It’s easy to think that, as the year reaches its last quarter, nature starts to wind down, too. The leaves abandon the trees, migratory birds seek out warmer climates and little mammals get ready to hibernate. And while this may be true, there are several things uniquely beautiful about my favourite time of year.
This is the time of year when the hedgerows offer up blackberries and hazelnuts, the trees explode in a range of reds and yellows, mushroom caps peek out of the grass, starling mumurations and bird migrations fill the sky; and if you end up in the right parts of the country at the right time, you might even be lucky enough to see the red deer rut and the salmon run. I, thus far, have not been that lucky.
Now of course, as the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter, nature has by no means left us out in the cold, so to speak, but there are ways to help the creatures of the outdoors through the end of the year.
Let’s start with the ones that stay awake – this is mainly the birds who stick around for the winter such as goldfinches, robins and house sparrows. The temptation may be that, when the flowers in your garden start to die off, you want to go around deadheading, but if you leave the seed heads, this will be a useful food source for these feathered friends. You may also have some nest boxes from spring dotted around – with these you can clear out any leftover nesting material and kill off any parasites with boiling water. Make sure they have completely dried out before you place the lid back on and put them back outside, but once you have done this, little birds will use them to shelter from the cold.
Now for the snoozers – the hibernators such as hedgehogs, ladybirds, bumblebee queens and peacock butterflies, and those who enter a state of torpor (similar to hibernation but they can easily wake to move around and eat) such as frogs. Leaving leaf piles as they are instead of burning them or throwing them away is a suggestion we hear pretty much every year, aligning when the trees begin to look a little more naked. The important thing is, however, that they are swept to an edge, corner or against a hedge, as small mammals such as hedgehogs use these areas as corridors and shelter. Bees and frogs also appreciate these as resting areas, particularly if they’re surrounded by a patch of tall, unmown grass.
Meanwhile, you may begin to notice some butterfly species and ladybird clusters coming inside to shelter and hibernate. Unfortunately, if they are inside your home, heating in the winter can disturb their slumber. This can easily be remedied by either turning the heating off in their chosen room, or scooping them up and moving them to an unheated garden shed.
I like to think of the last quarter of the year as a reset or transitional period rather than one where everything just stops. Bee colonies may die off, but the mated bumble bee queens are just waiting for spring to create new ones. Some birds may leave in search of warmer climates, but others arrive from the Arctic to see out a wholly more tolerable winter with us. And giving wildlife a helping hand to spring is fairly easy and a rewarding way to stay connected with nature through the year’s end.
Francesca Lant, Marketing and Admin Apprentice
This article was first featured in the Autumn 2021 edition of the Grazer magazine. For more info and to subscribe, visit:
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