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Protecting Garden Wildlife
Now the colder weather is here, the garden wildlife population will noticeably diminish. This is because many animals hibernate over the season, or take themselves off somewhere much warmer – the lucky things!
But some creatures remain in or around our gardens all winter, some maybe sleeping quietly and some still appear looking for food. It’s lovely to see these creatures pottering about in your garden all year round and it’s also very important to support wildlife to protect the dwindling numbers in the UK.
If you have a pond with a rockery or pile of logs nearby, you may have a family of newts taking up residence over the winter. They will generally hibernate from September/October until around March, so it’s a good idea not to disturb the area over the winter season or they may disperse never to come back. A compost heap also provides a warm, humid home for toads, frogs and some grass snakes. Before turning over the compost, have a look for any visitors.
Piles of leaves and shrubs can also house hedgehogs, who will still forage for food. So if you can, try to leave your garden as natural as possible to encourage the wildlife to stay. If you are planning a bonfire, check the wood and other materials first to make sure they aren’t playing host to any garden animals. If you are building up a large bonfire, it’s worth checking every day before the 5th November, just in case!
Put out some fresh water and food for hedgehogs. Tinned dog meat (not fish based) or minced meat is ideal to keep prickly visitors happy. It used to be popular to leave milk out, but research has found it can give them an upset stomach.
If you find an injured or orphaned hedgehog, pop them in a box and take them to your local wildlife centre. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so if they are out in the daytime, the likelihood is that it needs some help. However if you find one asleep or a nest of babies under cover, leave them be and try to keep pets away from the area.
Squirrels will also appear during winter. They do create little stores in their territory from which to feed. You can supplement this by leaving out nuts, apples and carrots.
If you have foxes in the area, they can become very hungry over the colder months when their natural food source is scarce. Putting out some chicken carcasses, cheese, fat and bread scraps will boost their diet and stop them scavenging.
However, don’t leave a large amount. The RSCPA advise not to give too much food, or animals can quickly become dependent on humans for food.
Birds also need some help. Not all migrate to warmer climes, and they can suffer when the weather turns freezing. Pop some fresh water out, and check it hasn’t frozen over. A bird bath isn’t a necessity, a bowl or saucer will suffice. However, it’s a good idea to place out of the reach of predators. Add some seeds or nuts too, or even a fat ball that contains lots of nutrients.
A fat ball can easily be created at home, by mixing scraps of bacon fat, seeds, nuts and some cheese. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have a great recipe that is easy for children to follow, and get them involved in animal care.
You can also give them a warm home by installing a bird box in your garden. Make sure it’s high enough to keep cats away. After the winter, remove any debris to entice new birds to nest.