The ranger team here at the Forest of Marston Vale Trust, have been busy designing and constructing a brand new winter refuge for many of our sites resident species. We spoke with Ranger, Lottie Scoltock to find out how these shelters are built and why it is so important to actively provide shelter for local wildlife in the frosty months.


What is a hibernaculum?

During the cold winter months reptiles and amphibians take refuge and hibernate, usually heading underground, under logs, leaf litter, and other natural shelters - this is called a hibernaculum. We can help species of reptile and amphibians by creating artificial hibernacula, which are usually constructed from materials such as rocks, bricks, logs and natural materials.


How to make a hibernaculum?

If your soil is dry and drains rapidly, you can start by digging a small hole, piling your materials inside it (making sure to leave lots of gaps and hidey holes - or even use old piping to allow for easy access). However here, where the clay soil can get very wet in the winter, we just heap the materials on top of the ground. They are then covered in a layer of mulch or topsoil to keep in the heat, making sure there are still spaces for them to enter. A layer of turf can then be added, or the mound can be seeded to encourage vegetation to grow. We also decided to add old roofing sheets to the top of ours, to provide good basking spots in the summer too!


What species use them?

Mainly amphibians and reptiles for example species of newts, frogs and toads. We have also recorded reptiles such as common lizards and grass snakes in the area surrounding our new hibernaculum, so hopefully some of them will be utilising it come wintertime! You can also cover hibernacula with a sandy mix of soil, which allows solitary bees to burrow in and create nests for egg laying. Planting turf or wildflower seeds on top also encourages insects such as beetles, butterflies, and dragonflies to make use of the habitat - increasing biodiversity in the process. 

DID YOU KNOW? It was only in 2017 that the grass snake, found in Britain and western Europe were reclassified as a new species entirely (Natrix helvetica), now separating them from eastern European species.


Why are they important?

Throughout the winter, they provide somewhere safe and warm for hibernation in all the nooks and crannies. However, depending on what you use to construct your hibernacula and where you place them, they can be useful to our amphibians and reptiles all year round, not just in the winter months. In the summer, they are a good place for basking, hiding from predators, and feeding when placed alongside good foraging habitat!


Why are we making them?

Sadly, most of our amphibian and reptile species are experiencing national decline in the UK. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are major factors in this, with natural hibernation sites (especially ones that are close to foraging areas) being largely impacted. Therefore, creating hibernacula in good quality habitats unaffected by development, can help maintain healthy and thriving populations.



Do you want to help protect our resident wildlife?

Sponsor a Habitat today!

By sponsoring a habitat you're helping us create homes for wildlife within the Forest.

Sponsor a Habitat today