Make it a Joyful January!
In the middle of winter, there's nothing more joyful than to see a robin pecking on the grass or to watch a flurry of activity as blue tits flutter their wings on a bird feeder.
Birds are welcome visitors throughout the year, but never more so than in January when there's precious little else to lift the spirits.
Over the last weekend of this month the RSPB will be holding their annual Big Garden Birdwatch when they'll be inviting members of the public to record sightings of the birds that alight on their patch.
They've been doing this survey since 1979 and over the last 37 years the organisation has built up a vast resource of information that enables them to determine which species are flourishing and which common garden birds are under threat.
Since the first survey the house sparrow population has dropped by 58% and the starling population has also been decimated, so clearly something is affecting their numbers.
Over-development, the loss of habitat and climate change probably all play their part but according to the RSPB there's lots that gardeners can do to offset these problems, not just by hanging up bird feeders and nesting boxes, but also by growing the sorts of plants that can provide essential food and ground cover.
Height is essential if birds are to feel safe and a rowan tree is ideal because it is suitable for all gardens and thrushes love its berries. Other berrying shrubs that will help birds to survive the cold months include Pyracantha, Berberis and Cotoneaster.
These berries can quite literally be a lifeline because birds can lose up to 40% of their weight trying to keep warm on a cold night.
Honeysuckle, Purple Loosestrife and Sedum spectabile are easy to grow and invaluable because their flowers attract insects, which are an important food for baby birds during the spring and summer, meanwhile dense hedges such as privet and prickly ones, including holly, provide safe roosting and nesting sites.
It is also important to provide a source of fresh water for bathing and drinking and if you have a cat, then make sure you fit a bell to its collar otherwise all your efforts to attract birds to your garden will be no better than laying out a tasty buffet for your tabby.
The Great Garden Birdwatch will take place on January 30 and 31 and all you need to do is to observe your garden for an hour, recording the greatest number of each species that are present at any one time.
You can download a pack or order one online at www.rspb.org.uk.
Garden Tasks for January
Scrub pots and tools in preparation for the growing season ahead.
Dig over heavy soil during dry spells to expose the clumps to the elements.
Heel-down the roots of any plants that have been raised by the wind.
Tip water from containers and set them on pot feet to prevent them from becoming waterlogged.
Cut down any remaining perennials and add them to the compost heap.