Whether your garden's big, small, or just a window box, you can make it a better place for local wildlife.
Garden birds in particular are a joy to watch the whole year round - follow these tips to make your garden the perfect place for your own flock of birds.
You can get bird food and feeders very cheaply in most hardware shops. Put a variety of things on offer - perhaps one feeder full of bird seed, and another with suet blocks or fatballs. Fill them regularly, and wash them out with soap and water every couple of weeks to get rid of any bacteria that has built up. Birds will need high-fat food in winter to keep them warm, and high-protein food in spring during the breeding season. If you're not too squeamish, you can tempt robins and blue tits with some dried mealworms.
Birds are also a great way of getting rid of your household scraps - although be careful about how much waste food you scatter on the ground, as it can attract rats. Along with the usual stale bread and bacon rind, garden birds will appreciate halved apples and grated cheese (as do many of us humans). A dish of water will also be very welcome - for washing as well as drinking.
Be careful about putting out anything that contains large amounts of salt - it is toxic to garden birds, and can do terrible damage to their nervous systems.
Seeing fledglings start to appear in your garden is an exciting part of springtime, and, like feeders, nestboxes are pretty cheap. Make sure you install your nestbox a good distance away from the feeders - birds are unlikely to nest somewhere that seems too busy - and accept that it might take a while before your garden birds get used to the idea of the new nestbox, and deign to move in.
If you get too emotionally involved in the lives of your garden birds (as I may have done), it's worth reading up on when and when not to intervene if you see a bird that looks too young to be out of the nest. The RSPB has some useful guidelines here
Hedgehogs are sadly endangered, so if you do see one in your garden, that's fantastic! There are plenty of ways that you can help these nocturnal animals survive and thrive.
Steer clear of bread and milk - hedgehogs can't digest it, and it'll give them diarrhoea, which could kill them. There are special hedgehog foods that you can buy (they look a lot like fancy muesli, but don't confuse them with your breakfast cereal, as they also contain delicious mealworms!) You can also feed hedgehogs cat food - chicken is their favourite flavour. Just make sure your own cat doesn't think the food is for them, otherwise there could be a nasty altercation.
It's also a good idea to put out a small dish of water, especially in summer - hedgehogs need to stay hydrated as much as the rest of us do.
Giving your hedgehog a snuggly bolt-hole to live in will help them survive, particularly in the winter. You can get purpose-made hedgehog houses, which you can stash in a hidden corner of your garden - or you can make your own.
Bugs and Bees
As we all know, bees are crucial to our ecosystem, and they're currently in critical danger. They aren't the only friendly insects that might find their way into your garden, however - you might also find beetles, lacewings, ladybirds and hoverflies, all of which eat the pests that might be bothering your plants.
If you want to keep the insects in your garden safe, it's best to avoid pesticides, and plant pollen-rich plants. You can also buy or make a bee nest, and in the summer months, it's a good idea to put out a shallow dish of water filled with stones or marbles for your winged friends to drink from (bees and bugs get thirsty too!)
Get more hints and tips in our blog about Saving the Bees in Oxford.
If you get really obsessed with the creatures in your garden, there are some local wildlife groups you can join: