Home Environment and health How to have a wildlife-friendly garden in autumn

How to have a wildlife-friendly garden in autumn

Keep your garden untidy for wildlife in autumn
Keep your garden untidy for wildlife in autumn

RSPB’s advice to help animals and birds prepare for winter

Less work equals more wildlife in your autumn garden, says the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ Beth Markey. She offers some top tips on how to help the wildlife that calls our autumn gardens home.

Utilise fallen leaves and help them to rot down
Utilise fallen leaves and help them to rot down

Don’t tidy your autumn garden

Avoid the urge to cut back and tidy too much. It’s more beneficial for nature to leave any decaying plants intact, as they create a layer for mammals and insects to hibernate in.

Hollowed stems and seedheads also provide a safe environment for insects.

Gather dead wood or fallen leaves into a pile in a corner for insects and small mammals, including our struggling hedgehogs, to create a snug home for them.

Wasp on flowering ivy in October
Wasp on flowering ivy in October

Ivy is the star of autumn

Ivy is one of the most beneficial plants during autumn and winter as its flowers are now opening, providing a vital late source of food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

The evergreen leaves offer shelter for birds and insects throughout the colder months, when other natural cover is thinning out.

Ivy’s black winter berries are a crucial, calorie-rich source of food for birds, just when they need that extra energy hit.

Face-off between blackbird and starling with dunnock looking on
Back in winter… face-off between blackbird and starling with dunnock looking on

The garden bird vanishing act

The RSPB is often contacted by concerned people who notice that their much-loved garden birds have suddenly vanished, but this is a natural occurrence.

The hedgerows are full of blackberries and other fruit and birds will always favour feeding directly from nature, so you will naturally see a drop in garden feeder visitations.

However, keep food and water sources topped up because as soon as temperatures drop and the berry crop dwindles, they will be back to your feeders, as they rely on the high-energy, high-fat winter food to fuel them through the colder months.

Peacock butterfly on an Echinacea
Peacock butterfly on an Echinacea

Butterfly house guests

In the lead-up to winter, you may spot a small, unmoving tortoiseshell or a peacock butterfly on the wall in a corner of a room – they have entered their winter dormant stage.

Butterfly Conservation says that only these two species like to overwinter in our homes and will often enter in late summer/ early autumn. As temperatures drop outside and our central heating rises inside, these butterflies can be woken up too early, which fools them into thinking spring has sprung early.

If you spot an early rising butterfly in your home between now and spring, follow Butterfly Conservation’s guidance:

  • Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar, in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down.
  • Once calmed down, you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse.
  • Remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring.

For more information, visit www.rspb.org.uk.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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