Blogger: Rachael Murray, Media Officer

It’s an age-old tradition – using fresh holly branches to adorn your table and give your home a festive look – but don’t forget to leave enough out there for our wildlife this winter!

Holly is a valuable source of food and shelter for a number of birds, mammals and insects.  Thrushes, robins, dunnocks, finches and goldcrests use it for nesting as the prickly leaves provide excellent protection; blackbirds, fieldfares, redwings, mistle and song thrushes, among others, eat the berries; and hedgehogs, toads and slow worms hibernate in the deep leaf litter that builds up beneath the plant.  

The bush is slow growing, so while pruning in winter is good because it can create denser growth, it is important that holly is not over-trimmed.  The plant only flowers and produces on two-year old wood, so pruning too hard can stop it flowering next spring.

Richard James, from our wildlife enquiries team, explains:  “You can’t beat a bit of holly around the house to make you feel all Christmassy, but as well as it being a pretty plant, holly also plays a very important part in the lives of wildlife at this time of year.

“Taking the odd branch here and there will do no harm at all, but don’t take too much.  Removing all the berries or cutting the bush back too much will mean birds and other animals that rely on the plant for food and shelter will be left without.  And it could also damage the plant in the long-term too, meaning you won’t have any holly to jolly up your home next year.”

As you decorate your home for Christmas this year, remember that some of those decorations are themselves home to a wide range of birds and wildlife!

Let’s not forget our wild friends this festive season....and even better, why not pop a few calorie-rich leftovers out for them over the winter to keep their bellies full?

To find out more about feeding birds in your garden, please find more information on


Photo credit: Andy Hay (rspb images)