Your Highland garden can make the perfect nature reserve
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Making Space for Nature by Fiona MacLean
As the days grow shorter and temperatures plummet, our garden wildlife faces a formidable challenge. Winter can be a harsh and unforgiving season for animals and birds as they struggle to find food and water in the frozen landscape of the Highlands.
However, there's a lot we can do in our own backyards to lend a helping hand. Let’s explore how you can transform your garden into a winter sanctuary for wildlife, making a positive difference in their lives while enjoying the beauty of the natural world.
Craft a hibernaculum for frogs and toads
Creating a hibernaculum may sound complex, but it's a straightforward project that yields lasting benefits. (1) Dig a hole in your garden and fill it with logs, branches, and rocks, leaving spaces for frogs and toads to hibernate, and (2) add a few sections of drainpipe with openings at ground level, pile up soil on top, and plant your garden right over it.
Voilà! You've constructed a permanent winter home for these amphibious friends. They will be great at eating your slugs later in the year too, keeping your garden plants looking fresh.
Extend an invitation to a hedgehog
If you've been blessed with hedgehog visitors, it's essential to support them during the frosty months. Hedgehog houses, fashioned from plastic boxes or readily available online, provide cosy retreats for these prickly pals as they hibernate.
On milder winter evenings when hedgehogs may still be active, you could set up a feeding station using a lidded plastic box with a hedgehog-sized entry hole.
At sunset, place shallow dishes of hedgehog-friendly food and water inside, offering small portions to supplement their natural diet. Be mindful never to offer milk or bread, as these can upset their delicate stomachs.
Feathered friends need nourishment too
Birds, those delightful garden companions, rely on us more than ever during winter. A blend of bird seed, mealworms, and fat balls can be a lifeline for small birds when natural food sources are scarce.
Following the RSPB's guidelines, feed once or twice a day, adjusting the supply based on demand and the harshness of the cold. Maintaining clean feeders and feeding areas is crucial to prevent infection and disease.
Regularly clean your feeders with hot, soapy water and a brush, and dispose of old seed responsibly. Rinse, dry, and disinfect the feeders before refilling them with fresh food. Don't forget about bird baths or drinking areas – keep them clean and drop a tennis ball in to prevent freezing in sub-zero temperatures.
Contribute to wildlife science
Your garden can become a living laboratory for local wildlife enthusiasts. Share your sightings with the Highland Biological Recording Group, or use apps like iNaturalist or Seek to identify and record what you have seen.
Your observations can help researchers and conservationists make informed decisions about protecting and preserving our natural world. Transforming your garden into a winter haven for wildlife is a gratifying endeavour that enriches both your surroundings and your soul.
So let's all do our part to support the creatures in our own backyard nature reserve and contribute to a deeper understanding of our local wildlife, all while creating a winter wonderland that celebrates the beauty of the natural world.
- Making Space for Nature is a monthly wildlife column with tips about how we can act to help wildlife in our communities. This month’s wildlife columnist is Fiona MacLean, the High Life Highland countryside ranger for north Lochaber. Fiona studied at the Barony and the Scottish Agricultural Colleges and worked for West Lothian District Council, before taking up her post as countryside ranger in Lochaber 21 years ago.