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Mammals in your garden
Mammals in your garden
Far more people are now gardening with wildlife in mind and mammal visitors are often seen as a real bonus. The most common garden visitors are mice, grey squirrels, hedgehogs, foxes and bats. However, shrews and voles are often present and some gardens are visited by badgers, deer, weasels and stoats. Less welcome can be rabbits, moles and rats. Of all the mammals likely to visit gardens, badgers, the hazel doormouse and all species of bat have full legal protection. The small mammals you are most likely to find in your garden fall into three broad categories: shrews, voles and mice.
Making gardens more attractive to mammals
Ideally, you should allow at least one area of your garden to go just a little wild, cutting shrubs and trees back less frequently. Undisturbed areas will give cover to shy elusive mammals and will also offer nest building materials, in the form of twigs and leaves and quiet corners in which to build them. If you are trying to encourage mammals into the garden, make access as easy as possible. Ensure there are gaps at or below ground level in any fences or hedges. Walls are more difficult but a log pile in a corner or a trellis can help mammals climb over them.
Plant foods for mammals
The best plants, trees and shrubs to grow are native species. Hazel, crab apple, hawthorn, privet, guelder rose, wayfaring tree and spindle are all small to medium-size shrubs or trees useful to small mammals. Ivy is valuable for its cover, autumn flowers and winter berries. Bramble is excellent too but it needs to be kept under control. All these species will also benefit birds, as well as insects such as moths and butterflies. In spring many mammal species feasts on buds and fruit blossoms.
Cooked food and sugary things should always be avoided. Peanuts and raisins scattered on the grass will keep foxes and badgers engaged for long periods as they sniff them out. Hedgehogs are happy with pet food – put a dish of food under a milk crate or something similar to keep the local cats away. Milk should be avoided as it makes hedgehogs sick. All mammals need to drink so make sure there is a water supply available – ideally a garden pond but make sure there is a shallow end so that mammals can easily get in and out.
Many mammals make homes for themselves underground or in trees. Remember that hedgehogs in particular are often attracted to the warmth and safety of unlit bonfires and compost heaps so it is essential to check both before disturbing them or setting a bonfire alight. A log pile in a quiet spot with lots of gaps and holes offers hedgehogs and other mammals an alternative safe place to shelter. A sheet of corrugated iron or a large board placed on the ground in an undisturbed corner will often attract small mammals to nest underneath, safe from most predators.
Mammals through the seasons
Mammals come to your garden throughout the year. Although many British mammals are far less active in winter, only hazel doormice, bats and hedgehogs can be said to hibernate. However, bats may wake in very warm spells and with increasingly mild winters, hedgehogs are now seen foraging later and later in the year. No hibernating animal should be disturbed – the process consumes the reserves of energy it needs to see it through the cold weather.