It’s turned really quite cold outdoors recently and many creatures have been seeking warmth and shelter for the winter, and possible nesting places for next spring. I

f your house is anything like mine there will be gaps in the soffit and between the rafters that allow small things into the loft! If you’re unlucky, you might get grey squirrels up there but if you’re lucky your loft might have a bat hibernating roost.

Bats like somewhere dry and sheltered to over-winter. The most likely species are pipistrelle and long eared – they cause no harm as they don’t chew cables or timber, so all you need do is cover anything you have stored up there to protect it from droppings and wait for the bats to move out, which they will do when the spring arrives. Pipistrelle bats actually prefer really tiny spaces so they might be between the tiles and the felt, or even in your cavity walls, so you might never know they’re there.

Of course, there are a myriad insects and mini-beasts that use your loft for shelter: wild honeybees are sadly rather rare these days but it is possible that a colony might find your attic an attractive place to build a nest. It’s dry and sheltered. It’s more likely that the insects you find up there will be wasps which might find the roof timbers a useful material to construct their nest. Spiders of many species are common in almost every loft and if anything should be regarded as a kind of pest control in their own right as they will feed on flies, mosquitoes, and even wasps that get caught in their webs. Some will even eat debris such as their own skins after they’ve shed them!

Although dormice are rare in Cumbria and tend to over-winter below ground, in some parts of the UK they invade your loft space, or the space between the ceiling and the floor: after all it’s warmer than underground!

If we move from loft to shed then, especially if it’s a bit tumbledown like mine or has a void underneath, you might have a resident or hibernating hedgehog. Look out for them, and if they’re up and about too soon in the spring you can help them by providing food – but not bread and milk. Remember that they’re basically carnivores. Stone outbuildings and barns can attract barn owls; these buildings offer shelter and roosting places inaccessible by predators (such as cats or foxes), and a good source of small rodents in surrounding grassland and open woodland.

So if you decide that tidying out the messy loft or shed this winter is a good idea, stop and consider who might prefer it to stay just as it is!