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How to care for wildlife in your garden in autumn

European hedgehog foraging in autumnal leaves in November. Photo: RSPB images
European hedgehog foraging in autumnal leaves in November. Photo: RSPB images

What do you think of when you think of autumn? Putting on extra layers, and maybe a scarf, to go out into the crisp fresh air; the vibrancy of red, orange and yellow leaves on our trees; the smell of fallen and ripening fruit? Autumn is truly a magical season of change as wildlife and gardens ready themselves for the harshness of winter ahead.

If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, it’s a true gift that can provide a mini autumn wildlife safari for you to enjoy. Our gardens in Suffolk are likely to welcome flocks of busy chatterbox starlings feeding from lawns, hedgehogs snuffling for grubs to feed up before their long winter hibernation, flocks of finches feeding on seedheads you have been kind enough to not cut down, and on warmer autumnal days you may be treated to a mix of bees and butterflies such as Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell fluttering by.

As its name suggests, RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden’s main focus is on wildlife and gardens. We live and breathe inspiring others to help the very special wildlife many of us are fortunate to have or attract to our gardens. And we’re not just about garden birds; we're about helping all garden wildlife. So, if you're completely new to making your garden wildlife friendly, or if you have already started but need some new ideas, here are some top autumn tips to help your wildlife garden thrive.

READ MORE: Why have the birds disappeared from my garden?

Great British Life: Blue tit and Great tit eating suet coated raisin pellets. Photo: RSPB imagesBlue tit and Great tit eating suet coated raisin pellets. Photo: RSPB images

1. Downsize that big garden tidy up! It may be the first thing you want to do at the end of summer into early autumn, but leaving fallen leaves in piles provides shelter for small mammals, frogs and insects. Hedgehogs use leaves, moss and garden debris to build their nests, ideally in areas of long vegetation and insects will hibernate in hollow plant stems. Leaving gaps that may have appeared at the bottom of your garden fence are perfect for allowing Hedgehogs and other wildlife to move between gardens too.

2. Allow plant heads to seed and die back naturally. Seed heads, particularly from Teasels, Thistles, Sea Holly and Sunflowers provide food for birds.

3. Feed the birds from a feeder or from a table. Feeders containing sunflower hearts, attract all tits, finches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Fat balls are also popular with garden birds. Or create a simple feeding opportunity by popping apples onto the end of twigs or sticks on trees or hedgerow tops.

4. Let lawns grow slightly longer to become a feeding ground for Starlings and Blackbirds and offer shelter for frogs and beetles.

5. Birds will be looking for a warm space to roost. A bird box may be used during autumn and winter to sleep in so the best time to clean out any nest boxes is at the end of the breeding season when you are sure they are no longer being used to raise a brood.

6. Plant bulbs, nectar rich perennials and berry growing hedgerow plants and trees during the autumn, as this will provide food for pollinating insects, birds and mammals the following year. Try and plant smart by thinking ahead to when they will flower or bear berries – aim to have flowers or berry bearing plants that provide food all year round.

7. Add log piles to your garden to create a home and feeding ground for insects, toads, newts, fungi and bees.

8. Provide bowls of clean, fresh water to support all wildlife, or better yet, build a wildlife pond to provide not only water but a home for a wide variety of wildlife.

9. Make a compost heap to help make your own organic soil for your garden and recycle your kitchen and garden waste into it. Using compost can help improve your soil structure and drainage, can act as a fertiliser and help to mulch your flower beds – keeping in moisture. Worms, slugs and other insects will feed off it and in turn birds and mammals will feed off the insects, creating your own mini cycle of life at the bottom of your garden!

10. It is ideal to compost your garden waste, but if you choose to burn garden waste in a bonfire this autumn, build it on the day of burning. Garden waste piles are perfect Hedgehog habitat but by moving or rebuilding it before lighting, it will ensure there is no wildlife sleeping inside.

If you live near us or are visiting south Suffolk, please drop by RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden in East Bergholt, as we would love to talk about wildlife gardening with you. We’re open seven days a week, April to end of October, and host lots of nature themed family friendly events during that time. In the closed season, we open up for special seasonal wildlife themed events during October half-term and Christmas. Find out more at rspb.org.uk/flatford

Want to buy a few items to kick start your wildlife garden? Our online RSPB shop allows you to search for items by species or water for wildlife, food and feeders, or homes for wildlife – shopping.rspb.org.uk/wildlife-friendly-garden/

Great British Life: Amy Ward, Suffolk's RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden. Photo: RSPBAmy Ward, Suffolk's RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden. Photo: RSPB



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