I'm delighted to hand over this week's blog to the RSPB's Media Officer for South and West Scotland, Jenny Tweedie, with an autumn tale (and photos) from her own garden.
I recently came across an old aerial photo of my garden that really surprised me. The sun was shining, and there was no sign of any snow on the ground, but I knew it was winter because my garden, and all the gardens round about, looked incredibly empty. There was no hint of any messy vegetation anywhere, and every bed was completely and utterly bare.
Nowadays, it’s a mostly accepted fact that it’s bad to leave the soil bare for any period of time. Apart from anything, it’s an open invitation for the proliferation of perennial weeds, which are a real headache for organic gardeners like me. But bare soil in winter and neat gardens in general can also be damaging for wildlife. Gardens don’t need to be a shaggy, weedy mess.
But the constant cutting of shrubs and hedges, and the instant removal of any plant that’s deemed a bit past its best, creates a real challenge for our wild neighbours, and in autumn, it’s a particular issue for anything trying to hibernate.
Now I’ve mentioned hibernation, you’re probably picturing Hedgehogs, and these increasingly rare animals, one of only three UK mammals to sleep away the winter months, will certainly thank you for a nice load of dead leaves or a pile of branches to hide under.
But wilder gardens can also expect to play host to lots of other sleepy critters when the weather gets colder. My garden, which is rather more over-grown now than it was in that aerial shot, is currently surprising me because of just how much wildlife is out there.
I’ve found around a hundred 7-spot Ladybirds hibernating so far, an indication that they’ve had a really good summer.
Ladybirds will sometimes come indoors or into sheds to seek shelter, but I’ve found them snuggled into curled leaves, or stuffed into dead flower heads, such as in this sunflower.
I still have bumblebees visiting the Borage (below) that’s self-seeded amongst my non-existent cabbages (butterflies also had a good year, what can I say…) but it won’t be long until they’re seeking out a winter hidey-hole too.
Some butterflies also hibernate as adults (there’s a pretty chrysalis of a Large White just inside my shed door, below) and while I don’t see them, I’m sure I’ll have Frogs and Toads tucked away, and bats hidden in the nooks and crannies as well.
Leaving your garden a bit unkempt at this time of the year might seem lazy, and some might even label it an eyesore. But the more Hedgehogs and ladybirds and Toads and bats you can encourage to stay over the winter, the more hungry mouths will be around to help you tackle all those annoying pests in the garden come spring.
If your garden must be tidied, however, keep an eye out for anything that’s already hibernating. Some creatures, like ladybirds, can be carefully moved to an alternative location, but others, like Hedgehogs, need to be left undisturbed. You could try putting out a variety of wildlife homes as substitute accommodation, or why not create a specific hibernation area in an out of the way spot?
But whatever you do, try not to create a bare wasteland in your garden this autumn, and go easy with the shears. Winter is hard enough on our wildlife. The least we can do is leave them a few leaves to hide away in while they’re waiting for spring.
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