As winter draws in, it’s time to spare a thought for some of the local wildlife, large and small, who will be looking for cosy boltholes during their toughest season. Of course, in the Heart of England Forest there are plenty of hideaways for a vast array of animals and insects, but everyone can play a part in helping to establish habitats in even the smallest back garden.
Here are just a few ideas to help you make a homely habitat to encourage all kinds of wildlife, with very little effort required!
We’ve all been amazed at the mass of tiny creatures to be found just by turning over an old log or stone. Did you know that over 2,000 species of invertebrates, from stag beetles to leafcutter and wood wasps, to woodlice, spiders, ants and centipedes, can live in or on dead wood? By attracting insect life, you will also be providing a source of food for birds and larger mammals.
A simple way to provide a home for these mini-ecosystems is to merely leave piles of old wood in the corner of the garden. By putting some in the direct sunlight and some in the shade, different species will be attracted. Bees like wood, too, so by drilling a selection of random holes into an upright piece of wood, you can make your very own bee hotel!
Leaving a patch of long grass around a lawn can provide an inviting home for grasshoppers and lacewings, while an area of uncut nettles can support up to 40 different species.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a garden, you can even lay dead wood among the flowers in a planter on a balcony. Before you know it, you’ll have your own insect colony!
The frog and toad population in the UK is in decline, so anything that we can do to provide a safe habitat for them is invaluable. Naturally, they like ponds, but they can also be happy enough in smaller containers. A large, low plant pot or bucket full of muddy water and planted with lilies or reeds are all they need. They’ll help keep the insect population in check, too. Take care not to build them a home anywhere the family cat or dog may be on the prowl, though!
Compost heaps are also a favourite with frogs and newts, along with countless other mini-beasts such as beetles, slugs and snails. A compost heap with no base is best, as it allows worms and insects access to the very bottom, with the added bonus of making sure your compost is well minced up.
You may have read about how we are doing our bit to encourage bats on our website, or noticed bat boxes dotted around the Heart of England Forest. These can be simple to fix up in any garden tree or high spot. Alternatively, ensuring easy access to the attic space of a house or garden shed from the outside can provide bats with a sheltered, dark and cool environment that’s perfect for them to hibernate in over the winter.
With their numbers also in decline over recent years, it’s important to give hedgehogs a safe hibernating spot away from predators and other dangers. They’re fond of woodpiles or heaps of dead leaves, so before you move any to burn them, think twice about the animals that may be nesting in them. This is especially important around Bonfire Night, when hedgehogs can become unwitting victims of the festivities.
Hedgehogs begin collecting hibernation materials such as grass, leaves and straw in the autumn, seeking out cosy, sheltered corners to nest in. Sometimes an upturned cardboard box in the corner of the garden, covered with plastic sheeting and filled with shredded paper or leaves, can be all they need to enjoy a warm, comfortable and safe winter.