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Feast to Famine?
3rd December 2018
Today a thought entered my head, while we prepare for our annual overindulgence called Christmas, including the traditional dinner, full tummies, afternoon naps and good times spent with family and friends, what happens to our wildlife?
Obviously, there is no Christmas in the garden but is there an equivalent? As I considered this question it surprised me to think there really is, and it has more in common than I expected. No gifts, booze, bunting or Brussels sprouts, but let’s consider what similarities of season there are.
First, comes the big feast. Christmas dinner generally serves us up an excess of food. We fill our fridges and larders with all sorts of goodies, meats, cheese, fruit and nuts, crackers, crisps, stuffing and cakes, the list goes on. We eat our fill and then continue to pick at the leftovers until we can’t eat anymore. Weeks later, many a turkey sandwich and curry continue to be consumed. This is like the glut nature provides in late autumn. Birds, mammals and all manner of creatures tuck into all the food suddenly available to them. Berries, fruits and nuts ripen on trees and shrubs in great profusion. Blackberries, sloes, haws, rowan, apples, plums, acorns, hazel among many, many more. The damp ground brings worms to the surface, and fungi blooms on woodland floors. Juicy insects and mini beasts become easy prey as autumn leaves redden and fall.
Christmas is also a time for friends and family to gather. We congregate at the centre, when the head of the family calls and where the food and company are at its best. Stories are shared, relationships are strengthened, and we find comfort and happiness in each other’s company. We see similar in the garden and countryside beyond. Through the winter months, much of our wildlife abandons the stress of territorial disputes in favour of collaboration. Why risk all on ‘your’ tree producing food, and exhausting yourself defending it? Instead animals and birds can be seen gathering in mixed flocks, sharing the food wherever it’s found. One finds food, and they all join in the feast, safe in each other’s company, because many eyes keep the crowd safe from potential predators.
Finally, the dawning of the New Year often brings with it the self-imposed human decision to food we call a diet. For our wildlife however, once the autumn surplus is exhausted, winter’s long cold nights soon lead to the risk of starvation. Evolution helps, and our wildlife has developed several tactics to cope. Many creatures lay down large fat reserves, while others use different strategies. Hedgehogs sleep through the worst of it. Some birds simply fly away because they can. Others, such as jays and squirrels, hoard available food, ready for when times become hard.
For now, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and a hunger and stress-free New Year for all your garden wildlife.