Gardening for Wildlife in Winter

robin
European Robin

Winter can be a long, hard, slog; not least for the UK’s wildlife. We’ve compiled some tips on how you can make your garden more wildlife friendly this winter. The benefits of a winter friendly garden can be felt all year round.

Hedgehogs:

Hedgehog populations are declining in the UK. Numerous factors have led to this dramatic decline, including, habitat fragmentation and habitat loss, increasingly poor hedgerow management, urbanisation, traffic deaths and increased use of pesticides. For more information, read our hedgehog article.

The main issue with attracting hedgehogs to a garden is accessed; Fences often don’t provide a way in or out of a garden, hedges have more gaps that a hedgehog can sneak through. One option is to cut a small notch in your garden gate to allow hedgehogs and other creatures a passage through your garden.

Hedgehogs hibernate during the winter, typically from November to March, and so providing a nesting spot is a real boost to your garden’s suitability. You can buy purpose-built hedgehog houses from garden centres and online, but a home-made one will do just as well. The key features to consider are ventilation and an entrance big enough for the hedgehog to get through, but small enough to exclude predators (4 inches should do). Ideally, the hedgehog home should be placed in a quiet, accessible area of your garden that is unlikely to be disturbed during hibernation season.

Great tit
Great Tit

Birds:

Birds are attracted to berry-bearing plants in winter, for example, Holly or Firethorn. Birds often favour native plants such as Crab Apple, Hawthorn, or Honeysuckle.

Provide nesting boxes, which can also benefit bats. Clear them of debris and old nesting material in readiness for the spring nesting season – of course, check they are empty first!

Bird Food can be scarce during winter. By providing fat blocks for garden birds, they can obtain nourishment in a safe environment – woodpeckers can get their tongues stuck in the plastic nets that contain seed balls. Tailoring these fat blocks can improve them further. Try peanut cakes for starlings, insect cakes for tits, and berry cakes for finches.

Invertebrates:

Try and avoid the use of slug pellets, insecticides, and herbicides. Not only will this kill beneficial species, not just harmful ones, but will also deter birds and butterflies.

Habitat Features:

Ponds are one of the most valuable garden wildlife habitats. However, during particularly cold winter weather, the surface water of a pond can freeze solid. To retain the wildlife benefits of your pond in this situation, melt a hole in the surface of the ice. Smashing, or cracking, the ice can disturb what lies beneath. By creating an access point to the fresh water, your pond will provide a valuable source of drinking water for birds and other wildlife.

Creating an undisturbed log pile in a quiet patch of your garden, particularly if it is well connected to other undisturbed areas, will create a prime habitat for insects and bugs. This will, in turn, attract birds and other mammals to your garden. Bonfires can act as accidental log piles, so always check your bonfire for resident hedgehogs, toads, or other wildlife, before lighting it on Guy Fawkes’ Night.

Compost heaps are another great example of mutually beneficial additions to your garden – you’ll be able to produce free mulch to benefit your garden, and you’ll be providing a great habitat for insects, bugs and perhaps even slow worms who are attracted to the heat produced by decomposition. However, when turning over, or removing, compost in the winter, be wary of frogs, toads, and other animals, who may be attracted by this warmth to survive the winter.

Preparing for Pollinators:

The plight of our pollinators is well documented, and growing plants in your garden that are favoured by pollinators can help you play your part. But did you know you can also attract pollinators to your garden in winter?

The types of plants that can attract pollinators in winter are often those that attract birds; holly, honeysuckle or any plant that bears berries can be a real draw. In addition, not only do common snowdrops, winter flowering crocus, and winter flowering hellebores look gorgeous, your local pollinators will really appreciate them too! For further inspiration, see the RHS Perfect for Pollinators plant list.

Useful Links:

  • The RHS Gardening with Wildlife in Mind database lists 300 desirable wildlife species, and the plants you can introduce to attract them.
  • The Wildlife Trust’s How to get Started factsheets provide information on creating wildlife ponds, feeding garden birds, making compost, and more.
  • The joint RHS and Wildlife Trust initiative Go Wild about Gardens provides a wealth of information on how you can attract more wildlife to your garden.

Remember that it is still possible to undertake a range of ecology surveys during the winter months, click here to find out more! Check out our survey calendar to see when you can start planning your surveys this year.

For more information on the other Ecology Services, we can offer, call us on 029 2065 0331, email us on info@acerecology.co.uk or click here for examples of our work.