I worry about the wildlife at this time of year, especially during cold spells such as we have now. I worry about the wild creatures finding food, water and shelter.
It's no different in hot summers, as the same issues arise. Even as a child, I fretted over farm animals in fields that had no trees for shade and wondered where their water butts were and if they were filled. Today, I drive extra carefully on country lanes because I've realised that birds, especially blackbirds, use moving vehicles as cover when crossing the road, flying out in front of the car at the last minute. If the car is travelling at 30mph, they can make it across safely. Birds playing 'chicken'. 'Oh, they're such a worry!' we say to one another exasperatedly, as if speaking of small children.
The first century Greek-born philosopher Epictetus has good advice for all this fretfulness: only concern yourself with what you can control. It is good to dwell on. Do what you can do and leave what you cannot.
Spare a thought for food
At this time, I can provide as much food, water and shelter as I can in those areas I have control of – my home and garden. Wildlife is welcome to find shelter in the wood shed, log piles, compost heap, thick shrubs and holes in the stone walls of the garden. I can also provide nesting boxes, which may be used by birds, bees or even mice.
There is a wide choice of nesting boxes for birds these days and the RSPB has a good range on offer. It's good to see that many have metal plates around the door to prevent the holes being widened by woodpeckers hunting for nestlings. There are also boxes available for small mammals. Naturally occurring spaces, such as hollow logs, are used. I found a beautifully constructed mouse nest in a hollow log a few years ago.
If, like me, you are more inclined to make things yourself, the British Trust for Ornithology has some simple guides, along with a advice on which birds use particular boxes. Robins, for example, prefer open-fronted boxes, while house sparrows are happy to use 'terraces' where nesting units adjoin each other.
Setting up homes
In siting a box, there are a couple of important things I've learned. Birds prefer to nest out of sight, so place boxes behind a screen, such as a shrub, or it may well not be used. If the box is being placed on a garden wall, consider the impact wind can have. At a previous garden, I lived alongside a Roman road in north Lincolnshire. Roman roads tend to be straight and this one could be like a wind tunnel, funnelling gales through it with great strength. I had naively assumed that the garden wall would protect the plants on the other side, but, as it says here, 'When wind hits a solid barrier such as a brick wall it tends to deflect upwards only to descend with greater turbulence on the other side'. Broken, blown-over shrubs, dislodged nesting boxes and early morning missions to rescue said shrubs and boxes, told me all I needed to know about walls, turbulence and the siting of bird boxes. Lessons were learned and I re-sited the box away from the dangers of turbulence.
Whether you choose to buy nesting boxes or make your own, a little thought and careful placing will bring shelter and warmth to some small creature, be it winged or not. If you are feeling generous, you could also provide a wool pot for nesting material.
See RHS wildlife advice
** Please note the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author and are not necessarily those of the RHS **