Photograph of long grasses at dusk

12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Healthy Habitats

For day eight of our 12 days of winter wildlife, we are exploring healthy habitats. Cambridge University Botanic Garden works hard to be a wildlife haven in central Cambridge. Follow our virtual tour of some of the winter wildlife it supports:

In today’s blogpost we will be uncovering some of the unsung heroes that keep our habitats healthy.

Winter Wildlife: Earthworms

Join Dr Ed Turner as he studies the earthworms in his back garden:

Worms really are the unsung heroes of the garden, and the autumn is a great time to see them in action. Take a look at your lawn and you might see the ends of the leaves that they are pulling down into the soil as a food source. Charles Darwin was fascinated by this behaviour, and conducted experiments that you can try at home. Cut some greaseproof paper into long triangles and lay it into the ground. Come back later and see if the worms have tried to pull it down like an autumn leaf. Darwin noted that the worms pulled the paper down by the narrow point rather than the broader end of the triangle, by far the easiest way the bring the paper down into the soil.

Worms are important as their behaviour makes the nutrients of leaf matter available to plants to grow, and the aerate the soil as well, creating a better structure and drainage. They are also an important food source themselves for birds and mammals like moles and badgers.

Take a closer look at a habitat and you can often find minibeasts that are doing essential jobs to keep the plants and other animals alive, from the pollinators that transfer pollen between flowers, allowing them to set seed or produce fruit, to the ladybirds keeping aphid populations in balance and dung beetles processing dung and recycling nutrients.

Winter Creations: Comfort Food

The cold weather often has us searching for warm, hearty, comfort food. We can help to create and build healthy habitats through choosing food that is comforting for the environment as well as ourselves.

Top tips for eating sustainably:

Photograph of a blue tit carrying a caterpillar in its beak
(c) John Howlett
  • Stay local. The further your food has to travel, the bigger its carbon footprint. Choose seasonal produce, grown locally wherever you can.
  • Less meat. Getting involved in something like Meat-free Mondays can significantly help the environment. Even eating less lamb or beef can help; this is because ‘red meat’ has a roughly six times greater impact on the environment per gram of protein then other meats (such as chicken and pork).
  • Shop sustainable:
    • Look out for the Red Tractor mark on the meat you do eat. This ensures that meat production reflects legal UK minimum standards of environmental protection and animal welfare.
    • The MSC’s fishery certification program and seafood Eco label recognise and reward sustainable fishing, and can help when choosing your next ‘catch’.
  • Fairtrade. Everyone deserves the right to fair pay and good working conditions. Look out for the fairtrade sticker on your tea, coffee and sweet treats to ensure that everyone benefits from these home comforts.

Recipe recommendations

Why not try these comfort food recipe recommendations from Museum staff:

Red lentil dhaal with cauliflower rice in a bowl
Red lentil curry

The recipe links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by the Museum of Zoology of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual. The Museum of Zoology bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

12 Days of Winter Wildlife Day 9: Winter Water

Group of mallards and swans
Ducks and swans(c) John Howlett

Visit the blog again tomorrow to discover the birds that live on and around water, from ducks and swans to herons and more. We’ll also be looking at the importance of providing water for the wildlife in you garden, and we’ll catch up with the mini-pond created by museum staff earlier this year.

12 Days of Winter Wildlife catch up:

Robin on frosted willow branches
(c) John Howlett

Catch up on Day 1 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife. Watch the livestreamed launch, including a virtual tour of the wildlife in the Botanic Garden, a Q&A with Rob Jaques of the British Trust for Ornithology, and sing along with the premiere of the 12 Days of Critters song. Read the top winter wildlife tips from staff and students at the Museum of Zoology. Download our Winter Wildlife spotter sheet, and create your very own hedgehog in a leaf pile.

Robin perched in a yew tree
(c) John Howlett

Catch up on Day 2 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Garden Birds. Enjoy a wonderful film about attracting birds to your garden by Dr Andrew Bladon, listen to recordings of garden birds in winter by Dr Tony Fulford, and learn how to make seed cakes for birds with Lucy Williamson.

Completed moth craft as tree decoration
Moth decoration by Natasha Lavers

Catch up on Day 3 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Active Insects. In this post we explore the amazing world of moths that are active during the winter moths. Find out about moth-trapping with a film from moth expert Annette Shelford, discover winter moths and December moths with Research Assistant Matt Hayes, and make your own moth decoration out or recycled fabric with Museum Volunteer Natasha Lavers.

Woodlouse on wood chippings
(c) Max Westby CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Catch up on Day 4 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Life Underground. Join Dr Ed Turner, Curator of Insects, as he gives his top tips for creating a compost heap, and shows you some of the amazing animals that live there.

Ladybirds in the crevices of a tree branch
(c) Tom Austin CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Catch up on Day 5 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Hibernation. Find out about the insects that huddle away and stay dormant over winter with Matt Hayes, and create your own insect refuge for the garden with Sara Steele.

Pair of red foxes
Red foxes

Catch up on Day 6 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Winter Mammals. Get under the skin of the Red Fox and Badger as Learning Officer Dr Roz Wade takes you on a guided tour of their skulls. Find out about the seal pups born in the middle winter on the Norfolk Coast with Dr Andrew Bladon and watch Ellie Bladon explore the conservation of the hazel dormouse with her award-winning nature film. And download our food cache memory game to see if you have a memory as good as a squirrel’s.

Waxwing with berries

Catch up on Day 7 of our 12 Days of Winter Wildlife: Winter Visitors and discover the birds that escape the extreme cold further north by migrating to the UK for winter. Read winter visitors profiles and and listen to recordings of their calls by Dr Tony Fulford. Take a virtual tour of the winter visitors on display in the Museum of Zoology, and get inspired to make sweet treats and wrap them sustainably as winter gifts.

And remember to send your winter wildlife spots and creations to us by tagging us on social media or using #12DaysofWinterWildlife and you could feature in our online community gallery.

Photograph of long grasses at dusk
Wicken Fen (c) Rosalyn Wade

Find activities to explore healthy habitats further with our Nature Classroom ‘A Journey through Time and Habitats.

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