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Traditionally New Year is a time to make resolutions and attempt to stick to them. And what better pledge to make than to be more wildlife friendly in 2001? Michaela Strachanís got some handy reminders of the issues sheís covered in her Greenfingersí column over the past nine months to spur us onÖ

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Weíve all survived Christmas. The Christmas pudding is still being microwaved, turkey sandwiches are still being forced on you, there are still a few crackers lying about and Iím still sword fighting and flying through the air. (No I havenít had too much sherry. Itís still panto season for me, Iím playing Peter Pan in Bristol being deafened every night by Brian Blessed! Heís playing Hook).

Iíve got to be honest, the garden has recently taken second place to Christmas shopping, parties, entertaining the relatives and doing two shows a day!! But frankly it doesnít really matter. As Iíve said before, the great thing about being a wildlife gardener is you can be a little bit neglectful every so often. It doesnít matter if the leaves arenít swept, itís actually great for your wee garden beasties. One thing you should check though is the garden pond if you have one. The leaves should be cleared from the water to prevent the water from stagnating and itís really important for wildlife to make sure the pond doesnít freeze over. The simplest and cheapest thing to do is to put a tennis ball into the water. It happily floats around preventing the big freeze.

So, as you all put your feet up and sip the last bit of mulled wine, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we have attempted to achieve so far over the last eight months.

Firstly I hope Iíve encouraged you all to think a little bit about making your gardens wildlife friendly. Even if you donít want to turn your garden over completely into a wildlife haven, every little helps.

Hopefully weíre all looking after our feathered garden visitors. Iíve gone on about them enough!! If youíve followed my tips your garden should be cluttered with nesting boxes, bird tables and plenty of swinging bird feeders. If any of your family took a hint from last monthís article, you might even have a nice bird book too, so you can sit there watching your visitors, twitching away as you tick off your bird list!!

Another very easy and obvious environmentally friendly garden addition is a compost bin, and if you set one up at the beginning of the year it should by now be decaying into some jolly useable compost.

One of the most beneficial things to have in your garden for wildlife, as I suggested back in the summer, is a garden pond. Remember, size isnít important, anything is better than nothing.

The basic things to think about and add if you havenít got them already, are entry and exit points for wildlife, if you havenít got sloping sides to your pond make a little ramp especially for hedgehogs. You donít want to wake up to find your good intentions have made you into a hedgehog murderer!! Your pond should have as much diversity as possible, a variation of depths, and plants. And no goldfish!! Theyíre not native!! For a true wildlife pond try to keep it as natural and native as possible.

Another very important thing to remember is ALIEN INVADERS. It was an attention grabbing title in the spring but a very important subject to address. I used a quote from Plantlife, ĎInvasive species are likely to be the biggest threat facing our biodiversity this centuryí. My article was particularly about pond oxygenators such as New Zealand pigmy weed, parrots feather and floating pennywort; these three in particular have wreaked absolute havoc through some of our British waterways. They may not be a complete disaster in your ponds where you may be able to control them, but it is much easier than you may think for them to escape out of your gardens and into the wild. If you care about native flora and fauna the simple answer is not to use them, use native plants instead.

Now the meadow I suggested planting in the autumn wonít be in its full glory at this time of the year. Patience is a virtue and itíll give you something to look forward to in the spring and summer when your meadow flowers will be blooming and you should have plenty of insects such as butterflies, bees and grasshoppers showing you gratitude.

Finally, if you followed my advice about helping your hibernating beasties by not being too tidy over the winter months or even by making or buying a few hibernating boxes, you may well have a few hedgehogs, ladybirds, frogs or even bats snoozing happily amongst your debris. Donít forget to check before you set that bonfire alight!

So thatís hopefully what weíve all tried to achieve. Now for the honesty bit. I always feel that the start of a new year is a good time to be honest!! So what have we all managed to do, and what havenít we quite got around to yet? Well, Iíll start by putting my hand in the air. Whilst I have got plenty of nest boxes, masses of bird feeders, lots of piles of leaves, two great compost bins, no alien invaders, and, although our garden isnít big enough for a meadow, we have planted lots of poppies. But I have to confess that we havenít quite got around to building a pond yet. We have got as far as discussing ideas and even drawing a couple of plans, but the practicality is still on the Ďto doí list. Itís now moved to the New Year's resolution list!!

So now Iíve owned up itís time for you to do the same. Just as you sip the last few drops of mulled wine, grab a pen and write your 2001 to do list!

Remember, collectively, we are responsible for what could be described as ĎBritainís largest nature reserveí.

Have a fab 2001 and stay gardening wild!

Want to read more? Take a look at these other articles by Michaela Strachan:
Feed the Birds
Hibernating Animals
Christmas Carol
Invasive Plants
Wildlife Ponds
Save Our Peat Bogs
Heaps of Fun
Itís Nesting Time

Photographs: Garden Pond © Michael W Richards, Oxford Scientific Films; Compost Heaps © Scott Camazine, Oxford Scientific Films; Hedgehog © Norbert Wu, Oxford Scientific Films

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