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Winter wildlife gardening

7th February 2019
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Erin McDaid, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

So far this winter we’ve only occasionally had to endure icy cold temperatures and this, combined with the unseasonably dry weather, may tempt you to make a start on tidying your garden ready for spring. With late blooms still in flower and catkins bursting through, the temptation might be difficult to resist, but if you want your garden to be a haven for wildlife, I’d urge you to leave many of the jobs till spring arrives proper.

I’m not simply advocating laziness. There are jobs you can do such as pruning apple trees and planting new trees and shrubs. If you fancy a ‘project’, a pond dug now has every chance of having frogs and other wildlife in residence by the summer, but the bulk of tidying and cutting back old vegetation is best left a while yet.

Beneficial creatures including colourful ladybirds, take refuge in the nooks and crannies afforded by loose bark and hollow stems so if you cut them back too early you’ll remove their options for seeing out the winter safely. If you burn your cuttings or send them to a municipal compost scheme you could even be inadvertently destroying the troops that will help control pest species once the weather warms up. Creepers such as ivy also give great cover for over-wintering insects and once well-established can provide roosting spot for birds such as wrens. If you’ve got fallen fruit on the ground, leave it there so that fieldfares and other winter thrushes can feast during cold snaps.

If your plot requires a major tidy come spring time, it’s advisable to go steady even then, as you could disturb a sleeping hedgehog tucked up amongst the undergrowth. When you do make a start, you could consider adding new habitat by creating a log pile.

However, now is a great time to clean out any nesting boxes and to put up new ones. People often think about installing boxes from February onwards, but by this time some species are already nesting. Records suggest that species are breeding between one and thirty days earlier than they were in the 1960s, so the earlier boxes are in place the better. Another benefit of putting up boxes early is that they can be used by species such as blue tits or wren to keep warm, on cold frosty nights.

If you are looking for inspiration to make your garden more wildlife friendly why not pop over to the shop at our Idle Valley Nature Reserve near Retford where we have a wide range of bird food, nest boxes and other wildlife homes as well as a great selection of books. For further details visit www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org.

Wren © Bo Chetwyn