December is a time when we all have a lot on our minds – pantomimes, presents and parties. It’s also a time when our wildlife needs a bit of help to survive the colder conditions.
Yes, even on Christmas Day I will remind myself that the bird tables need to be stocked up with food before I open my gifts.
Food is scarce at this time of year with insects hiding away in deep crevices. Foraging time is reduced as the days are shorter and a good supplementary supply of food is necessary.
Of course winter will be quickly followed by spring so birds and mammals must build up energy supplies not just for cold nights but for a whole season of mating, something to look forward to when you are shivering in a leafless tree.
Some of our younger birds and animals are also fending for themselves for the first time this winter, so a bird table is a major part of their survival.
You will probably see robins, blackbirds, sparrows and starlings. Tits and finches are also still around. Watch out for flocks of starlings, jackdaws and pied wagtails. It appears the mild conditions so far are going to make this a great winter for waxwings too. These beautiful birds will flock to berries in your garden.
Actually, we have more birds in Lancashire in winter than in summer because of migrants like the waxwing looking for warmer conditions away from the Continent. Even numbers of blackbirds and starlings increase with our winter visitors from Scandinavia.
At the Wildlife Trust, we own huge nature reserves, important areas where our creatures have perfect habitats to feed and breed, but we need a more joined-up network. Wildlife needs nature reserves but it also needs corridors to move between these areas.
And we can all help. You can make your garden into a nature reserve with bird tables, ponds and wild patches. You can leave leaf piles and lay hollow-stemmed plants on your soil, this is a home for a whole range of beasties from hedgehogs and toads to tiny insects that will provide food in spring for larger animals.
Your garden is then part of a network with those of your neighbours. Every street can be a small nature reserve, every town can be a larger one and imagine the whole of Lancashire as one gigantic reserve. This isn't a dream because nature-loving Lancastrians are already doing their bit.
You can start by putting up bird feeders and bird tables. Always make sure you have water for creatures too, and make sure it isn't frozen. If you have berries on trees, leave some for the birds. Perennials should be left uncut as they provide food and shelter. A compost heap will do the same.
If you are lucky to have hedgehogs, badgers and foxes visiting your garden, plain dog food and water will be a huge help.
Winter is also a great time to plan your wildlife garden. Sow seeds to create nectar cafes for the bees and butterflies of spring. Hard work now will provide lovely benefits in spring and summer when your garden will literally be buzzing with life.
So this winter make sure you get outside, whatever the weather to ensure our rich and varied wildlife have a helping hand through the cold, snow and rain. We share our homes with our wildlife, let's keep them safe.
Wildlife Trust Winter Events
Saturday 10 December and Sunday 18 December – Free guided walk to discover the wonders of Lytham St Annes Local Nature Reserve. Led knowledgeable and passionate volunteers, this guided walk will explore the wonderful Lytham St Anne's Local Nature Reserve - Lancashire's very first Local Nature Reserve. For more information
Daily to Sunday 11 December(excluding Mondays) - Write a letter to Santa at Brockholes, before heading off on a winter walk to Santa’s Post Box. Once you’ve posted your letter, join the Wildlife Trust for a warming hot chocolate by the fire in the Reedbed Restaurant.
Tuesday 20 December to Sunday 8 January (excluding 24 & 25 Dec), 10am-12pm and 1-3pm - Christmas Xplorer Challenge, an opportunity to get the family outside and burn off some energy in those days immediately before and after Christmas. Find Christmas-themed markers out on the Brockholes reserve to receive a certificate and a festive chocolate treat!
For more information
Written by Alan Wright, The Lancashire Wildlife Trust
The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside is dedicated to the protection and promotion of the wildlife in Lancashire, seven boroughs of Greater Manchester and four of Merseyside, all lying north of the River Mersey. It manages around 40 nature reserves and 20 Local Nature Reserves covering acres of woodland, wetland, upland and meadow. The Trust has 27,000 members, and over 1,200 volunteers. To become a member of the Trust go to the website at www.lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129.