Winter hit particularly early and hard this year, with December being the coldest since 1910. Periods of freezing temperatures, ice and frost can make life tough for the wildlife in your garden. However, there are a few things we can all do to help.
A prolonged cold spell may see a cover of ice form over the surface of your pond. It’s not essential to remove ice from ponds; the ice will insulate the water and any animals below, and aquatic plants will continue to provide oxygen (although you may need to brush off any deep snow to allow sunlight to penetrate). However, if you are concerned, you can create an opening by holding a pan of very hot water on the surface of the ice until it melts. Another option is to leave a ball floating in the pond overnight when a cold snap is forecast. Both these methods are preferable to smashing the ice, as this can send shock waves through the water harming the animals below.
During the cold weather birds flock towards villages, towns and cities which may be a degree or so higher than surrounding countryside. These visitors may include species not normally associated with residential areas, such as redpoll, brambling and yellowhammer. In addition to warmth, the birds will be seeking important sources of food and water, so keep an eye on any feeders and top them up as required. Food sources high in fat can be particular important through the winter (see December’s blog for recipes and instructions). Additionally, try to keep bird baths clear of ice and topped up with water. Not only do clean feathers mean better insulation, but birds and other animals will be able to take a much needed drink. Birds often become accustomed to their favourite feeding spots, and with a good supply of food and water you’re likely to attract some repeat visitors.
Another regular winter job is turning your compost heap. This lets oxygen into the pile and aids the decomposition process; however please remember that you may have lodgers in your heap attempting to sleep off the worst of the winter. If the weather is severe, spare a thought for those amphibians, reptiles and hedgehog and put off the task for another month or so.
Despite all the talk of wintery weather, signs that spring is on its way are starting to appear. Days are becoming longer, primroses are starting to pepper the hedgebanks and you may have seen your first clumps of frog spawn! Visit the Nature’s Calendar web site at www.naturescalendar.org.uk to track the signs of spring, and record who or what you’ve seen in your garden!