The fallen leaves in your garden and the cooler temperatures are the first signs that autumn is well and truly in full swing. It may not be the coldest or harshest of the seasons but it is in these months that some animals start to prepare and wind down for hibernation and winter. This dormant period takes place in the UK from October and finishes around March/April, or when the weather picks up again but does not affect all wild mammals.
The winter in the UK can become quite difficult for small animals to cope with and their preparation in the autumn can make or break the coming months. With dwindling numbers of hazel dormice, bats, hedgehogs and badgers in the UK due to environmental and man-made issues, we need to help these creatures survive whether they are hibernating or simply trying to survive the winter. Every creature has its own set of needs and it is best to understand if the animals visiting your garden hibernate or not.
This little ‘gardeners' friend’ eats snails, slugs and other insects that disturb our plant beds but now hedgehogs are an endangered animal, they really need our help. Where best to start than by thoroughly checking gardens, underneath sheds and decking so any animals that have chosen these spots for sleeping are left alone. Don’t forget to let everyone in the household know so they are aware of them. Do this check soon so you do not have a sleeping hedgehog in a dangerous place as these animals should not be moved once they have started hibernating. If you find a hibernating hedgehog that needs to be moved, call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890 801 for professional advice. If you have noticed one trying to make a nest, why not install a hedgehog house for its whole family to come and go as they please. Cover it in leaves to keep the warmth in and encourage them to live there by popping some specialist hedgehog food in.
There are four types of squirrel living in the UK today; red, black, brown and grey and although some see these as pests, red squirrels' numbers are dwindling and due to rapid building of housing areas with no trees and high fences, squirrels are finding places to live harder to come by and so the colder months are tougher for them to get through. In fact, the Red Squirrel Survival Trust say that these beautiful creatures will be extinct in a decade if we do not help them.
Squirrels store their food during the autumn months so they can access these reserves during the winter, check if any visit your garden during this period and try to not disturb their stores. They sometimes visit bird houses to collect food so make sure yours is well stocked with nuts and seeds for both birds and squirrels to dip into.
Squirrels do not hibernate but can sleep for up to 20 hours a day after a few hours of activity in the early morning (not unlike cats). This is why it may seem that squirrels are absent in the colder seasons but their survival depends on how they cope with winter.
During autumn and winter the UK plays host to some species of bird who migrate to our shores for different foods and climates. Some of us are lucky enough to have a garden that bursts back into life again as soon as this migration has ended, but some gardens are not equipped to handle visitors. If you want to set up a long-term goal of looking after birds, you can plant hedges in place of man-made fences and plant berry producing bushes and fruits so you can provide homes and sustenance. In years to come your garden will become a haven for feathered friends and other creatures such as dormice and hedgehogs.
For short term solutions, putting out the right bird food and providing suitable homes for them will encourage life in your garden. Placing a bird bath for fresh drinking water and cleaning will contribute to their stay. If you are short on space, some decorative water butts have planter tops that can be utilised as a bird bath during the colder months if you prefer to us the top to house flowers and plants during the spring/summer period. If you already have a bird bath and bird houses, don’t forget to clean them out to make room for the new season of visitors. Check both once a week for movement and to stock up.
If you start to see more activity in your garden, if may be worth documenting who is visiting for the RSPB Big Garden Watch in January. Get familiar with the breeds and use their handy ‘identify a bird’ guide, too.
Badgers & Foxes
Whilst some may not see the visitation of a fox or a badger as ‘lucky’, they are protected animals that require help and shelter if you have enough space. As the nights draw in, it is best to drive with caution especially on country roads and pop your high beams on at every opportunity to warn them away from the streets. If you find an injured animal, it is best to get in touch with the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 and do not try to help them yourself as they can become upset and bite you if they are in pain. The same response is needed if you find a badger or fox cub and have not seen an adult for 24 hours. If you see a large animal that has sadly died on the side of the road, do contact your local authority as many do not report crashes involving animals.
Badgers do not hibernate but are nocturnal so winter can be especially harsh for them. Largely, they create their dens in the edges of woods and moorlands so it is very rare that a set would use a garden as a home but if you live near a known badger area, you can leave fruit or dried dog food out for them in harsher months. This may also discourage them from hunting small animals such as hedgehogs. Badgers are under threat in the UK, if you would like to help, visit the Badger Trust and get involved.
Urban and rural foxes also do not hibernate but can become slightly less active during snow and cold rain. If you have foxes tipping over your bins and scavenging for food regularly, it is because there is a shortage of supplies in the local area. It is also worth noting that if they get hold of the processed foods that humans eat, they can become addicted and continue to visit you! Urban foxes are braver but rural foxes are also known to scavenge when desperate neither are aggressive but are inquisitive. Help them to not cause a ruckus in your garden by leaving out tinned dog food, fruit and raw meat. If they feel they can take the food away to cache, they will be less likely to visit again. To learn more about foxes, why not visit the National Fox Welfare Society?
Winter can become very difficult for all animals in the UK, especially with unpredictable temperatures and recent years littered with extended snow storms that many resident creatures are not geared up for. There is a lot we can do to help them by setting up a sanctuary for wildlife in your garden or outdoor space and they can settle and survive.
Explore our full range of gardening and wildlife preservation tools at Original Organics.