October - the perfect time to create your wildlife-friendly garden for winter!
Does your garden look a bit uninspiring in the winter? Well, why not liven it up a bit by creating a haven for your local wildlife!
Winter time can be rather difficult for our wildlife with the temperatures plummeting and good food being scarce, and so they have a struggle getting through the cold months.
The various types of wildlife that we can get in our gardens - for example, birds, hedgehogs, frogs etc. - help us as they assist in keeping down the insect population in our gardens, so it's only fair that we should return the favour and help them when they need it.
Think about adding a bird box or a hedgehog home to your garden and also provide shelters in undisturbed parts of your garden where wildlife can hibernate. If you can, allow areas of your garden to become overgrown over autumn/winter so it can be used as a home. Something like a compost heap will also provide a perfect, warm home for animals like frogs and toads etc. through the cold weather.
Have a look on The Wildlife Trusts' website to see how to make your own hedgehog home: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-hedgehog-home .
Also, let's not forget our bats who play an important part in our environment. They pollinate flowers and spread seeds, and also help control the insect population. In fact, it is said that the sign of bats in your garden is a sign of a healthy garden. Their guano contains potassium, nitrogen and phosphate which is good for plants' root and flower growth and health. And they help in medicine too – for instance, bats' saliva has been used to develop a medicine for stroke sufferers, an anti-coagulant. So why not build a bat home in your garden! Do have a look on The Wildlife Trusts' website to see how to do it: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-bat-box .
Although we don't need to be continually putting out food for wildlife as we don't want them to become totally dependent on us, we should help them out a little when the weather starts getting colder so they can get through the winter.
Here are some suggestions to help your local wildlife:
Birds may have a problem finding their natural food such as insects and berries or fruit on bushes etc. We can put out seeds, fresh (unsalted) peanuts, suet balls, mealworms (you can buy these dried), berries, and some species will even enjoy cut up fruits, for example pears, apples and plums.
Hedgehogs are building up their reserves of fat now that they will need in order to survive the winter. Consider leaving them out supplemental food like minced meat, tinned dog or cat food and cat biscuits (although not the fish ones), and also boiled egg chopped up. Never feed hedgehogs milk (although they do like it!) as this will really upset their tummies, nor give them bread as there is little nutritional value in bread. (Note: a space of only 13x13cm is large enough to give a hedgehog access into your garden.)
Although squirrels are thought of as pests by some, they do have their place in our ecosystem. For instance, a lot of the nuts and seeds they bury are often forgotten about and some of these sprout and grow into more plants and trees.
Squirrels particularly like nuts, e.g. peanuts (unsalted) hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds and some chopped carrot. Feeding them nuts in their shells is even better, as gnawing them will help keep their teeth healthy! It's best to give squirrels their own type of feeder to hopefully keep them away from your bird feeders. For the birds, you can buy special squirrel-proof bird feeders/seed dispensers that work very well (I have them in my garden - you might want to have a look at https://homgar.com/. )
If you are lucky enough to see a badger in your garden, they are fond of fruit, for example grapes, apples and pears, and will even eat peanuts (unsalted), brazil nuts and dry dog food.
Bats naturally eat fruit and insects – fruit bats' favourite food includes figs, mangoes, bananas, dates, melon and avocados. You can also try them on some mealworms.
Also, don't forget all wildlife needs access to water too, particularly during the winter, so do put this out for them. Putting out a shallow dish of fresh water on the ground will be useful for all wildlife coming into your garden – even birds and bees. Although for bees, do make sure there are plenty of pebbles in the dish so they have something to perch on and don't fall in and drown.
You might even think about making a bird bath – not only will the birds love it, but it could be an attractive addition to your garden and entertaining to watch through your windows.
Do have a look at how to create a simple, perfect bird bath on the RSPB website: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/maketheperfectbirdbath/.
Also, don't forget that if the temperature reaches freezing point, make sure the water hasn't iced over.
If you already have bird feeders, bird boxes, baths etc., give them a good clean up using a brush and hot water with a little gentle detergent before the cold season starts.
And let's get ready now for all those wonderful little visitors!
Written by Leslie Chetland
(Updated 15th October 2020)