For the last few winters I have fed the birds consistently (and probably more carefully than I sometimes feed myself).

I've learned the importance of keeping up feeding once it has been started, as the birds come to depend on it.

I have to admit that on those freezing winter mornings the prospect of going outside - with a kettle of hot water to defrost the bird bath, and with handfuls of food for the bird table - can seem mightily unappealing.

But again the garden and its wildlife illustrates another of those well-worn truths - that you have to put something in to get something back. Birds obviously won't hang about my garden on the off-chance I might feed them. But now they've got used to being fed they're around all the time.

The regular supply of food has meant that over the few years we have been here the birds have multiplied in the garden. The food is mainly bought sunflower seed, nuts, porridge oats and fat balls, but the garden's apple tree also feeds the birds, as they eat the windfalls on the ground and also the apples left on the tree that we haven't been able to reach.

In the first few years, I stopped feeding during the warmer months. More recently I've found that the food seems to be needed most of the year, certainly by the sparrows. As sparrows' numbers are falling nationally, it seems important to look after the ones we have in this area, so I now carry on putting out the seed feeders.

Bird feed and feeders from

During the spring and summer months, alongside this bought-in food, there is a pesticide-free supply of aphids and other garden pests. If I ever needed further encouragement not to use noxious chemical sprays, it is seeing the sparrows and blue tits swaying daintily from the new stems of the climbing roses, picking off greenfly. I probably ingest more pesticides than they do.

Young coal tit, summer 2002

Above: young coal tit, summer 2002. Top left: young robin.