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December:

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DECEMBER:

 

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP BIODIVERSITY AND ENJOY NATURE THIS MONTH.

Christmas is on the way and the days are short as the Winter solstice approaches on the 21st of December.

 

Though there is still plenty of activity in the natural world, as animals struggle daily to keep warm and find food in these leaner months.

 

There are still plenty of things to do to at this time to engage with, and enjoy the natural world.

 

The following is a list of some positive actions that can be taken in December to help restore biodiversity. Try taking some, or all of the following actions, and in doing so, experience a wonderful feeling of satisfaction on so many levels. Satisfaction from the knowledge you are making a real difference in helping wildlife, to the joy of seeing animals close up during this winter month.

 

    

Array of birds on a homemade bird feeding station at Wildacres.
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PUT UP BIRD FEEDERS:

These cold Winter months are a difficult period for our little (and larger) feathered friends.

The days are short and birds natural food sources are more difficult for them to find, as often insects are hibernating, less active and hidden away, awaiting the warmer weather of Spring.

 

Birds at this time need a lot of food just to stay warm and this becomes a more urgent task during the shorter days of winter. 

 

A great way to help them is by providing a clean fresh regular supply of food and water. A lot of birds will avail of well stocked bird feeders during the winter months. You can put them up singly, or if you are feeling slightly more enthusiastic, put up a selection of feeders with different range of foods. This variety of foods will attract an even greater range of species for you to enjoy and marvel at. 

Hang them preferably at approximately two meters off the ground and within proximity to some shrubs or trees, This gives the birds a place to shelter and cover from predators if needed, and makes them feel more at ease when feeding, knowing if threatened, they have a close place to hide away. Though do not place right beside tree or shrub cover so that it would enable predators like a cat to use them as immediate cover to launch an attack on feeding birds on the ground under the feeder.

If you have a problem with the cute looking, but unfortunately very damaging invasive grey squirrel, you can buy feeders with a wire cage that stops squirrels accessing the food..

It is a good idea to include the following bird feed in the appropriate feeders.

Sunflower seeds or Sunflower hearts.

Peanuts (not salted peanuts which are damaging to birds health).

Suet based fat balls, 

Nyger seed

Stale brown bread (crumbled up).

Apple (can impale on the end of a bamboo cane or branch of a tree or bush) .

It is important once you start feeding the birds to regularly top up the feeders. As during the winter the birds become reliant on this source of supplemental food. It is also important from a hygiene perspective to wash and disinfect feeders regularly, in a weak (5%) bleach and water solution.

Move the feeders every few weeks to a new location in the garden, this allows any fallen seed husks and droppings to break down and prevents an unhygienic build up of waste matter.

It is also beneficial to provide a clean water source in the form of a bird bath. that they will drink from and regularly bathe in. The water in this should be changed every few days.  During the colder days when ice and frost form, a tennis ball left floating in it can prevent the surface from freezing over.

It is recommended when handling the feeders and any other items relating to the feeding of the birds to wear protective gloves and to wash hands thoroughly after handling such items. 

A great place to source all things relating to bird watching and feeding, is the wonderful charity registered conservation organization Birdwatch Ireland. They have an excellent online shopping facility and monies raised go towards various important conservation projects nationally.

Depending on the foods you put out, you will be rewarded with an array of fascinating and beautiful wild birds.

 

 

  

 

Squirrel proof peanut bird feede
Male Siskin on Sunflower Seed Feeder at Wildacres
Female Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

As the month progresses and wild food sources become even scarcer and the weather colder, more and more species that would normally remain quite elusive can be attracted into gardens to avail of this bountiful food source. In the last few weeks at Wildacres we have seen many species arrive at the feeders, and they are chomping through the food at an alarmingly satisfying pace !

A fascinating arrival at the feeders, one which is expanding its range at an impressive rate is

the key stone species, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, read all about it here.

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PLANT A NATIVE TREE OR SHRUB:

This is a great month to get some planting done.

 

To look forward to those bright sunny spring days when, that leafless twiggy bareroot or potted plant you are planting now, will explode in a profusion of colorful pollinator attracting flower.

 

Then in Autumn follow up with an often captivating colorful autumnal display.  A multitude of colors ranging from hues of golden yellows, fiery oranges and reds and mellow browns. And finally a profusion of colorful berries, soft fruit or nuts for for the hungry native birds and mammals that rely on these vital sources of food..

As well as attracting in to your garden this wonderful fascinating wildlife for you to see, these native plants also provide many other benefits for our under threat wildlife. Benefits such as a place to nest and shelter and a food source of leaves and buds for various caterpillars and other insects.

They can be planted individually or if space permits perhaps a small copse of native trees that grow to differing heights. For example Oak with an understory of Hawthorn, Holly or Hazel. Or perhaps to create another fantastic wildlife habitat in the form of a stretch of native wildlife hedgerow, planted up with the likes of Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Hazel, Dog Rose, Crabapple, Spindle, Elderflower, Guelder RoseHoneysuckle and Willow 

Native Hedgerow being planted at Wildacres
Hawthorn Berries in Autumn.
Hawthorn in full flower in Spring.
Honeysuckle in flower and with berries.
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TAKE A WILLOW CUTTING:

This is a great month to take a Willow cutting.

It is so easy to do and hey presto... come next Spring with minimal effort, you will have a rooted cutting which will grow on to be a fantastic tree for native wildlife.

Willow is a tree that is hugely important for all manner of native wildlife. We have a number of different native willow species here in Ireland.

 

They rank a close second in the number of wildlife species they in turn support, just behind our majestic native two oak species.

 

In relation to insects, our Oaks are estimated to support circa. 284 different species, with Willow supporting a whopping 266 species. These numerous insects then attract many species of birds that in turn feed on them.

 

In relation to our pollinators, willow flower is a crucial abundant source of both pollen and nectar in early spring. The trees are what they term dioecious, as in there are separate male and female plants.

 

The male producing pollen drenched yellow catkins in early spring, and the female producing lime green catkins that produce large amounts of nectar.   

To take some cuttings all you need to do is chose sections of last seasons growth and cut with a sharp secateurs into 200cm lengths approximately. Cut at the bottom just below a leaf node and at the top, just above a leaf node.

Insert the bottom ends about halfway into a pot of soil and keep moist. To keep it as maintenance free as possible leave it outside where the winter rain will keep the soil moist, just making sure it does not dry out.  You can place a number of cuttings in a medium sized pot a few inches apart. 

Salix caprea Goat Willow Tree
Willow Cuttings ready for potting up
Native Willow Cuttings potted up

In Spring when you see roots emerging from the pot drainage holes and top growth showing, gently remove the soil in one go by teasing it out of the upturned pot. Then gently tease the rooted cuttings apart and pot them up individually into medium sized pots, or better still into a final position where you want them to grow. 

When planting into its final position, plant into a position where it will get as much sun as possible, and keep watered until it is well established.

Then all that is left to do is sit back observe and enjoy over time, as the wildlife arrives to avail of the many benefits of our wonderful native Willow.

Male Willow Catkins Salix caprea
Female Willow Catkins Salix caprea with a foraging native irish honeybee.