Our Sleepy Friends
Feel like hibernating?
So do many of Britain’s wild creatures. Why not
make them feel at home in your garden? Michaela Strachan
shows you how
Oh no, is it time to put the heating on, get out the
jumpers, bring in the garden furniture and start drinking
cocoa? Sadly me thinks it is!! But as the days get cooler
and the nights get longer we’re not the only ones
thinking of hibernating indoors, plenty of animals are
doing it too. Just think of all those bears around the
world that are searching out a warm and cosy den to
hide in for the winter. I was in Canada last month and
saw my first wild grizzly bears. We saw a mother and
2 cubs and a huge male fishing. It was fantastic. “But
what has all this to do with British gardening?”
I hear you cry. Well, nothing as it happens, I just
thought seeing wild grizzly bears was worth mentioning!!
Anyway, we do of course have our own British hibernating
creatures who are also worth a mention.
Hedgehogs, bats, dormice, frogs, toads, newts, slow
worms, snakes, ladybirds and lacewings are all creatures
that take it easy over the winter months. And why not,
I say! Some simply minimize their activity and only
feed when necessary, others just switch off altogether
until the warmth of the spring gives them a reason to
wake up (the idea does sound a touch appealing). So,
how can we gardeners help our sleepy friends?
start with the most charismatic garden visitor, the
hedgehog. Hedgehogs look for a nice comfy pile of logs,
sticks and leaves to snuggle up in. Obviously a bonfire
can make a 5-star luxury pad for these prickly creatures
so please spare a thought before you get the matches
out. Have a good root around first or move the bonfire.
They also like to be under brush or brambles. So, if
you’re a bit of a lazy gardener you’ll like
this: don’t be too tidy during the winter months.
Leave the big clean up till the spring. I don’t
know about you, but I need no more persuasion than that!
If you just can’t resist the temptation of the
garden broom, collect the leaves and other debris and
put it in a pile out of the way.
If you want to get into a bit of hedgehog real estate
you can buy or build a hedgehog box. To encourage house
hunting, entice the hogs in with a bit of bacon rind
or dog food. And leave some dry, clean hay nearby for
bedding. How could any sane hedgehog resist your offer?
If you do get any takers be careful not to disturb them
during their slumber. Try not to be too curious.
Hedgehogs need to get their body weight up to survive
the winter and you can very easily help with that, too.
Leave out dog food, chopped peanuts, crunchy peanut
butter, raw or cooked meat leftovers, muesli and a small
amount of vegetables. Don’t leave bread and milk
since it gives them diarrhoea.
Moving on to our
amphibious friends. Frogs and toads really do sleep
off the winter. They simply bed down in the mud at the
bottom of ponds. If you have a garden pond you can really
help your hibernators by floating a tennis ball in the
water to prevent it from freezing over. Other amphibians
hibernate in piles of leaves, long grass or logs along
with their insect prey, so once again, for the sake
of the wildlife, don’t be too tidy.
Now, if you’re lucky enough to have bats in your
garden they too will be looking for a cosy spot. Bats
in Britain eat insects, which are scarce during the
winter months so bats hibernate only venturing out occasionally
to drink or feed. They roost in cool, humid places such
as caves (not that too many of us have caves in our
back gardens), hollows of trees, garden sheds, outhouses
and even garages. Remember that bats are protected,
so don’t disturb them even if they roost in your
attic. If you need any advice or help contact your local
heap that I hope you all have up and running by now,
is also a very attractive bit of hibernating real estate.
Slow worms, possibly even snakes (but don’t panic,
most gardens won’t have lots of snakes slithering
around), and even hedgehogs might snuggle down in your
compost. So again, if the urge to do a spot of gardening
is too much and you need to use your compost, take care
not to disturb the heap too much.
Insects such as ladybirds and lacewings are known to
be gardeners’ friends. They’re really helpful
for keeping garden pests
under control and save you having to resort to pesticides.
If they’ve helped you out over the summer why
not give them a hand over the winter? A length of drainpipe
filled with bamboo canes or a nice pile of dead stems
can encourage them to stick around till the spring when
you’ll be grateful of their company.
A lot of insects like to shelter in the gaps between
walls and plants, so yet another excuse for not trimming
back those creepers till the spring! Also, leave fallen
fruit where it lands. It’ll give birds, especially
winter thrushes, a much-needed tasty treat.
One creature that will be prevalent at this time of
year, with no intention of hibernating, is the slug.
Don’t use pellets to kill them: they’re
not only unnecessary, they also kill frogs, birds and
hedgehogs, all of which prey on slugs.
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a wildlife estate
agent you can actually build or buy nest boxes for all
sorts of creatures. Insect boxes can provide winter
shelter for lacewings, bat boxes for bats and bumble
boxes for bees, although to be honest I haven’t
seen a bee anywhere near ours for two years!!
Remember that winter is a harsh time for all your garden
visitors so keep putting out nuts, seeds and fat balls
for the birds. It’s also important to leave out
In the last 50 years many of our hibernating creatures,
which were once common, have dramatically declined mainly
due to loss of habitat, over-intensive farming, road
building and development. These days they really do
need our help. Every garden, no matter how big or small,
has the potential to be a mini nature reserve. Keep
that in mind as you put up your gardening tools for
the winter months, put on the knitted cardie and hibernate
Stay gardening wild.
See also the Helping Hands workshops:
to make compost
to make leaf mould
Photographs: Common toad: © David Wrigglesworth,
Oxford Scientific Films; Hedgehog: © Michael Leach,
Oxford Scientific Films
reprinted with permission from Greenfingers.com