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Nocturnal wildlife to look out for in Hampshire

PUBLISHED: 11:48 20 October 2014 | UPDATED: 11:48 20 October 2014

Starlings at Blashford Lakes. Photo Credit, Martin King

Starlings at Blashford Lakes. Photo Credit, Martin King

Archant

Just because the days are getting shorter, it doesn’t mean that wildlife activity in our gardens disappears. Deborah Griffiths from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is here to advise us on nocturnal wildlife and what to look out for

The nights are drawing in and as summer slowly fades into the bright colours of autumn, life is also changing for our garden wildlife. As the weather gets cooler, many species are becoming more active in their preparation for the winter months to come; making use of the longer evenings to put on weight 
and build shelters that will serve as their winter protection.

Like many other mammals, hedgehogs are very active foragers at night. The young hedgehogs born earlier in the year need to weigh 600g to survive winter and hibernation. Slugs and snails, which are generally more plentiful in the wetter, cooler atmosphere, will be easier for the hedgehogs to find; as will the soft fruits, earthworms and insects that make up the hedgehogs natural autumnal diet.

You may find a part of your garden has been dug over now the weather is wetter. These holes are usually made by foxes and badgers looking for larvae, earthworms, slugs and even flower bulbs and bird seed that have dropped from the bird feeder. Digging activities will stop as the weather becomes drier and the badgers and foxes move on to find easier foraging grounds.

Autumn is a busy time for bats, which will still be flying and feasting on insects. They lower their body temperature as the weather cools down so that they can slow down their metabolism and conserve their body resources to survive in the cold months to come. Bats don’t hibernate, but they do go into torpor in their winter roosts so they will need plenty of food beforehand. They will start to swarm now so that they can mate and eventually roost in traditional roosting places.

Amphibians and reptiles will also be feeding themselves up for winter and looking for places to shelter. If you are building a bonfire, it’s important to check for mammals and amphibians before you light it up as piles of wood and leaves are ideal places to hide.

Some species of birds form flocks at night and one of the most spectacular to see on an autumn evening is a flock of starlings. Called a murmuration, they come together to form incredible dark shapes as the sun sets over woodland and reed beds.

You can help the nocturnal wildlife by encouraging insects and moths with late flowering nectar plants such as Helenium, Japanese Anemone, Michaelmas Daisies, Salvia, 
single flowered Chrysanthemums and Dahlias. If you have fruit trees, try and let a few windfall fruit remain in the garden as these will attract all kinds of wildlife; see if you can identify the animal that’s taken a nibble in the night by its teeth marks. You can also help the nocturnal wildlife of all kinds by providing some shrubs and an area of long grasses so that they can escape from predators and find shelter.

When spotting nocturnal wildlife the best tactic is to simply immerse yourself in the environment. If you feel comfortable, go outside and stand in the darkest places you can find. You may feel nervous but you will notice that your senses and hearing move up a gear. For those not comfortable with placing yourself in a dark corner, a torch will help you identify species and is particularly effective when spotting moths. If you are interested in having a closer look, a moth trap can be easily put together… all you need is a white sheet and a torch.

For more information on spotting wildlife after dark visit www.hiwwt.org.uk/wildlife-gardening

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