Winter is the toughest time of year for garden wildlife as natural food resources start to become scarce.
There are plenty of practical ways you can help wildlife, without spending a fortune. Even something as simple as putting out a dish of water helps. Whether you live in the city or countryside, you can make a real difference to the creatures that visit your garden.
Although you should try to keep your bird feeder(s) topped up throughout the year, now is the most crucial time. Birds need plenty of food to keep them going through the long, cold nights and even a day or two without food may be fatal for those that have come to depend on you.
Since different bird species like to forage in different places, ideally place it in feeders, on a bird table and on the ground. But remember that only a suitable feeder can protect food from squirrels, and that food on the ground may expose birds to predators, such as cats.
To reduce disease, clean and disinfect feeders and bird tables regularly. Ideally, you should also move feeders around the garden to prevent the build up of contamination in any one area. But keep them well away from bird boxes; all the coming and going near a feeder can disturb breeding birds and also attract predators.
Provide a shallow dish of water for birds to bathe in or drink year round. In winter, check regularly to make sure it hasn't frozen. If it has, don't waste time and energy trying to thaw it out; simply replace it with fresh water.
Give it a thorough scrub once a week to keep it clean.
Add some plants to your garden that provide natural food resources for birds during winter. Ones with attractive seedheads, such as teasel, will provide seeds for birds to eat, and also habitat for spiders and insects, which birds will eat too.
Shrubs that produce berries are also a useful food source as well as looking colourful at this dull time of year. Try popular shrubs and trees, such as rowan, euonymus and Viburnum opulus. You'll find all sorts of creatures eat them, not just birds.
Ivy may have a poor reputation, but mature fruiting ivy is an incredible source of pollen when it flowers in autumn and fat-rich berries in winter. Look for varieties with attractive, colourful leaves.
Look ahead to spring by putting up a nest box now. Both wood and woodcrete (concrete reinforced with wood fibre) are good materials for nest boxes, but research shows that birds prefer, and do better in, woodcrete boxes. Woodcrete tends to be more expensive, but it will last forever, so is worth the extra cost.
Another less obvious benefit of a woodcrete box is that the hole will resist being enlarged by predators. You can ensure the same for a wooden box by fitting a metal ring around the entrance hole. On the subject of hole size, if you live somewhere that's been colonised by ring-necked parakeets and you want to stop them using your nest box, make sure the entrance hole is no more than 32mm wide, which will be fine for blue and great tits. Parakeets need a hole of at least 40mm.
Whichever, nest box you buy or make, site it facing between north and east. Place it one to three metres above the ground and use a shed or wall if you don't trees.
Occupancy of bat boxes is generally lower than that for birds. Bats are also harder to keep track of than birds. Birds tend to use a single nest box, but bats typically move around a group of roosts, using each for a different purpose - nursery colonies, bachelor pads, night roosts and mating roosts.
However, you can get better results by putting the box in a sunny location as bats like to be warm.