Wildlife In Winter

Wildlife In Winter

Wildlife In Winter

Wildlife In Winter

Wildlife In Winter

Wildlife In Winter

Garden wildlife is not only fascinating to watch but it’s essential to the ecosystem, so maintaining a balance in our outdoor spaces is good for everyone. In the warmer months, our gardens should provide all that’s necessary for the wildlife to thrive – aside from some additional water – but when the temperature drops, so too does the prevalence of food and shelter, and nature needs a little more support.

This year, however, an extremely mild autumn may have extended food sources and provided protection for a while longer, but soon it’ll becomes harder, and our feathered, furry and winged friends may need some help. From now until the spring, supplementing diets and offering additional refuge will help to ensure the wildlife in our gardens returns next year with the warmer weather, but it needs to be appropriate. To help you, we’ve looked at the different animals you’re likely to find and what they may need during the winter months.

Earthworms are a firm favourite for these shy, nocturnal creatures, but when the temperature plummets and the ground freezes, they’re not so easy to find; fortunately, badgers will be happy with lightly cooked meats, cheese, peanuts or fruit as substitutes, and if you’re concerned about not providing enough sustenance, have a chat to our wildlife experts about the badger and fox food we sell.


Bees and Insects
On days when the weather is a little less inclement, bees will make an appearance, searching for food, and they’ll be particularly grateful for a saucer of sugar and water – a 50/50 mix will work. Solitary bees and other winged bugs will welcome insect hotels to lay eggs and keep warm, so long as they’re placed on a south-facing wall, and if you don’t happen to have any bamboo laying around or the time to construct your own, you can always drop by to see the ready-made varieties we have in-store.


Along with nuts, berries seeds and fruit, birds will feast on grubs, insects and worms throughout the year, but they are all in rather short supply now, as is the time needed to forage for such delights. High-energy suet cakes and fat balls, mealworms and bird seed containing sunflower hearts, peanuts and nyjer seed are crucial for providing essential fats, nutrients and protein that will sustain birds during the harsher weather. Whatever you provide, however, should be additional to birds’ diets; too much food will make them reliant on you instead of fending for themselves. Natural water sources may well freeze, so providing fresh water daily for drinking and bathing is just as important as the food, especially as the temperature drops further; adding a table-tennis ball to the water in your birdbath will help to stop it freezing.


To help prevent birds becoming a meal themselves, any feeders you have need should be placed high enough above ground to prevent potential predator attacks – in trees, on fences – and cleaned weekly to prevent the spread of disease; clearing away uneaten food and any that falls to the ground will keep pests at bay too.


Robins are a frequent sight throughout the winter months because they are one of the first breeds to nest, and they can be seen collecting suitable materials – leaves, moss and twigs – from November onwards to ensure they’re ready for January. Leaf and twig piles will assist them in their quest and may also offer a ready-made home for other animals, so gather as many as you can and leave in safe areas of your garden; hedges can provide natural shelter so cease cutting them after October. Alternatively, nesting boxes and material can always be found here at Brookside Garden Centre.


December is the time foxes become a more frequent sight, once their young have matured enough to venture out on their own. They’ll start their hunt for food and begin stocking up for January, when foraging for food becomes less of a priority than the mating season. When their young have been born – around March – the search begins again as the pack members bring food back to the nursing mothers, and boiled potatoes, bread, cheese, chicken carcasses, scraps of fat and tinned dog food are great additions to their diet, just be sure to leave them out at dusk and dispose of anything not eaten to keep rats away.


Frogs, Toads & Newts
Being cold-blooded, British amphibians don’t ‘hibernate’ in winter – a term used for warm-blooded mammals – they ‘brumate’. The main difference is hibernation involves a deep sleep and the slowing down of bodily functions to conserve energy, whereas brumation misses out the sleeping but retains the lowering of metabolic function and activity; it can then allow for movement where necessary, and even a complete re-emergence on warner days. Frogs, toads and newts, will spend the colder months burrowed, in log piles or under leaves, and if one is available, in a compost heap, anywhere they’re protected from the extremities and less likely to lose too much water. Garden ponds will attract some, so thawing a frozen pond is crucial (see below).

Although they should be hibernating during the winter, hedgehogs may appear if they’ve been disturbed in some way, and they’ll be on the lookout for food; dog or cat food and a dish of water – NOT milk – will satisfy them. Piles of branches and leaves that may have been left for birds will make a cosy haven for hedgehogs, so long as they’re away from potential harm.


With squirrels, it’s a slightly longer project as they store food whenever it’s available to enjoy when it’s not; almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts can be cached safely, so leaving them out for our fluffy-tailed friends during autumn will help them stock up for the colder months, and particularly December to February when they’ll be breeding. They’ll happily take food left for birds, so squirrel-proof feeders will encourage them to stick to their own menus!

That’s the animals covered, but for more general support, there are a few more things you can do to ensure your garden is a haven for over-wintering wildlife:

Frozen Ponds
When the temperature drops significantly, check ponds daily, and if they’ve frozen, the ice will need to be melted to prevent the build-up of toxic gases, which can kill fish or frogs residing at the bottom. Rather than smashing the ice or pouring hot water directly on it, however, melting it with a pan of hot water will prevent harm to the animals caused by the swift temperature change. You can prevent the pond freezing over completely by leaving a ball floating on the surface, just ensure you remove it temporarily to allow the gases to escape, and return it to the pond before it freezes again.

Safe Shelter
Along with piles of leaves and branches, furniture and other garden structures can provide shelter, so when moving them, check for sleeping animals and avoid disturbing them wherever possible. If you’re concerned you may be lacking in available and appropriate refuge, take a look at what we have in-store: bee and bug houses and huts, bird nesting boxes, frog and toad bunkers, hedgehog baskets and houses and insect hotels and towers.

Although adding plants to your garden is not generally a winter activity – be sure to check with our experts if you’re unsure about planting times – there are many you can plant successfully so long as there are no extremes in the weather – too cold, too wet – but you may already have plants, trees and shrubs that will help wildlife in the colder months. We’ve compiled a list of plants that will provide food and/or shelter – berries, leaves – but it’s by no means conclusive…


Aucuba, Azaleas, Beech, Conifers, Cotoneaster, Hawthorn, Heucheras, Holly, Ivy, Magnolia, Mahonia, Pyracantha, Rhododendrons, Sedums, Skimmia, Taxus


Bird feed, fat balls, feeders and tables may be an obvious purchase from a garden centre, but don’t forget we also stock feeding tables, boxes and food for squirrels, and food for badgers, foxes and hedgehogs.


At a time when wildlife is seeing a drop in its natural habitat, it’s even more important to lend a helping hand to get as much through the demands of the winter months as possible, and as always, we’re here to lend you a helping hand in doing just that.

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