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Upcycling Christmas waste: 5 ways you can help reduce threat to garden wildlife

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Britain’s wildlife is under threat: over 1 in 4 UK bird species are now on the red list of endangered birds. Experts are encouraging the British public to support wildlife this festive season by repurposing the tree and leftover food.

With last Christmas spent in lockdown, it’s understandable that many are getting ready to go ‘all out’ with Christmas 2021. But with the extra fun comes a huge amount of extra waste.

In fact, an extra 30% of rubbish is produced and discarded throughout the festive period when compared with the rest of the year. And not discarding our waste properly is already having a devastating effect on our wildlife. The RSPCA receives 5,000 calls a year regarding litter and wildlife as the main victims, particularly birds.

Upcycling Christmas
Upcycling Christmas

A robin can use up to 10% of its body weight to keep warm on a single winter night, so unless it can feed well and replenish its reserves every day, a cold spell can prove fatal.

And our beloved hedgehogs will begin to hibernate in December, but a lack of food and shelter means many just won’t make it through the winter.

Garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife Sean McMenemy provides insight into how the public can repurpose the extra waste from the festive period and transform it into something to help our garden wildlife thrive.

Upcycling Christmas
Upcycling Christmas

Use the Christmas tree as a multi-perch bird feeder : There is nothing quite like the smell of a real Christmas tree in your home. But deciding what to do with the tree in January can be a hassle. The answer is that you can spread out the Christmas cheer by using the tree trunk as a 'multi-perch' bird feeder. Simply cut the branches back to about six inches from the trunk and hang fat balls and bird feeders from the stems. It will also make a beautiful centrepiece in your garden. Get creative — you can hang orange, apple and whole peanut garlands, bird food covered pine cones tied up with ribbon, juicy berries and foliage — it will brighten up a gloomy January.

Don’t forget to provide some food at the tree base. When the ground is frozen, songbirds can't dig up worms. Sprinkle energy-rich bird food specifically designed for winter survival, and you’ll also get more robins spending time in your winter garden.

Upcycling Christmas
Upcycling Christmas

Put out leftover food for garden visitors: It's better to steer clear of putting out the Christmas turkey leftovers because cooked turkey fat can play havoc with birds feathers, contains salt which is toxic to birds, and it can go rancid, which can make birds ill and attract rodents.

However, beef fat trimmings or other cuts of meat in large pieces and meat bones are ok. And a few roasties put out for the birds on a cold day will delight them.

Just make sure you pick up any uneaten leftovers before nightfall before they go off and become toxic or attract pest species.

Upcycling Christmas
Upcycling Christmas

Recycle Christmas tree branches to help insects: Chop the old Christmas tree branches flat and use them as ground insulation over spring bulbs and early flowers to help them successfully shoot up next spring. These spring flowers will provide nectar at a critical time for insects. You can also cut the tips of needle covered branches into six to 12 inch lengths and tie them together in bouquets. Then hang the bouquets from walls and fences as interesting features, and overwintering insect habitats.

Protect pond life: Trees offer shelter to wildlife both on land and in water. Every part of an old Christmas tree can help; the wood and old needles offer a vital refuge and compost. Put the old tree in (or over) ponds, including any natural decorations such as pine cones and it can offer protection to pond life from predators such as herons and cats.

Upcycling Christmas
Upcycling Christmas

Amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts, need a damp area where they can hide, out of the water, but close by. This can often be old trees or log piles. Being cold-blooded, frogs basically park up and close shop for the winter months. The male frogs will go to the bottom of a pond in winter, so make sure to put a ball on the surface of a pond to stop it from freezing over.

Create a shelter from frost: You can also use your old Christmas tree to protect wildlife from the frost — put the whole tree out or chopped into large sections to create a sheltered corner of the garden for birds, insects and small mammals.

Plus, it is vital that you supply fresh drinking water for your garden wildlife 365 days a year. Place it near the Christmas food leftovers you put out. But make sure to avoid toxic antifreeze products for bird baths that can harm wildlife, always use an eco-friendly option.

Where to get more information:

Keep Britain Tidy

Songbird Survival

Ark Wildlife

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