfrozen.
Looking After Hedgehogs
Due to a reduction in habitat, hedgehogs have declined in numbers tremendously over the last 50 years. Ensure there are gaps in your fence so that they can roam freely and wild areas with wood piles for shelter and hibernation. Hedgehog houses are freely available to encourage them to take up residence.
Don't tidy the garden up too much and leave any hedge cutting until the spring. Only clear away leaves from the lawn and paths, as frogs love to snuggle up in them to hibernate. Undergrowth and hedges provide shelter and feeding opportunities to many insects and animals.
Read our blog on keeping ponds free from ice using pond heaters and air pumps. Use a pond vacuum to collect decaying debris and always prevent leaves from dying plants from falling into the pond.
Try not to disturb butterflies who like to overwinter in sheds. Avoid destroying spiders' eggs and moth larvae when digging borders. If you do happen to disturb a hibernating amphibian, cover it up quickly with leaves or if you see a hedgehog who hasn't successfully hibernated, feed it on water and dog food, if it's small or out during the day it might be best to contact a specialist organisation for advice.