As we reach the coldest time of the year, mammals, birds and other creatures will all benefit from a little help.
Feed the birds
Natural food becomes scarce in winter, so you are likely to get close up views of garden birds as they become bolder in their search for food and scraps. It’s possible that less common species such as fieldfares, redwings and woodpeckers may enter gardens now hunting out berries and looking for insect larvae in tree bark. Keep your feeders and bird tables well stocked with mixed seeds and nuts, as well as fat balls, which are a great source of energy for birds. Fallen apples can still provide food for hungry creatures and scraps of food are also welcomed by other garden creatures such as foxes and squirrels. Always remember to keep your bird feeders and tables clean. You can find out more about feeding the birds in our video.
Birds need to bathe all year round to keep their feathers in tip top condition, so make sure bird baths and other water containers are regularly cleaned, topped up and checked for ice. You can put out saucers of water on the ground too for mammals including any hedgehogs that might wake during milder weather from hibernation.
The wildlife in your pond can be pretty hardy but may need some help in harsher weather. It’s unlikely that any ice formed will be deeper than a few inches, so unless you have a mini pond, don’t worry too much if it freezes over. If you do have a small pond or the ice is there for a while, you can create a hole in the ice. Never smash it, but instead rest a saucepan of boiling water on the ice near the edge of the pond to gently melt it. This hole can also help provide a welcome drink to birds and other wildlife. Prop a piece of wood or similar through holes so any wildlife that falls in can easily get out.
Although you don’t need to worry too much about a little ice, it’s a good idea to clear any fallen snow from your pond to allow sunlight to get through. This allows submerged plants to photosynthesise and continue to provide oxygen for any creatures living in there, including hibernating frogs.
Making plans for the year ahead
January is a great time to create plans for next year’s garden, make nest boxes, or plan a new wildlife feature such as a mini-woodland or new pond. If we have some milder weather, you can plant trees, shrubs and hedges. Winter will give you the opportunity to examine your garden’s structure and move any out of place shrubs as long as the ground isn’t too frozen or wet. If you are pruning back hedges try to do it by the end of January, as some birds such as blackbirds can start building nests as early as February.
Whatever work you do, go carefully and try not to disturb any creatures which may be hibernating such as hedgehogs, lacewings or ladybirds. Try to keep fallen vegetation where it is and as always, don’t be too tidy!