We have now passed the mid-way point in October and nature is clearly gearing up for the winter months ahead. Bushes are loaded with berries and the leaves on the trees are turning russet and falling in droves.
Our British wildlife will also be readying itself for the much colder weather that's approaching - and the way some of them do this is by settling themselves for the deep sleep or torpor that we refer to as hibernation.
A number of well-known animals here in the UK conserve their energy levels and avoid the hunt for food this way and it's really incredibly tough when you think about it. Fortunately though, there are plenty of things you can do in your own garden to ensure that these creatures have the safe habitats they need to sleep until spring.
Here, we'll offer our top tips on preparing your back yard to create a haven for particular species.
Hibernation starts for hedgehogs in late October to November and lasts until April, so they will be very busy getting ready now - they are likely to have been very pleased with the milder weather over the past week that will have provided them with more natural food to fatten up on.
Hedgehogs like to hibernate in deep piles of leaves, grass cuttings, compost heaps, logs or even rubbish.
Help hedgehogs by:
Ensuring they're not disturbed
- Be very careful if you're having a bonfire on November 5th, as these piles may already be in use by sleeping hedgehogs. If they are, it's possible to move a hedgehog, but it's important you take care when doing so: bring as much of their nest as you can, secure them in a box and release them once the celebrations are over.
- Similarly, don't stick forks into grass cuttings or compost before having a look inside first
- Family pets (especially dogs) like to root around gardens, but discourage this if you think there's a hibernating hedgehog in the vicinity - perhaps cordon off that area.
Don't keep your garden too tidy, as fallen leaves and logs will encourage insects and slugs, which can help hedgehogs fatten up over the coming days and provide them with a ready food source come spring. Slugs, beetles, earwigs, worms and millipedes will all be welcomed by these little mammals.
Ensuring safe points of entry
Hedgehogs can fall into troughs of water, holes and other hazards, so cover them up now to make the garden safer for those looking for somewhere to sleep.
Preparing a cosy bed
Either set up your own pile of logs, leaves or other material, or get hold of a specially-made hedgehog house and place it in a quiet, sheltered part of the garden. With luck, it may get used this year. If not, the animals will start to get used to it being there ready for next.
Many insects hibernate, including ladybirds, bees, lacewings and some species of butterfly. They like to go into the crannies of dead wood or nooks of stone walls. Bees tend to get down on the ground and sleep in the undergrowth.
Help insects by:
Not being too tidy
Again, don't sweep up too much of your garden waste, as it will be welcomed by hibernating insects. Keep some small piles in place.
Insects are fragile and many don't make it through particularly cold winters. To give them the best chance of doing so, put bundles of cane in a special place for them to crawl into, or buy a special insect house that is designed to suit several species. Remember to put it somewhere the rain can't get in, or they may drown.
Keeping an eye open for butterflies
Some butterflies will find their way into houses for their hibernation, only to wake up again in confusion when we put the heating on. If this happens, gently catch them and take them to a cool, sheltered, dark place with open access (such as an outhouse or log store) to encourage them to go back to sleep again.
Some frogs hibernate by burying themselves in the layer of silt at the bottom of a pond, while others seek a muddy ditch, pile of logs or mound of leaves. Incredibly, their bodies actually freeze during the worst of the weather, while they remain in suspended animation.
Help frogs by:
- Providing easy access to a pond if you have one, perhaps by using a Frog Ramp
- Not disturbing garden waste
- Putting a specially designed house among the undergrowth in a sheltered location for them to crawl under.
Bats use hibernation roosts during the winter, whether they're in trees, built structures like barns, or underground in caves. Their body temperature drops and they require a cool, dry place to keep going on the fat reserves they've stored.
Help bats by:
Not chopping trees back too harshly
It can be tempting to set about pruning while there's not much foliage on the trees, but bats like to hide in hidden branches, especially if they are covered with ivy. If you must prune, do so very carefully.
Getting hold of a specialist bat box
Bats are one of our most endangered species and habitats for them are becoming few and far between, so give them the best helping hand you can by putting up a bat box. Several styles are available and they should be erected high up in a sheltered location, ensuring rain and wind can't get in.
There's lots you can do right now to help the animals in your garden - why not get cracking today?