By providing some suitable areas of hibernation and nutritious food we can help our countryside garden wildlife survive the winter months.
Here are a few simple things we can do to help our garden wildlife in winter but won’t take much time or effort, so there is no excuse!
There are three ways wildlife can surive the winter. They can remain in constant search of food and shelter, some requiring food every 2-3 hours. Some go into a torpid state, this is like partial hibernation where they lower their metabolic rate to use less energy but must still search for food when awake. The third is true hibernation, where animals consume more food before going into a ‘deep sleep’ state where their netablic rate is so low they can survive for long periods on stored energy.
1. Hibernation Areas
Don’t be too neat and tidy when preparing your garden for winter. Small mammals hibernate by lowering their heart rate and temperature to conserve energy. Everyone has a small area near a shed or hedge they can keep untouched. Just leave fallen leaves or some logs lying around there for small mammals to hibernate in and don’t allow curiosity to get the better of you just leave it untouched.
Make the spaces in the log pile small enough that mammals such as hedgehogs and shrews can squeeze in to but the cat can’t get in. Leave an upturned plant pot or two lying around so insects have somewhere to shelter.
Old leaves or straw can be used to line nooks and crannies, providing much needed warmth for hibernating wildlife.
If you have enough room lay a small sheet of corrugated iron or plastic on the floor, this allows small animals to crawl under the gaps but stops predators reaching them. You can lay leaves or logs on top to stop it looking unsightly.
Frogs and toads will hibernate at the bottom of a pond or in small holes, about 10cm deep. So if you have a pond try to leave it undisturbed over winter.
Bibernating bats need somewhere quiet to spend the winter, as if disturbed often they will fully ‘wake up’ and most likely starve to death. A enjoyable Saturday morning can be spent building bat boxes that will provide a safe place for hibernating bats.
2. Feeding Areas
Many people will put out bird feeders over the winter but some of our wildlife friends need meat to survive. Do not put out milk soaked bread for hedgehogs, this doesn’t supply the nutrition they require to survive. Cat food is a great source of winter nutrition for many mammals but do mix with some water to stop it drying out.
Many gardens have a bird table but unless we put food on it then it is just a garden ornament. Try to use bird cake (nuts and seeds soaked in fat) rather than just a peanut cage, the fat from the bird cake provides good winter nutrition to protect from the cold. Number 6 on my 10 tips to attract wildlife to your garden has a link for how to build a suitable bird table for your garden. As well as the usual seeds and nuts put out some fruit or porridge oats for birds, variety allows them to take the nurtition they need from various foods.
If you are going to make a feeding area for carnivors then try to protect it from predators such as cats. You can make a feeding area under a hedge by building a wire cage with an entrance small enough for wildlife to enter but not big enough for cats to get in. Making a small tunnel into the feeding area also stops the cat from sitting at the entrance waiting to pounce.
Water is as essential as food for garden wildlife, if you have an area wildlife can drink or bathe from then please regularly check it is not frozen over and don’t add salt or any type of antifreeze.
5. Keep At It
Some people will begin the winter with good intentions and put food out in their gardens daily but as winter drags on their efforts dry up, particularly if your children started the project. Unless you are committed to feeding wildlife over winter then please do not begin to, it is better to allow wildlife to find somewhere to spend the winter with a good source of food and water.