Category: Mammals

10 Ways to Make your Garden a Winter Haven for Wildlife

As the growing season winds down, people are starting to tidy their gardens and prepare them for winter. For wildlife friendly gardens and gardeners however, things are a little different, it’s far less tidy, and far better for the wildlife! Here are 10 things a wildlife gardener can do to prepare the garden for winter that benefit both the garden and the wildlife.

1. Clean feeders, feed the birds!

It’s always important to keep your bird feeders as clean as possible and this time of year is a good time to do it as it the feeders will be very busy over the next few months! Then fill the feeders with fat balls, fat blocks, coconut shells filled with fat, fat pellets, fat filled with berries, mealworms, peanuts! Lots of fat! Don’t use the plastic nets though as birds can get caught in them with tragic consequences! (Also we don’t need more plastic) Don’t forget seeds and fruit, and I was today years old when I found out you can leave out cheese and bacon bits as well (probably go sparingly so you don’t attract too many rats!) A firm favourite with my birds are sunflowers seeds, I think just about everyone likes them, I get the shelled ones, waaaay less mess! Don’t get cheap seed mixes though, they are often made with cheap grains that are too big for anything other than pigeons to eat, I learned this the hard way!

2. Keep water available!

Keep small bowls of water on the ground and/or bird baths available as it’s just as important for wildlife to access water in the winter as at any time of the year. If you have a pond and should it ice over (not super likely in London but it could happen), melt a hole in the ice so the critters can get in and out and drink, and to make sure your pond doesn’t become oxygen starved. Use a pan filled with hot water to melt a hole, do not bang on the ice to break it as this sends out painful shockwaves that can hurt wildlife. (I’m imagining being inside a ringing bell, not a pleasant thought!)

3. Watch out for Hibernating Animals!

Check bonfire material for hibernating animals such as toads, hedgehogs, and frogs before lighting! (Better yet only build the bonfire when you are ready to light it, then nothing can get into it) Be careful turning compost as it’s warm and could be full of slow worms, grass snakes, toads, frogs and other lovely things you want in your garden!

4. Make homes for the animals!

Don’t bag up all your leaves, spread them on the flower beds, it’s good for your soil and it provides shelter for frogs, and insects, and gives Blackbirds and thrushes, and Violet Ground Beetles a place to forage for food. Leave some pots and piles of bricks laying around for newts and toads ( they like the greenhouse too so watch out for them if you are tidying, I have frogs in mine!) Make or buy some bug hotels for the leaf cutter bees and other insects such as lacewings and ladybirds, or just drill some holes in a log! Place clay roof tiles in the pond for the frogs and newts that may be overwintering in the pond.

5. Leave the Soil alone!

If you can help it, avoid digging your garden beds, as many spider eggs and insect larvae (especially moths) overwinter in the soil.

6 Plant some Winter Berries!

Shrubs that feed wildlife in winter are great for gardens because they also provide beautiful flowers in the spring and summer, lovely foliage in the Autumn and striking berries and stems in the winter! I wrote another post with a list of native berries here (such as hawthorn, rowan, guelder rose etc) but other good non-native garden shrubs for wildlife are Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Barberry (Berberis), and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) although be careful with the last one, it can get invasive if not carefully controlled!

7. Leave it Wild!

Avoiding trimming ivy and don’t cut hedges until at least March. Both provide much needed food and shelter for overwintering wildlife. Leave all the herbaceous plants untrimmed until early spring. Leave it messy! Many insects overwinter in hollow stems, ladybirds will all snuggle up on a stem for the winter and if there is one thing you really want in your garden, it’s ladybirds! When you do finally cut the stems down in spring, set them aside in stacks until May so the insects can emerge safely.

8. Clean Ponds!

Winter (Oct through January) is the best time to clean your pond as it is the time of lowest activity. However there are still active critters in there so be careful! Always stack the weeds and debris you clear from a pond on the edge for a few days so things can crawl out and back into the water. Having a little poke around and giving some of the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, other invertebrates, newts, frogs, and snails a helping hand back into the water is nice too.

9 . Clean out Nest Boxes!

In late winter clean out the nest boxes for the upcoming spring nesting season. Also be aware that some birds will roost communally in nest boxes in the winter to stay warm, especially wrens and house sparrows so making sure they have nest boxes or roosting pouches in you garden in winter could be very beneficial!

10. Help the Butterflies!

There are five species of butterfly in the UK that hibernate in winter as adults, the brimstone, comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell and red admiral. Two of these, the Peacock and the Small Tortoiseshell usually overwinter in a shed or garage, and if you see them there, leave them be. Sometimes though they will try to hibernate in your house, which would be fine if it didn’t get so warm. When the butterflies get warm they wake up and think it’s spring, and that is not going to be a good time for the poor butterfly when it’s still winter and there is no food in sight. So if you find an awake and confused butterfly in your house, the Scottish Wildlife Trust suggests the following:

The best thing you can do if you see a butterfly flying about in your house in the middle of winter is to help it relocate to a cooler spot. Put it in a cardboard box for a while to calm it down and then leave it in your shed, garage or another suitable location. Somewhere cool and dry is ideal. Remember to set it free when spring arrives!

Laura Preston, Scottish Wildlife Trust

So there it is, ten ways to help make your garden a safe haven for wildlife this winter! You will be rewarded come spring with an abundance of helpful creatures to keep your garden ticking along as well as the knowledge that you are also helping them to survive and thrive when so many are in shocking rates of decline across the country. Gardens make up one of the largest green spaces in the UK so we can have a huge impact on the future of wildlife, one garden at a time!

Rewilding Ealing: Harvest Mice

Photo: Harvest Mouse by Amy Lewis, The Wildlife Trusts

This Friday Dec 4th at 8pm, join Sean McCormack for an online discussion about a potential reintroduction project of Harvest Mice in Ealing. We’ll be exploring whether we have Europe’s smallest rodent species in the Borough, how we might find out with some help from our members, whether we still have suitable habitat and why such a project might be beneficial to people and biodiversity.

This is hopefully the first in a series of talks exploring rewilding and nature conservation in Ealing.

There are 100 spaces; first come, first served. Please do join live so you can take part in the Q&A afterwards. A recording of the session will be posted after for those who missed the live event.

The meeting will be on Zoom, details as follows:

Ealing Wildlife Group is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Rewilding Ealing: Harvest Mice

Time: Dec 4, 2020 08:00 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83855182276…

Meeting ID: 838 5518 2276Passcode: 581930

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2020: How can you help?

Did you know it’s Hedgehog Awareness Week? Well it is, so here are our top tips for attracting and helping these prickly garden visitors, who sadly are in decline in the UK.

Hedgehog by Rob Fenton

Build A Hedgehog Highway

One of the challenges facing hedgehogs in urban areas is getting around enough gardens at night to forage. Solid walls and fences don’t help when you need to travel up to a mile in one night to find enough food. So cut a hole or leave a gap about the size of a music CD in each of your garden boundaries. Encourage your neighbours to do the same so each little island of garden habitat is connected and hedgehogs can get around.

Hedgehog morning travels by Esther Brooks

Stop The Slug Pellets

These (and all other garden chemicals) are not only harmful to pests eating your precious plants, but anything else that eats them afterwards. Like hedgehogs, amphibians and the beautiful but declining Song Thrush. There are just as effective organic or chemical-free solutions to slug control. My favourite is a biological control that uses tiny parasitic nematodes that kill slugs but don’t harm anything else. Beer traps also work well, and the slugs die happy. Or you could just garden with plants that are great for wildlife and not so prone to slug damage?

Build A Log Pile

Stack logs, branches and woody cuttings in a pile in a quiet area. Leave a large cavity in the centre and some gaps a hedgehog might be able to squeeze through. Not only will it provide a potential hedgehog home but rotting wood is an important habitat for insects and other invertebrates, hedgehog food! You may also attract newts, toads, slow worms and even stag beetles! The more dead wood you can include in your garden habitat the better.

Provide Water

A shallow dish of fresh water can be a lifesaver to a thirsty hedgehog in the summer months. If you can create a small container pond or full-on wildlife pond even better, but make sure there are ways for hedgehogs to scramble out of a pond if they fall in. Ponds with steep, slippery sides are a death trap for hedgehogs and other wildlife so create a beach area in the shallows or pile up some logs, branches and plants near the side just in case.

Hanwell Hedgehog by James Morton

Check Compost Heaps & Bonfire Piles

These piles of material can make excellent homes or temporary shelters for hedgehogs too. Always check them carefully before sticking a garden fork in them or lighting that fire.

Make A Feeding Station

With a few simple supplies you can create a hedgehog restaurant that excludes larger diners like cats and foxes. You could even set up a trail camera and see who comes to visit your garden at night. Fun for all the family!

Log Your Sightings

To allow conservation organisations to build up a picture of where hedgehog hot spots are and where they are in trouble, we need the power of Citizen Science! So log your sightings of hedgehogs here and here. We’d also love you to post any sightings or photos you have on Facebook for our members to enjoy.

Donate to Hedgehog Awareness Week

 https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/HAW20

Ealing bats in 2020!

As the future of group activities looks uncertain with Covid-19 lockdown in place, one question we’ve been asked a number of times in recent weeks is whether there will be any bat walks in the season ahead. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to lead any sizable group walks any time soon. But all is not lost for you batty fans!

EWG Hanwell Viaduct bat walk (Photo credit: Steve Morey)

As our Dawn Chorus walk showed, virtual walks and activities are still an option. And a couple of weeks ago I took my bat detector out on my daily exercise at dusk, and transmitted through Facebook Live to see if it would work. And it did!

Bats in May

Now May and warmer weather are here bats are getting really active, feeding on flying insects, replacing lost energy reserves from hibernation and soon giving birth to tiny new baby bats. In fact May is the month most females will be heading to their communal maternity roost. Like a giant bat creche where they all have their babies. We’re lucky in Ealing to have lots of green space and wildlife corridors that bats (and other wildlife) need to survive and thrive. And we need to protect these spaces as best we can. Bats are an indicator species for the health of our wider habitats and ecosystems, so that’s why we’ve focused so much of our monitoring and public educational activities on them.

We’ve recorded 7 confirmed species in Ealing over the course of 38 public bat walks and many outings from members of our EWG bat pack over the past 4 years. And we’re providing all of our bat data to London Bat Group and the Bat Conservation Trust. It’s also an asset going forward for site specific development issues. The species we have confirmed in Ealing to date are as follows:

  1. Common Pipistrelle
  2. Soprano Pipistrelle
  3. Nathusius’ Pipistrelle
  4. Noctule
  5. Leisler’s
  6. Daubenton’s
  7. Brown Long Eared
Common Pipistrelle examined in hand during trapping and monitoring by London Bat Group under license (Photo credit: Sean McCormack)

Bats have fascinating biology, behaviour and habits, they’re much misunderstood. They are secretive and come out at night when we can barely observe them. Kids enjoy staying up late to see them, and a bat walk combines nature with technology. What’s not to love?

Bat Walks

I don’t know of anyone who’s experienced bats flying overhead with an electronic detector in hand to listen to their high pitched calls who hasn’t been thrilled or fascinated.

So I’m going to try to schedule a series of virtual bat walks via Facebook live this batty season, so at least if we can’t go watch them together we can have the next best thing.

Sean with bat detector

If you haven’t joined our Facebook group, what are you waiting for? That’s where we’ll transmit the live walks, and the event dates will be posted on there soon as well as on our website.

In the meantime, if you’re having bat withdrawal symptoms, here’s a couple of entertaining bat shaped videos on our YouTube channel:

I look forward to seeing and chatting with you on a Virtual Bat Walk very soon! And if you have any comments or questions, do let us know.

Sean