By November we are settling in for winter – temperatures have dropped, days are shorter, and plant growth has slowed. Leaves have turned and many will have fallen. Most mammals will have entered hibernation in late October.
Hedgehogs and bats are all tucked up by this month. Hedgehog numbers seemed to be diminishing, but in the last year we have been fortunate to see a few. While in hibernation the hedgehog’s fuel supply comes from the fat stores it has built up over the summer. Each individual may move nesting sites at least once during hibernation and so can sometimes be seen out and about.
Bats rest in cool, humid places like, tree hollows, garden sheds and specially made bat boxes. Trying to keep warm, bats will crawl into small crevices, squeezing themselves into odd positions, including lying on their backs or sides, or sometimes on their heads! Occasionally Bats will emerge on warmer winter nights, as their body fat reduces, to find food and a drink of water. They will then return to their roost sites and become torpid (cool & inactive) when the weather cools again. We are very pleased that, working with local conservation organisations, several maternity colonies of Barbastelle bats have been found in the Parish. Through the use of trackers, they have identified the corridors through which they travel. This shows the value of hedgerows and field margins in providing routes along which they can feed and travel.
Hibernating frogs and newts sleep at the bottom of ponds; they bury down into silt at the bottom and take in oxygen through their skin. To help them during hibernation prevent water from freezing over by floating a tennis ball on the surface. During the winter, the common toad overwinters rather than hibernates, spending much of its time burrowed in mud or compost conserving energy, but emerging to forage in milder spells.
Slow Worms love a compost heap, a tree crevice and often burrow underground to hibernate from October to March. They are legless Lizards rather than worms or snakes being much smaller than a snake. They have smooth, golden-grey skin and the males are paler in colour and sometimes have blue spots, while females are larger, with dark sides and a dark stripe down the back.
If you feel like helping our sleepy natives, leave log piles and leaf litter (in part of the garden) undisturbed for hedgehogs and toads. Take care when turning your compost bins and consider investing in a bat box. Be wary of animals, particularly hedgehogs, when lighting fires for Guy Fawkes.
Farmers will be hoping that their winter crops are sown by now, but sometimes the weather does not help this. Although growth is slow at this time of year, having the crop established now means that when the weather warms in the spring, they can get away early. Farming machinery is heavy, and so farmers try to sow crops when the soils are dryer. In the soil, the worms are still active but will move to deeper parts as the weather gets colder. On land that is not ploughed you can see the piles of straw that they are preparing to drag into the soil, improving the soil structure and playing an important role in capturing carbon. Cows are starting their winter routine. They are brought into barns for the winter, as grass isn’t growing fast enough to supply all they need, and to avoid their hooves damaging the soil.
Julie Wise and Frances Harris