5 ways to prepare your garden to welcome winter wildlife

Berries are a valuable food course for birds during autumn and winter. Picture by Jon Hawkins.

Berries are a valuable food course for birds during autumn and winter. Picture by Jon Hawkins. - Credit: Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Pippa Neill explains ways to keep wildlife flourishing in your garden during the colder months.

Build a hedgehog house this autumn. They are perfect for safe hibernation. Picture by Jon Hawkins.

Build a hedgehog house this autumn. They are perfect for safe hibernation. Picture by Jon Hawkins. - Credit: Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

With summer drawing to a close, I find myself longing for a few more of those glorious long, warm summer evenings spent in my garden. But as the days get shorter and the weather colder, it is an important time to make sure all species, including we humans, can continue to enjoy the garden. There are five simple ways you can do this during September that will keep your garden looking as great and alive with wildlife as it is in the summer.

1. Hedgehog populations in the UK have declined by more than half since 2000, so it's important we encourage their presence in a safe and warm spot in our gardens. Autumn is their hibernation period, that time when they search for that place to go into a long, relaxing sleep for the winter. It's also a dangerous period for them, too, with many making the critical mistake of resting in unlit bonfires or piles of leaves that will soon be swept away.

One way to prevent this is by making a hedgehog house - you can find a step-by-step guide on how to do this on the Cheshire Wildlife Trust website - or you can purchase a pre-built house from your local garden centre. Choose a shady spot in your garden for the hedgehogs to find.

2. Feeding the birds is an obvious way to encourage wildlife in the garden, and it's particularly important you continue this routine right through the colder months. In the winter period birds can become reliant on the food put out for them. By continually providing bird feed for them, it encourages successful breeding patterns for the following year.

Before the weather gets too cold, it's important to clean out your bird feeders to prevent the spread of disease. This can be done by soaking the feeder in a sterilizing fluid and leaving it to dry. Then refill it with some fresh bird feed and your garden is ready for them to come flocking.

3. When choosing what plants to put in your garden, it's a great idea to encourage a variety of habitats. This will make better homes for a larger range of species. For example, dedicate one area to taller bushes and trees that will make an excellent shelter and nesting site for birds and mammals.

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Another area could be stocked with lower flowering plants and shrubs that will provide good coverage and great food for the birds and insects. Not only will this variety look great in your garden, but it will encourage a broader range of species to keep visiting over winter.

4. Creating a pond in your garden is a great way to encourage wildlife. This can be a larger project that will take some planning and preparation or, if you don't have too much space, a mini pond can be a brilliant addition to your garden. Ponds provide a home for a wide range of wildlife, from insects and amphibians who will live there to the birds and mammals who will visit for a drink.

It's important to continue regular maintenance of your pond to prevent it from becoming overgrown and to keep the water healthy for the wildlife. An important step in the early autumn months is to remove any dead leaves and debris; this will avoid decomposing vegetation from building up.

5. Planting flora native to the area is another simple but beneficial thing you can do in your garden. It is likely native species will rely on native plants for their food and for a place to nest. For example, holly is a key plant for many birds, with its berries being an important source of food for species such as redwing. A top tip is to ensure you source your plants off local provenance. Plants can be seen as native but their leafing and flowering times can differ greatly and this can interfere with the patterns of our wildlife.

Following any one of these tips is a great way to prepare your garden this September. It will ensure that it not only looks great but will be filled with life over the autumn and winter.

For more tips on what you can do in your garden this autumn, visit cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/actions.

Pond perfection

A pond doesn't have to be big to be home for frogs, newts, damsel and dragonflies. Here's how to create one.

1. Choose a spot - it needs to have light but not be in full sunlight. Either dig a hole or sink a container into the ground.

2. If the container isn't watertight, add a piece of pond liner.

3. Add gravel, rocks, logs and stones to create a variety of depth and a slope for the creatures to climb in and out.

4. Fill your pond with rainwater - avoid tap water as this contains chemicals.

5. Put one or two plants in - miniature waterlilies and flowering rush work well.

6. Watch and wait for wildlife to come to the pond. Don't introduce them yourself as this can spread disease.

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