Winter can be tough for the wild things- but it is not too hard for us to help.
- Help birds in winter by placing fat blocks in wire cages. Balls in plastic nets are not recommended as birds can get caught in them. The empty nets also end up as litter as they are often forgotten or dislodged by the weather.
- You can put out finely chopped bacon rind and grated cheese for small birds such as wrens. Thrushes and blackbirds favour fruit. Scatter over-ripe apples, raisins and song-bird mixes on the ground for them.
- Do not leave out large quantities of food to avoid the birds becoming too dependent on handouts.
- In late winter, clean out bird boxes so they are ready for new nests in spring
- Consider planting berrying and fruiting trees and shrubs such as - Dogwood, Holly, Hawthorne, Firethorn /Pyracantha, Guelder rose, Spindle, Elder, Laurel, Rowan, Alder, Silver Birch, Honeysuckle, Roses, Ivy
- There is no rush to clean up in Autumn. By leaving the task of tidying your garden borders and shrubs until early spring, shelter can be provided for insects, birds and small mammals throughout winter.
- Always put out clean water - an upside down bin lid makes a good bird bath!
- Don't do all your pruning at once. Give everyone time to find new homes by staggering the cutting.
- Bird Watch Ireland has a lot of interesting information on helping and conserving birds.
- If you have a cat then make sure its collar has a bell to warn birds of its presence. Also don't let the cat out of the house around sunset, sunrise and after bad weather - all times when birds and fledglings are vulnerable. Make sure bird feeders are above cat level.
Helping other animals -
- Check bonfires before they are lit for sheltering and hibernating animals, such as hedgehogs, toads and frogs
- Melt a hole in the ice on ponds to allow the wildlife to drink, and enter and exit the water. Fill a sauce pan with hot water and sit it on the ice until a hole has been melted. Do not hit or crack ice as this can send shockwaves through the water that harms wildlife.
- Be careful when you turn compost heaps. As these are often warm, they can be the winter resort of frogs, toads and other animals
- Make an insect hotel and put up in a sheltered position. Overwintering ladybirds and lacewings will find this useful.
- Leave healthy herbaceous and hollow-stemmed plants unpruned until early spring. These can provide homes for overwintering insects.
- Leave undisturbed wild areas in your garden – piles of leaves or brushwood can make the perfect nest in which animals can hide, rest and hibernate.
- When food is scarce, putting out a small amount of an appropriate treat will help any mammals visiting your garden in winter. Foxes - Put out cheese, boiled potatoes, chicken carcasses, bread and fat scraps at dusk. Squirrels do not hibernate, instead they catch food during autumn to eat when food is scarce. Leaving out nuts and chopped apples will be greatly appreciated. Badgers have a tough time finding their favourite food - earthworms - when the ground is frozen. Provide them with meat scraps, cheese, peanuts and fruit.
- Do not leave out large quantities of food to avoid the animals becoming too dependent on handouts.
- Nearly half of all hedgehogs die during their first winter. Many starve, while those born in late-summer are often too small to hibernate, and so are unable to survive the cold weather. Provide shelter by making a leaf pile or making a hedgehog house. Leave a dish of water and dog or cat food to help boost their fat reserves, until it's no longer taken (usually mid- to late-autumn when they enter hibernation).
- Winter is a good time to clear your garden of any plastic rubbish that is lying around - bits of plants pots, netting, strimmer cord etc. Not only will your garden look better it will also stop all those bits from ending up in the sea.