Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust: ways to benefit from nature this winter
- Credit: Donald Sutherland
From wildlife spotting to gathering natural decorations, the trust has plenty of tips to get you outside this season
While it may feel as if most of the natural world has gone into hibernation, there’s lots to experience in the cold months if you know where to look. Go on an adventure with the family in the garden, park or countryside and discover just how much nature has to offer. Flocks of thrushes chatter in hedgerows, feasting on glistening red berries; frost forges delicate sculptures on every surface and rare ducks dabble and dive on lakes and reservoirs. Although many of us may yearn to hunker down and hibernate until spring, winter has plenty of gifts to offer.
Half of the UK’s bird population are migrants. Many breed in our region and fly to warmer climates in autumn, while others find Britain temperate enough to spend the winter here. The cold season is the perfect time to see wildlife that you normally wouldn’t during the rest of the year. The beautiful redwing can be found feeding in fields and hedgerows, venturing into gardens when it is very cold, while the sociable fieldfare can be seen flocking in groups of a dozen to several hundred. Both can be heard on clear, starry nights.
Nature reserves like Stocker’s Lake at Rickmansworth and Amwell near Ware, both managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, are a one-stop shop for wintering wildfowl, including goldeneye from northern Europe, wigeon from Iceland and Russia and, if it’s cold enough, the rarer smew from Scandinavia.
Help garden birds
The festive period is a time for giving, so why not make a tasty Christmas wreath for your garden birds? All you need is pine cones, long twigs, garden wire, lard, bird seed, grated cheese, dried fruits or unsalted nuts. Twist together the twigs into a ring and fasten with the wire. Mix the lard with the bird seed and the other ingredients and smear it over the pinecones. Attach the cones to the wreath, decorate with festive greenery such as holly or ivy and hang it up in the garden. Your garden birds will be delighted with this Christmas present and more importantly it will help them survive the cold months.
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Sunsets & stars
Before getting cosy on the sofa for the evening, head outside and marvel at the day’s last light – you won’t be disappointed. Sunsets in winter are often more intense and colourful than in summer – meteorologists say it’s connected with conditions that influence how light travels through the atmosphere.
And while few of us like it getting dark so early, one benefit of the early nights is plenty of time to go stargazing. On a clear night it’s a magical experience for old and young before bedtime. As easy constellation to spot is Orion’s Belt – an hourglass-shaped group with three parallel stars forming the mythical hunter’s belt at its centre. At the top of the hourglass are Rigel and Betelgeuse, two of the brightest stars in the sky.
If we’re lucky enough to get snow this winter, channel your inner Sherlock and investigate tracks and clues. Which animals might have passed through? Fox prints are similar to those of small dogs, deer tracks are easily identified by their cloven hooves. Telling the exact species from bird tracks can be difficult but duck prints have three claws with visible webbing in between them, while most bird prints show a long middle toe, two shorter and splayed outer toes, and a long backward-pointing toe. Elementary, my dear Watson!
Bring nature inside
‘Tis the season to be jolly, preferably indoors and wrapped in a cosy blanket. So if you really don’t want to leave the house, why not bring nature inside to you? Don’t buy plastic decorations, use the natural materials from your garden or nearby wild patch - they’re far more beautiful (and eco-friendly). Look out for twigs, pine cones, evergreen leaves, and ivy and holly sprigs. When out foraging, please take only as much as you need and make sure you leave plenty for wildlife.
Use the twigs to design star patterns for decorations and attach pine cones together in a garland or wreath, or paint them green to look like a Christmas tree. Dried orange slices make fragrant decorations on the Christmas tree or over a mantelpiece – simply slice them and bake at around 65 degrees in the oven for a few hours (turning occasionally).
Give the gift of wildlife
Treat the nature lover in your life with a Christmas present that makes a real difference to Hertfordshire’s wildlife. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust offers gift memberships and wildlife sponsorships from £15. All proceeds go to the charity to help protect wildlife. Visit the trust’s online gift shop for details.