Toad sitting in hand

Help wildlife survive winter

Discover some of the most important ways you can support garden wildlife in the winter months.

Most garden wildlife hibernates over winter, as food is in short supply and freezing temperatures make life difficult. Learn how to help wild creatures through the cold winter months, below.

In winter, wild animals and insects hunker down in log and leaf piles, nestle into tree bark, or bury themselves in compost heaps or mud. Some species, such as birds and squirrels, don't hibernate, but struggle to stay alive - using up fat reserves just to stay warm.

To discover more ways to help wildlife at this time of year, have a read of our winter wildlife gardening jobs, or read on.

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Birds

Birds are more likely to visit gardens in autumn and winter, as they rely on bird feeders when their natural sources of insects and grubs dry up. They need calorie-rich suet, sunflower hearts and peanuts to maintain fat reserves on frosty nights. In colder weather, look out for less common visitors, such as waxwings, blackcaps, redwings and bullfinches.

Leave food out for birds every day, including supplementary food such as peanuts and sunflowers, and fallen fruit. It's also a good idea to leave seeds on herbaceous plants and shrubs, and don't forget to keep your bird bath topped up.

Frogs, toads and newts

Frogs, toads and newts overwinter in log and leaf piles, or beneath stones and plant pots. Some rest in the mud at the bottom of ponds. They're also fond of compost bins, so be careful if forking over the heap. Frogs enter a state of torpor in winter, rather than hibernation, rising from their slumber in search of food on warm days.

Float a tennis ball or similar in your pond to prevent it freezing over, reducing oxygenation and suffocating any frogs beneath the surface. It's also a good idea to create a rock pile. Ideally, this should face north, to avoid temperature highs and lows between day and night.

Hedgehogs

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. In mild winters, hedgehogs are prone to waking up, having been tricked into believing it is spring. They waste valuable fat reserves looking for food.

Provide hedgehogs with shelter by making a leaf pile or buying or making a hedgehog house. Leave a dish of water and  dog or cat food to help boost their fat reserves. Keep leaving food out for them, until it's no longer taken (usually mid- to late-autumn when they enter hibernation). Always check bonfires before lighting them, preferably making the pile on the day you intend to light it.

If you find a baby hedgehog in autumn, take it in and keep it warm in a tall-sided box with hot water bottle on the bottom, covered with a thick towel. Feed it with cat or dog food and water and call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) on 01584 890801 for further advice, or visit britishhedgehogs.org.uk

Insects

Insects readily hibernate in gardens. Bumblebees dig holes in the ground or rest in leaf litter, butterflies sleep in garages, sheds and between folds of curtains. Wasps, ladybirds and lacewings shelter under loose bark on logs and in cracks in door and window frames. If you disturb them, they're likely to perish. If you can't leave them undisturbed, move them to a cool spot where they can settle again.

Recreate the nooks and crannies insects hibernate in by tying up bamboo and sunflower stems, and leave them in a dry spot in the garden. You can also provide late-flying insects with a source of food by soaking a clean sponge in a solution made from an equal mix of sugar and water.

Provide hedgehogs with shelter by making a leaf pile or buying or making a hedgehog house.

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Kate Bradbury

Kate Bradbury says

The key to helping insects is to keep them cool and dry. If you do disturb them or have to move them, make sure they’re not exposed to damp conditions. This can lead to fungal infections and kill them.

Discover more ideas and inspiration

Related content

How to create a wildlife garden (part nine)

How to create a wildlife garden (part six)

How to create a wildlife garden (part one)

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