What is British Summer Time?
Here in the UK, our clocks go forward 1 hour on the last Sunday in Spring and back 1 hour on the last Sunday. In October, when the clocks are one hour ahead we are in British Summer Time (BST) also called Daylight Saving Time (DST). Daylight Saving Time is used across the world as a way of saving energy and making better use of daylight.
In Britain, it all started in 1916 as a wartime measure to try and save fuel and has been in place ever since, with some experimental deviations in the 1960s. During World War 2 we even had British Double Summer Time (BDST) where the clocks were set two hours ahead in the summer months and only went one hour back in October in an effort to save fuel.
What is Nature Doing at this Time of Year?
The deciduous trees are losing their leaves, and whilst there are still plants out that flowered earlier in the year, there are relatively few wildflowers that begin their flowering in October, November or December.
In mild winters, like in 2015, Daffodil, Lesser Celandine, Snowdrop, Winter Aconite and Winter Heliotrope may start to flower in November and December.
As the temperatures start to drop, many British animals begin to go into hibernation.
Hedgehogs often stop visiting their regular garden foraging grounds as winter approaches if there is nowhere close by for them to hibernate.
Bats also begin to hibernate at this time of year when insect availability begins to drop, they need to find a hibernaculum that remains at a consistent temperature throughout the winter like a cave or cellar, as fluctuations in temperature can cause them to wake.
Dormice are our only native mammal that enters true hibernation with their metabolism dropping by up to 90%. They build winter hibernation nests at or below ground level around the time of the first autumn frosts in October and November.
Some insects also hibernate; Yellow Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies hibernate as adults with Brimstones choosing dense ivy for shelter and Tortoiseshells choosing cool sheds and outbuildings.
All of our British amphibians go into hibernation through the winter; some will dig into the mud at the bottom of the garden pond for shelter whilst others prefer piles of damp leaves or logs.
All of our British reptiles also hibernate during winter to protect themselves from the cold weather. Compost heaps are a hibernation favourite of adders, slow-worms and grass snakes.
Red and grey squirrels and badgers continue to be active throughout the winter season; it is commonly assumed that they hibernate, but in fact, they survive through the winter partly by foraging and partly on fat/food reserves built up during the autumn months.
Top Five things to do with Wildlife this Winter
1. Make a place for a hedgehog to hibernate
In the winter, a good place to hibernate can be the difference between life and death for a hedgehog. Check out this leaflet from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society explaining how to make a winter home for one of our spiky friends. Ideal materials to use are fallen logs, leaves, grass and piles of brushwood, so start collecting now!
The jay can be an elusive bird, but in autumn they can be seen outside of their usual woodland habitat collecting acorns for the winter ahead. With the leaves missing from the trees, they become much more visible sitting on the branches – lookout for a flash of white and blue! Winter is a great time to go out looking for our other overwintering bird species like the robin, the brambling and the redwing. Grab some binoculars and have a go.
If we’re lucky enough to have snow, then it can be a great opportunity to spot animal tracks. Look for the wide footprints of badger or the double slot footprints of deer. Even without snow winter is a great time to go out looking for animal tracks, with fewer plants around and muddy areas with damp, soft ground there will be plenty of opportunities to practice your tracking skills.
A touch of green is always a welcome sight in the winter, with evergreen trees providing this all the way through. The holly tree has red berries which were traditionally used as Christmas decorations with synthetic creations still used today. Ivy is much more common, but it attracts wildlife throughout the year with its blackberries providing food for woodpigeons and other birds in late winter. And of course, you can’t miss out the mistletoe; it is a symbol of fertility and still brought into homes at Christmas time as a festive tradition.
There are many good bird boxes for sale online, but it would be a lot more fun to make one yourself this winter. The ideal time to put up nest boxes is early winter with blue tits and great tits beginning to look for nesting sites in late winter. Generally, these nest boxes will be small with a little hole at the front for access by your chosen bird species. Check out this leaflet from the RSPB with information about how to build your own nest box.