How to observe your garden wildlife this autumn and winter
There are havens for nature all over Britain, with many operated by the National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts that are open for the public to visit all year round.
However, if you're lucky enough to have your own garden, then you've got your very own ideal observation spot for wildlife right on your doorstep. You don't even need to rug up and travel to see some of our most loved species, because they'll come right to you.
If you've never really taken the time to sit and watch what happens outside your window, then this autumn and winter could be the perfect time to become an observer. You're sure to be amazed and thrilled by what you can spot.
Here's our guide on how to watch wildlife in your garden and become an expert in no time.
Know what to look for - and when
All manner of creatures probably use your garden without you even realising, so you might see foxes, badgers, deer - if you're near woodland - owls, stoats and weasels.
However, remember that many of these animals are nocturnal, so you won't see them if you sit and watch at lunchtime. Observing at several different times should help you to achieve variety in terms of the animals you can watch, with dawn and dusk especially good.
Bird-wise, sparrows, wrens, blackbirds, blue tits, chaffinches, starlings and many more species are likely to pass through your garden during the daytime.
Consider also the time of year - we're well into autumn now, so many of Britain's creatures should already be in hibernation. You'll therefore have to wait until spring if you want to see hedgehogs and bats.
Maximise your chances of seeing garden wildlife
Animals are always in need of food and shelter, so providing it in your garden should increase the number of visitors you attract, particularly as we move into winter and bad weather makes nourishment scarce. We've got a special offer on our Hi-Energy No Mess bird seed at present, while we can also provide an array of species-specific food for everything from our feathered friends right through to badgers.
You can check out our extensive range of nest boxes too, which creatures will use to protect themselves from bad weather at this time of year, as well as to dive into if they get spooked.
When you're ready to observe, pick a comfortable spot and stick to it, whether it's inside or out - getting pins and needles and having to move will quickly alert garden wildlife that you're there! Similarly, keep as still and quiet as you can and make sure the creatures can't catch your scent on the wind.
Dogs should be put inside where they can't disturb your shiest visitors, and things like phones and tablet computers that chirp and emanate bright light are best left behind.
Equipment that might help with wildlife observation
A good field guide is a great idea when it comes to helping you identify unfamiliar birds and mammals, as is a digital camera that you can refer back to after your visitor is gone - as long as you can snap away surreptitiously. Binoculars are a nice additional extra if your garden is large and you want to get really up close and personal with what you see.
If you're eager to look at nocturnal wildlife but can't stay up past bedtime and don't want to keep the kids up too late, you might even want to consider an infra-red camera with a movement trigger that can be set up in a secure place and left overnight.
Taking your interest further
Once you have got used to being a naturalist and are familiar with your regular garden visitors, why not take your interest further by becoming a citizen scientist?
This is an increasingly popular phenomenon, as researchers have realised that they can tap an incredible body of population data with the help of members of the public. All you need to do is look out for ongoing projects (a quick Google search for 'citizen science' can help here) and register your interest.
Many are run by the Wildlife Trusts and similar organisations and simply require you to do tasks like counting the birds you see each day or recording mammal activity. You then submit the data, usually online, and it can be used to make deductions about how our wildlife is faring.
It's really rewarding, can be done by all the family and gives you the perfect excuse to increase the time you spend observing Britain's great outdoors.
Why not give garden observation a try over the coming weeks?