It is well known that wildlife has an extraordinary ability to survive some of the harshest of conditions, but not all species are prepared to battle the winter elements. When the going gets tough, the tough sometimes go to sleep!
Slowing things down
One classic energy-saving technique employed by many species is to simply slow everything down – a lot! By slowing down their metabolism significantly, species such as hibernating dormice reduce the need for food and can concentrate solely on keeping warm during the chilly winter months. Add into the mix a tight, cosy nest and these little fellows can face pretty much everything the season has to throw at them.
British bats hibernate, too, and will withdraw to hollow beech or ash trees where they can maintain a constant temperature and a slow metabolic rate and heartbeat, while hedgehogs are well known hibernators, fashioning themselves a winter getaway from piles of leaves or among tightly packed tree roots. Avid gardeners might do well to remember that a pile of garden foliage, instead of being slung in the green bin, could well provide a happy winter home for a garden friendly hedgehog or two!
All tucked up for winter
There’s nothing more comforting on a frosty morning than snuggling down under a warm blanket, and frogs have their own version of this winter warmer. Strange as it may sound, they often avoid extreme cold at the bottom of ponds where the temperature is higher than at the surface. Other overwintering options include compost heaps, amongst dead wood or under garden decking. It’s not unusual to see frogs and toads occasionally out and about during winter, though, as they often choose to pop out to forage if there’s a break in the weather.
While some use blankets, others come with their own ‘sleeping bags’. Many butterflies, including the familiar small white, green-veined white and large (cabbage) white, survive the winter cocooned as pupae in their very own shrouds. Other species including the elusive brown hairstreak and white-letter hairstreak butterflies overwinter as eggs. Meanwhile, five of the UK’s resident butterfly species, including the brimstone, peacock and small tortoiseshell, even hibernate as adults, so if you see one in your home that is not moving it is best to leave it until early March or April before you release it on a mild sunny day. Amazingly, these species have a chemical in their blood that prevents it from freezing – their very own ‘anti-freeze’, if you will!
A helping hand for the birds
Winter is a tough time for any bird species that haven’t made the migratory trip to warmer climes. Any help we can provide is gratefully received by our feathered friends. High fat foods, such as peanuts or suet, placed high up in the garden (away from marauding cats!) can help to see them through tough times.
Safety in numbers sees some species through, including long-tailed tits. Small flocks of a dozen or more individuals will search for a safe place to spend the cold winter nights, and once a suitable location is found, they huddle close together to share body warmth.
Some species of insect positively thrive at this time of year with the aptly named December moth and winter moth being two species you are most likely to encounter. Even more amazing, the females of these species lack any wings and are unable to fly!
Frosty mornings and bright sunny winter days make for fantastic photo opportunities, so we have set up our very own Heart of England Forest Flickr page, so everyone can share snapshots of the Forest and its wildlife at its finest. https://www.flickr.com/groups/hoef/.
Of course, one of the best ways to help wildlife in the winter is to plant a tree in your own garden. If space doesn’t allow, why not join our gang of volunteers and you can plant away to your heart’s content in the knowledge that you are ensuring a happy future for both flora and fauna. Find out more at https://www.heartofenglandforest.com/get-involved/volunteering/.