Winter is the time to give nature a helping hand, says Marcus Wehrle of Surrey Wildlife Trust.

He said: “At first glance, our gardens and countryside can seem somewhat devoid of life during the long winter months, but this is a very important time for nature. 

“It’s also an opportunity to manage and improve our green spaces for wildlife while many plant and animal species are dormant.

“Homes for wildlife are short supply in urban environments. With a tendency to over-tidy our gardens and parks for the sake of neatness, we are removing vital shelter for many invertebrate, reptile and amphibian species, as well as the much-loved hedgehog.

“In my small garden, I’ve created several uncultivated areas – a modest log pile created from fallen branches and twigs, a compost bin to collect food scraps and fallen leaves, as well a small patch of nettles and native plants – to ensure that there are places for toads, newts, slow worms and our many important creepy-crawlies, to see out the winter safely. 

“If everyone did this, we’d start to see numbers of these declining species bouncing back, which is great news for gardeners too, as they consume slugs and other unwelcome garden pests without the need for chemical control.”

Marcus has plenty of advice to help our feathered garden friends this autumn and winter, too.

“With daylight hours now in short supply and the temperature dropping, many birds spend their waking hours searching for energy-rich food simply to survive another day. If you don’t already do so, now is the time to give them a helping hand by installing a hanging bird feeder in your garden, balcony or communal space.

“After some experimentation, I’ve found sunflower seed kernels to be one of the most widely-accepted foods by a diverse selection of birds, from house sparrows to nuthatches and even woodpeckers. Unlike some bird seeds, they also won’t germinate in your flower boarders.

“The addition of a standing or hanging bird table will attract species like blackbirds and dunnocks, which prefer feeding from the ground or a flat surface.

“When placing your feeders, it pays to locate them near a natural source of shelter such a hedge or tree  – but not close enough to provide an ambush point – which helps prevent predatory attacks from domestic cats.

“Be sure to also remove any mouldy food and clean your feeders regularly to reduce the risk of spreading diseases like bird flu, which has devastated some wild bird populations in recent years.”

If you’ve been thinking of making a garden pond, Marcus says now is a great time to start.

“Alongside shelter and food, water is probably one of the most valuable natural resources we can provide in our gardens and a pond is generally accepted to be one of the best wildlife features for attracting a diverse range of native species.

“In my garden, my two-year-old pond has already welcomed newts, frogs, dragonflies and many water-dwelling invertebrates. It also provides drinking water for visiting mammals and birds. 

“If you don’t have much space or are worried about small children falling in, a large bucket or container works just as well – just ensure you provide a way out if the pond is raised above the ground so wildlife can come and go.

“Now is a great time to dig a pond as the autumn rains have softened the summer-hardened ground. An ideal pond is around four to five square meters and 20 to 60cm at its deepest point. Creating shallow shelves along the margins and a sloping access point will also allow for a greater variety of plant and animal life, as well as providing an escape route.

“Goldfish should be avoided as they will eat the other species, their eggs, or their offspring. You’ll need to include some oxygenating plants such as Hornwort, available from garden centres come spring. 

“With climate change bringing more frequent droughts, this is also a good time to connect a water butt (or three) to your gutter downpipe and collect the winter rain. This will then provide a free store of water for the summer months to feed your garden and top up your pond, whilst reducing pressure on our tap water at times of high demand. 

“They are easy to install with a simple adapter bought from your local DIY outlet and can often be acquired for free or little money on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace.

“Lastly, and perhaps unexpectedly, winter is the perfect time to plant a tree. At this time of year trees are dormant and are much less susceptible to the stress of being relocated. As they are not growing foliage or flowers, they can also put all of their energy into developing a healthy root system in their new environment.

“Native trees such as rowan, elder, wild cherry and crab-apple will provide spring blossom for pollinators and autumn fruit and berries for birds and mammals, plus they are more resilient to pests and diseases than ornamental species.”

Marcus concluded: “In short, nature needs you. It really does pay dividends to brave the grey days, get out in the garden and take a few easy steps for wildlife. Every little helps!”