Create a Winter Wonderland for Wildlife

Fergus Gill, 2020 Vision

Our Senior Conservation Ecologist Andy Karran gives ten top tips to help wildlife in your garden this winter.

It feels to me like our local wildlife has never been so important to us as it has this year, providing a very welcome distraction from what has been going on in the world. We should therefore do what we can to return the favour, remembering that unlike many of us, nature doesn’t like things too neat!

 

 

Here’s a list of the top ten things can we all do at this time of year, to make our gardens a winter wonderland for wildlife!

 

1. First up, feed the birds, nobody feeds the birds more than us in the UK, which is great. Try to put out a variety of food to feed different species. Sunflower hearts, fat-balls, Niger seed and mealworms are all greatly appreciated. And if you buy your birdseed from VinehouseFarm, every purchase raises funds for your local Wildlife Trust. Visit www.gwentwildlife.org/feed-birds to do so

2. If you have to gather up fallen leaves then try spreading them on your flowerbeds, they will break down to provide a good mulch and make a superb hideaway for invertebrates which in turn provide great foraging for your resident Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. 

3. If hedges need cutting back, don’t do it too harshly or too early in the winter, otherwise you will be removing valuable warm roosting sites and cutting off all the berries that the birds want to eat. (Don’t leave it until next spring however as you don’t want to be disturbing any nesting birds!) 

4. Dried plant stems are often hollow and thus provide great over-wintering sites for mini-beasts. Don’t remove them until the following spring, try not to think of them as unsightly, but rather appreciate their skeletal architectural beauty, particularly when adorned with frost or spiders-webs. 

5. If you have wind-fall apples, only take what you need and leave the rest for the winter thrushes, they love them. You could perhaps spread them out on the lawn so you can watch the birds easier.  

6. Lots of people don’t like Ivy, however its dense foliage is great for nests and winter roosting. Also it is one of the few plants to have flowers in the autumn so is great for late season pollinators. The berries then follow in March when most other berries have gone, so can be a valuable resource to get birds through to spring when all other resources are exhausted.

7. If you are lucky enough to have a pond, then October to early January is the best time to do any maintenance, as activity is at its lowest and the amphibians haven’t returned to breed yet. There may still be creatures on any vegetation you pull out however, so lay it on the edge for a few days to allow any to crawl back in.

8. Speaking of ponds, even in winter birds need a supply of water to drink. This can be problematic if it is freezing outside. You can use a hot pan to carefully melt the ice on your pond or birdbath or float a small ball on the top, which when you remove from the frozen water, will leave a hole in the ice, so animals can access the water below. Don’t however smash the ice as the shock-waves can be harmful to the residents below.

9. Now is a great time to clean out your bird boxes ready for spring, this ensures there is room for a new nest and most importantly prevents the build-up of parasites in the box which can be very harmful to young chicks.

10. You could make an insect or bug hotel and put it up in a sheltered position. This will be ready for all the little critters to move in to next spring and will be of use next winter for those that hibernate such as ladybirds. Visit www.gwentwildlife.org/actions for more ideas like these.