Winter (November-January)

WINTER (November-January)

Here is a season by season guide to spotting different nature & wildlife on your farm.

It is just a start, we need your help to build it up – please send in your ideas and help us create a rich calendar for what is on the farm and practical notes on how to enhance it:


View and download the Winter Guides: November December  January


  INTRO As the farming year unfolds, are you keeping your eye out for what wildlife appears on your farm?

What flower or bird brings you joy as the seasons change?

What can you look forward to appearing this month?

What wildlife might be on your land?

What more can you do to encourage it and enhance it?

Here is a month by month guide to help you farm for nature!

This is just a start – please help us create a rich calendar to celebrate and support farming for nature!

What have we forgotten?

Do you have any useful ‘nature hacks’ to share?
Let us know on

If you have any queries why not put it in our Forum on the website and allow other farmers to answer.  See here.

NOV Hedges Plant new hedgerows and ‘gap-up’. When planning your new hedgerow, remember to maximise the benefit to wildlife by planting a variety of native flowering species grown from local sources. Also, try to connect new hedgerows to existing natural habitats to create corridors for wildlife. Look at what grows well in your area and plant-in more of these – better still, collect local seed and grow some yourself, it’s easier than you think!
Hedges Think about some hedge laying to rejuvenate the hedge and improve stock proofing Laying a hedge is a real skill and a great way to help make it more stockproof.  Or coppicing species such as hazel, willow and whitethorn is also a good way to create different age structures in the hedgerow. The ‘All-Ireland Pollinator Plan’ has some excellent resources on managing new and existing hedgerows for wildlife.
Hedges Trim hedgerows where needed. To minimise the impact on wildlife if you are cutting your hedgerows, try to cut them between November and January. While hedgerows can legally be cut from the 1st of September this early cutting reduces food supply for wildlife. Ideally, cut your hedgerows in smaller sections on a three-year rotation to ensure there is always some food available for wildlife. Try, if possible, to leave some hedgerow sections uncut, this increases the diversity and structure of habitats present.
Flooded pasture What ‘waterfowl’ visit your wetlands or water courses? Wet grasslands, alongside rivers in floodplains, can provide really important feeding habitats for thousands of ducks (e.g. widgeon), geese and swans that spend their winter in Ireland.


Can you spot the silhouette of the farmland bird the lapwing wading in the shallows?

Woods As dusk falls or dawn breaks you might see the woodcock, a beautifully patterned bird, who’s marking camouflages it well. Woodcock are a secretive bird, but if you are out and about on the farm late in the day, look out for these along woodland edges.  Or can you spot the jay out collecting acorns? – a super oak tree spreader.


It’s a good time to spot the mighty Scots Pine standing out amongst the bare deciduous trees. Our only native pine, it was thought to be extinct (and reintroduced from Scotland) until an stand of native pine was recently identified in the Burren. This tree is an important food source for the native red squirrel.




Plant some trees like alder and willow to stabilise eroding banks. Alder coppices well and the wood makes excellent charcoal (and gunpowder!). Everybody knows the Sally (Willow) – a really easy tree to grow!
Garden Hang up some bird feeders in quieter areas of the garden or yard, near to a hedgerow or somewhere they can fly back to for safety. Join Birdwatch Ireland’s Garden Bird Survey to report into the national database what birds are coming to your feeder including winter visitors like blackcaps, greenfinches and siskins.


If you have any spoilt grain, putting this out – say near a good hedge – on a regular basis in the harsher winter months will feed a lot of wild birds.


Burren As we finish celebrating the harvest feast of ‘Samhain’, a lot of animals are brought indoors where they are fed for the winter. Not everywhere though! This time of year is a turning-point for farming, unusually so in the case of the Burren where livestock (mainly suckler cows) are herded onto the rough limestone grasslands (known as winterages) for the winter. On these low-lying hills they can enjoy the ‘dry lie’ afforded by the limestone bedrock as well as a healthy diet of native herbs, grasses and calcium-rich water.

DEC Woods Anytime over the next three months is a good time to plant bareroot trees while they are dormant.



Try to source -or grow from seed! – local native trees as these are generally more suited to the area and the resident wildlife. Plant your trees in pockets, strategically situated around the farm  – by doing so you may be able to gain additional benefits for your livestock (shelter, shade) and for the health of the soil and water on your land. (Before planting, think about fencing needs – you may need to protect your trees against livestock or wildlife – see our best practice guides for more info.


As dusk falls, keep an eye out for the Starling murmurations that occasionally form over the woodlands and wetlands.



Keep an eye out at night for the Barn Owl – easier to see in winter as there is less foliage. Barn owls are mostly found in the south and midlands. They like to breed in farm buildings and will use special bird boxes. Avoid using rodenticides as these are fatal for owls.


In late Winter, the ivy berries provide a food source for the birds right through hungry gaps till March or even April. Ivy provides precious shelter for hibernating butterflies and other insects. It gives some small birds a place to huddle together to keep warm on winter nights and helps them survive until spring (long tailed tits, wrens). Ivy can be left on trees except where there could be safety issues – along roads, close to houses. Managing ivy by trimming it back occasionally may be the best option to control ivy in some cases.


Many things are associated with the festive side of this month like Robin Redbreasts, Holly with its red berries and the Wren.  The Wren has a loud call and it is often seen jumping amongst the undergrowth and ivy looking for food with its distinctive tail feathers peaked high.

  Tillage Flocks of Yellowhammers may feed in fields with winter stubble. The South and East is their main distribution in Ireland as these are the main the tillage areas. Also look out for other seed eaters: Linnets, Green Finches, Reed Buntings, Bullfinches, and for Sparrowhawks feeding on these smaller birds.
  Ponds If you have a pond on your land, floating something like a ball on it will keep it unfrozen for longer, giving wildlife an open water supply in any freeze over. Floating a piece of wood will also help keep drinking troughs and storage tanks ice free. Installing stop valves and draining water pipes when not in use can also help prevent water pipes from cracking in icy weather. On bigger water storage tanks, having a wildlife escape ladder may enable trapped wildlife to get out and thus prevent the water from being polluted.
  Woods It is a good time to assess what deadwood you have. Standing dead wood provides important nesting site for hole-nesting birds and some insects (solitary bees etc.). Dead wood in semi-shaded conditions is good for fungi and invertebrates. Standing dead wood rots from the inside out and lying dead wood from the outside in, and so support different types of life.
  Everywhere! Don’t treat soil like dirt! It’s your greatest resource and healthy soils will::

Reduce fertiliser needs

Sequester and Store more Carbon

Improve nutrient levels

Improve drainage and  infiltration

Increase crop and grassland resilience against drought/flood

Reduce weed pressure


Do not leave soil exposed or susceptible to erosion.

Avoid poaching, pinch-points, trafficking and rutting.

Nurture the soil and build humus – give back (healthy) nutrients.

Minimise tillage.

Add species diversity to your sward.

JAN Hedges Depending on how mild the winter is, you may start seeing the Primrose or the lesser Celandine flowering from late January. The Latin name for Primrose – ‘prima rosa’ – means ‘First flower’. Another early flower is the Lesser Celandine – a buttercup-like yellow flower found in shaded areas, a welcome sign of spring.
  Pasture Depending on your location and the suitability of ground and weather conditions, you may be spreading slurry around now, so please think about safeguarding water courses from run off.


Field margins and good buffer strips can really help protect wildlife in streams, rivers and ponds. Fencing along watercourses can help prevent both water pollution and bank erosion.
    Make a home for the solitary bees. These bees aren’t like honeybees which live in hives. As their name suggests, they make their own nests and lay their eggs in tunnels, such as in dead wood or hard soil. Have you got some old, untreated timber lying around? Just drill some holes (between 2-6mm diameter) a couple of inches deep in it, and either hang it up or leave it as is, and you have made a potential home for the solitary bees! To be most successful, it needs to be off the ground, over a metre long and facing south. A bit later on, observe the solitary bees fill the holes of the ‘bee hotel’ with eggs and food and then seal the entrance with mud or pieces of leaves.
  Buildings and Hedgerows Shhh!! Careful now, you don’t want to wake anyone up! In Ireland, bats and hedgehogs are the only animals that undergo true hibernation, conserving energy at a time when food supplies are low. Disturbing them at this time can be fatal to their chances of survival. Badgers don’t hibernate, but do build up fat stores in Autumn so they can reduce activity during cold winter weather.
  Woods Woodlands will spread if you let themdo you have the space for a bigger woodland area? It is a good time to think about this as you may be considering woodland or hedgerow management.  Allowing a buffer of vegetation to grow along the edge of your woodland will improve its value for wildlife. No need to plant trees – they will come if you give them time and space (so called ‘natural regeneration’). This area creates a gradual change from bigger trees at the woodland edge to smaller trees and then shrubs giving way to grassland. In addition, if you have space, linking up wooded areas or expanding from existing patches of woodland will make a real difference.
    It is a good time to look up any wildlife management projects or other supports for special habitats or species on the farm that may be struggling locally or nationally. Birds like the Hen Harrier and the Curlew have special projects dedicated to helping them along. There are also projects trying to halt the loss of species in aquatic habitats, for example, the pearl mussel, crayfish, and salmon.  There should be plenty of good advice out there for these species even if you’re not a participant in one of these projects. Or else contact your local NPWS ranger for advice.
  Pastures Barnacle Geese have arrived from Greenland to flock on the green fields and salt marshes. These geese love to feed on our coastal pastures during winter.
  Tillage Any stubble left in a field, especially with remains of the crop and the weeds that grow in it, can be a good source of food for wildlife. This is especially true if the field is not cultivated until the spring. Many species benefit from unsprayed stubble particularly the Linnet, Skylark and the Hare.
Everywhere! Care for your soil. It is the basis of everything for your farming produce and productivity. Among the many benefits are:

Improved soil aggregate stability

Better infiltration

Crop and grassland resilience (to drought/flood)

Reduced weed pressure

Adherence to Statutory Management Requirements

Avoidance of pollution issues


Do not leave soil exposed or susceptible to erosion.

Avoid poaching, pinch-points, trafficking and rutting.

Nurture the soil and build humus – give back (healthy) nutrients.

Minimise tillage.

Add species diversity to your sward.



See more information here on Spring Summer  &Autumn

Farming For Nature Offers Best Practice Guidelines and Actions to take on different land types here.

To investigate what native species you have or could encourage on your land
here are plenty of sources to help:

  • For native flowers – you can search by flowering month, colour or habitat go here
  • For native trees see here – it will give you advice on different trees go here
  • For native birds see here
  • For native butterflies see here
  • For a complete breakdown of all Irish species, the National Biodiversity Data Centre is the key source. See here.
  • Join the NBDC Farmers Wildlife Calendar Climate Tracker by recording and submitting your farmland species here

This is body of work is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine, and National Parks & Wildlife Service.

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