One of the joys of living in the West Country is the rich diversity of animals and insects which inhabit the area. Well-known for its amazing wildlife, which has inspired everything from books (Tarka The Otter, for example, was based on the area around the River Taw and River Torridge) through to films and paintings, it’s vital that we do all we can to give nearby creatures everything they need to survive the cooler months. Taking steps to help hedgehogs, birds, insects and field mice stay warm and fed helps to sustain local animal populations. The simple, yet effective, projects we’ve put together give everyone in the family a chance to help, as well as providing a great opportunity for children to learn how special our local animals are and how important it is that we take care of them and their habitats.
Fresh water is vital
Often overlooked, a supply of fresh water is vital for little creatures trying to manage in winter. Frozen water is undrinkable, so simply putting out a fresh saucer of water each morning so that creatures that need a drink can have one is always a good idea. A saucer of water on the bird table, or other location that’s inaccessible to cats, is also sensible.
Hedgehogs are a great help in the garden, as they feed on the slugs and snails that might otherwise eat your crops! Repay their assistance by helping them through the winter months! A patch of undisturbed, overgrown ground is a great start, as it will encourage the type of insects that hedgehogs love to eat. Supplement their diet with tinned dog or cat food (not the fish variations), or some dried dog biscuits. If you intend to install a hedgehog house (these can be bought, or made quickly and easily as a DIY project), try to make sure it’s in place before the autumn, so that hedgehogs can find it and get settled in before the winter.
An insect hotel is a must
Although insects aren’t always seen as the most glamorous of beasts, the reality is that they play a crucial role in the food chain, as well as carrying out essential activities such as assisting with decomposition. To ensure sufficient insects last the winter, try building them an inviting insect hotel!
Simple pot hotel
Find an old, fairly large plant pot and loosely pack it with a variety of plant stems which are hollow in the middle (so that the holes poke outwards), then packing the spaces between the stems with leaves, hay or straw. Leave in a sheltered location, so that the inside of the pot remains pretty dry.
A log pile
A bundle of old branches, tied together into a bundle and placed somewhere where it is unlikely to be disturbed, provides an inviting location for insects to settle. As the wood decays, spiders, centipedes, beetles and other insects who eat decaying wood will gain benefit from the log pile.
For a novel outdoor tree decoration that’s also a tasty bird treat, why not make some popcorn? Make the popcorn (shop-bought popcorn frequently contains additives or sugar, so is not such a good choice) and thread it onto a piece of cotton – thread a needle and pass it through each piece of popcorn to get it on the thread. These can be hung from trees, bird tables, bushes, fences or similar.
Fat-filled fir cones
A popular addition to the bird table, all that’s needed to create these tasty bird snacks are some fir cones, lard and some, or all of the following: peanuts, bird seed, grated cheese and raisins. Mix the lard with the other ingredients, then press the mixture around the cone. Firm the cone up somewhere cool for a couple of hours, then attach to piece of string and tie on a bird table, shed wall or other garden surface where predators will be unlikely or unable to venture.
These are just some of the enjoyable yet useful ways in which everyone can help West Country wildlife over the forthcoming winter season. Check out https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-kids/games-and-activities/activities/ or https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/naturedetectives/activities/ for some more family-orientated wildlife-friendly activities.