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Wildlife Gardening in Winter

Posted: Monday 30th January 2017 by Volunteering

Getting ready for Spring

Not sure what to do to your garden in winter to help out your garden wildlife? Our Wildlife Gardening Officer is here to help.

Winter can be a funny time for gardens and many gardeners. Everything slows down, isn’t looking it’s best and the gardener in many of us wants to get out and do something but we’re not sure what. Should we be clearing up, or leaving things be? Providing food or are we just encouraging pests? Well Dawn Fielding, our Wildlife Gardening Officer has put together a few pointers which should help clear things up:

Most garden wildlife hibernates over winter; food is in short supply and freezing temperatures make life difficult. However some species, such as birds and squirrels, don't hibernate. They struggle to stay alive, using up fat reserves just to stay warm. By making a few simple changes you can provide food and help support struggling species during the cold weather.

Tidying Up

• Our annual autumn rituals of raking leaves and tidying up are a major blow to wildlife. Just when the going gets tough, we're removing prime sources of food and shelter. Spread fallen leaves over your beds and this rich, free mulch will help to improve soil fertility and conserve water. It will also create a superb foraging habitat for thrushes and blackbirds and provide places for frogs and invertebrates to overwinter amongst the damp leaves.


Leave dead flowers and plants in the allotment until springtime

• Leave dead flowers and plants in the allotment until springtime. Dry plant stems provide all kinds of insects with places to overwinter including the gardeners friend the ladybird.

• Let some plants go to seed, providing winter food for seed-eating birds who will also help themselves to any insects they find whilst foraging. Seed heads can look dramatic, providing winter interest in the garden. When you do cut the stems in spring, leave them in a stack until May to allow all of the overwintering insects to emerge.

Natural Food Sources

• Numerous plants have winter berries or provide food for a wide variety of wildlife in some way. Birds are attracted to plants such as cotoneasters, holly, pyracantha and skimmia. Also favourites with birds are natives like crab apples, honeysuckle, rowan, and sunflowers.

• Planting native hedging plants and trees such as hazel, elder, blackthorn, hawthorn, dog rose, field maple, beech, yew and the like will create nesting places for birds, shelter beneficial insects and provide berries for food. Avoid cutting hedges until the end of winter to provide valuable shelter for birds and give them more time to eat the berries.

• Resist the urge to cut back ivy growing on walls and fences. Wait until March so the berries are available to birds and the foliage can provide a foraging habitat for insect-eaters such as tits.

• By setting aside a strip of ground or minimising digging you will protect the larvae of many predatory beetles which overwinter in the soil. Ground beetles are thought to be the ‘number one’ slug predator. Birds can also feast on any insects they find hibernating here.



Extra Help

• Birds rely on bird feeders when their natural sources of insects and grubs dry up. They need calorie-rich fat balls, sunflower hearts and peanuts to maintain fat reserves on frosty nights. In colder weather, look out for less common visitors, such as Waxwings, Blackcaps, Redwings and Bullfinches.

• Ensure ponds and water sources don’t dry up or ice over. Access to drinking water is vital to birds and wildlife. Float a tennis ball or similar in your pond to prevent it freezing over, reducing oxygen and suffocating any frogs beneath the surface. 


Hopefully by following even a couple of these little tips and tricks, you can help wildlife have a bit of an easier time this winter. Also you'll be ensuring they and your garden are well set up for spring!


Dawn Fielding 

Wildlife Gardening Officer

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