Many types of mammals, invertebrates and amphibians sleep through the coldest months. Some species, like hedgehogs, truly hibernate. Others, such as frogs, enter a state of torpor from which they rouse easily to look for food or stretch.
Find out how to make your garden bee-friendly in autumn.
Gardeners can help by ensuring garden wildlife has somewhere cool and dry to rest undisturbed until spring – here are 10 things you can do to help get wildlife through the winter.
Male frogs often spend winter in the muddy depths of ponds, breathing through their skin. But if the pond freezes over, gases caused by decaying plant material can get trapped and poison them. Remove debris from ponds now, and float a tennis or golf ball on the surface to prevent ice from sealing it.
Put bundles of twigs at the back of borders, or in a plant pot on its side, where invertebrates and small mammals can shelter.
Leave herbaceous borders intact in winter so decaying plants can act as a ‘winter duvet’ for small mammals and insects. Clumps of ornamental grasses may offer the perfect hibernaculum for a hedgehog, while hollow plant stems and seedheads provide nooks and crannies for invertebrates. Seedheads are also a source of oil-rich food for birds which may visit to feed.
Leave stacks of plant pots in a sheltered spot to offer shelter for bees and other insects needing a cool, dry place.
Some butterflies overwinter as adults and will enter our homes in autumn, where they find conditions cool and dry. However, when the central heating is turned on they wake up and expend energy flying around. If you find a butterfly inside your home, transfer it to your shed or garage, where temperatures will remain constant. Use an empty shoe box to move it, keeping the lid on until it has settled down. Make sure it can exit safely in spring, via a window or door.
Remove leaves from paths or lawns but transfer them to a corner or beneath a hedge, where hedgehogs and other animals can crawl for shelter.
A variety of species, including hedgehogs and queen bumblebees, find compost heaps the perfect place to hibernate. If your heap is in a plastic bin with a lid, this will keep it dry, but be sure to provide access for hibernators at the base by standing the bin on bricks. If you have an open bin, cover it with a thick piece of old carpet to keep it dry and insulated. Avoid disturbing the bin between autumn and April, when all species will have finished their long snooze.
Like butterflies, ladybirds may choose to overwinter in your home and will be disturbed by the heating coming on. As they hibernate in large groups, it may be best to leave them alone and if you can, leave the room unheated. If not, using a dustpan and brush, tip them gently into an empty box and move them to the shed.
Birds don’t hibernate and they require a lot of energy to keep themselves warm at night. Clear out nest boxes now so that birds can take shelter in them on cold nights.
Take care if paying a visit to your loft in winter, as you may disturb hibernating bats, ladybirds or butterflies.