The winter solstice on the 21st of this month has a
significant effect on our winter garden wildlife. As soon as
the length of daylight increases, many subtle changes can be
observed especially in the behaviour of some bird species.
Song thrushes will soon start to sing from treetops or roofs
to define their territory, in preparation for the breeding
season ahead. Great tits may investigate nest boxes,
especially on sunny days. For many people December is a time
to enjoy the garden from the comfort of the house, but there
are still important jobs you can do to ensure your local
wildlife survives the winter.
In a small garden, native shrubs such as goat willow, dogwood
or hazel need to be kept in check to prevent them from taking
over completely. These valuable species attract a large
variety of moth caterpillars and other insects and are well
worth growing. They can be ‘coppiced’ this month, which means
cutting them to within 10 cms of the ground, encouraging them
to produce new strong shoots from the base next spring. If
dogwood still has shiny black berries, delay coppicing this
species until the fruits have all been eaten by wood mice or
This is still only the beginning of the winter and if the
weather is mild, an ideal time to plant a tree or a hedge.
Choose a native tree if you have the space – silver birch or
rowan would be good choices for gardens as they support many insect
species and insectivorous birds. Rowan berries are also a
favourite with blackbirds and thrushes. Native mixed hedging is a wildlife
magnet, providing nesting and hibernation places, food and
shelter. Hedges are also important corridors in urban areas,
linking gardens, allotments and green spaces to allow wildlife
to move about in safety. Include hawthorn, blackthorn and
wild roses for their protective prickles as well as the wild Viburnum, spindle, holly, wild privet and buckthorn. Mulch
your hedge or tree well after planting and water if the
weather is dry, until established.
Even in the tiniest garden it is possible to provide food,
water and shelter from bad weather for common garden birds. On a balcony or small patio make sure hanging feeders are
topped up. Birds will venture closer to the house as food
supplies run out. In colder weather an ‘umbrella’ cut from a
conifer and laid on the ground can keep an area free of frost,
allowing birds like robins and wrens to find insects, but
make sure local cats can’t use this as a hiding place.
Special seed and peanut feeders with plastic suckers can be attached to windows, and small drinking saucers of fresh
water will be used when lodged in a window box.
When the weather is too miserable to venture out, keep up to
date with what’s in your garden by starting a wildlife
journal. A catalogue of the birds feeding, mammals passing
through or unusual sighting of insects out of hibernation can
be valuable information now or at any time throughout the