and shhhh.disturbance-free winter required
It's that time of year when I dread turning over a flower-pot
in case I disturb a pile of dormant, sealed-up snails or a hibernating
newt. A desperate forage in the log pile to feed the wood-burner
can wreck a grass snake's winter and even an innocent trip to the
cellar for a bottle of wine may prove fatal to a hibernating bat.
about which log pile you disturb this winter!
or outside shed can get quite crowded with tortoiseshell butterflies
hanging up - along with a gaggle of wrens on cold nights. And
the bottom of our ponds play host to frogs which have sunk into
the mud and see winter out breathing through their skin. Disturbance
for many of these creatures that hibernate or go into a cold-induced
torpor can be fatal. I sort of know how they feel!
Whilst I get
closer to the fire, some creatures respond to winter cold by
simply shutting down. After a good autumn feed-up, snails, bats,
butterflies, snakes, ladybirds, dormice and others find somewhere
they hope will remain undisturbed and usually dry. Heartbeats
drop and body temperatures plummet - and
they settle down for four or five months' sleep. Unless, that
is, somebody or something disturbs them. Waking up mid-winter
on a cold day can result in waste of valuable energy and disturbance
to their sleep pattern that is enough to kill them. And on a
farm or in a garden, avoiding disturbance is not always easy.
seen so many grass snakes on the farm as this hot summer - big
and small basking in the sun by a barn brick wall. We need our
well-seasoned logs from the log pile but we've decided to sacrifice
a few smaller piles made from last year's hedge coppice work near
to the pond where we've seen the snakes swimming and hope they
choose these ones for their winter sleep. Of course, if they don't
use them, perhaps their prey - the newts - will get in there underneath
the deepest log and overwinter - and a cluster of ladybirds under
and brown long-eared bats who've been very active this summer
have settled in their winter roosts - our
cellar, old barn eaves and rot-holes in trees. They do wake up
on warmer winter nights, have a quick fly around and a drink
but disturbance and waking them up when it's cold could be lethal.
So we'll avoid working in the barns with roosting bats, certainly
won't be felling any rotten old trees and I guess I'll only be
able to get a bottle of wine on a warm night when they've woken
up for a quick bite!
Hawkins is a farm conservation consultant involved in conservation
projects on her family-owned farm.