Happy Hog-manay! - Harry Hog's blog

By Harry Hog

Trust Promoter Harry Hog has been exploring our reserves this winter - and helping wildlife on his own doorstep, too.

As we look forward to the festive season, albeit a slightly different one. Nature just carries on, oblivious to the problems encountered by our human species! Living one day at a time and during these harsher winter months, doing everything it can to survive.

When you’re out for a seasonal stroll, take time to remind yourself how lucky we actually are. In the face of some of the most difficult and trying times, we tend to take for granted how relatively easy and convenient our lives usually are. Yes, things are tough right now, but we’ll get through and everything will again reach a sense of normality.

Sadly, our UK wildlife is in real trouble, habitat loss and fragmentation being a major cause for concern. But despite these terrible losses, we can all still do some things to make a real difference. If you put all the gardens in the UK together, for instance, it would equate to an area of 430 thousand hectares (that’s a fifth the size of Wales!). If every garden in the UK made even a small space for nature, together it would create a massive, often interconnected, series of habitats essential for wildlife.

Helping wildlife at home

So do look at your own patch and think how you can help. Explore our website for further information and inspiration on what you could achieve even in the smallest of spaces. There are RHS guides on wildlife friendly planting as well as some help with habitat creation. Now is the ideal time to build a new pond, put up a nest box or to plant a hedgerow or tree, think about the type of wildlife you’d like to encourage and what could attract them to your own special place.

In winter it’s particularly important to put out bird food and fresh water to get them through the cold weather, when natural food is scarce. And, on a gloomy cold day, nothing beats sitting down and being rewarded watching our beautiful feathered friends enjoying some treats just feet away. Your own cozy bird hide with festive drinks and snacks on tap!

What to look out for

On one of my recent trips out in Bedfordshire I was fortunate to have the most memorable sight of a hoopoe; not on one of our reserves but fairly close, and a UK first for me. It just shows what can turn up on your doorstep.

Look out for other winter visitors from colder parts of Europe, that can turn up out of the blue, like the gorgeous waxwings (a bird that has eluded me so far!) of hawfinches. There are also the more regular visitors like stonechats that winter in places like the Great Fen or Trumpington Meadows, and the huge flocks of winter thrushes, namely fieldfares and redwings, gorging on hedgerow berries.

Its also a great time to see the tiniest bird species in Europe, the goldcrest, just 9cm in length and weighing the same as a 20 pence coin which is half the weight of a wren ! Our resident population is now boosted by a few million from the continent and they like to hang about near conifers or yew trees. They often seem oblivious to our presence and you can get quite close as they flit about the undergrowth.

I’ve also visited Gamlingay and Waresley woods near Cambridge and, while Waresley is temporarily closed due to the extremely wet and muddy ground conditions on the paths, I enjoyed a walk around Browne's piece being serenaded by a song thrush high in an oak tree and watching many species of small bird along the woods edge. Woodland management, including coppicing is continuing at Hayley wood, being an ideal time as it causes the minimum amount of disturbance to the dormant flora and fauna, which is so special to these woods. 

December wildlife and reserve highlights

Starling Murmurations

Still happening at our Summer Leys and Storton's Pits nature reserves in Northants, so worth a trip if you get a chance. Pick a sunny, still afternoon for the most stunning effect, bird numbers have been building recently.

Wetland wildfowl

Lots of wigeon, shoveler duck and many other wintering water birds on our lakes right now. Godmanchester, Titchmarsh and the Ouse Washes nature reserves are all excellent places.

Woodland wonderlands

Now the leaves have gone, it’s a good time to spot woodpeckers, nuthatches and jays in the branches. Listen out for their very distinctive calls! Brampton Wood (take your wellies!), Beechwoods and Lings nature reserves are top spots.

Bird feeder bliss

Even common garden species, robin, blackbird, goldfinch and blue tit are a joy to watch close up and personal! – keep those feeders topped up, there’s some hungry birds out there! Visit our friends at Vine House Farm to buy your bird food online and they also donate a percentage of their sales to us.

 

Give the gift of wildlife

If you’re stuck for Christmas gift ideas, think about buying someone one of our gift memberships - they make a fantastic pressie, and we can take orders up to the 18th December for delivery of the welcome pack in time for Christmas.

Whatever you do this festive season, it really is worth finding some time to enjoy our nature reserves.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a truly spectacular Hog-manay!