This can be a really harsh time of year for Britain’s wildlife, so here’s a handful of ways you can help your local furry and feathered friends this season, courtesy of the RSPCA
What you can do to look after our wildlife
1 Birds rely on our help to feed in the winter months, so offer a variety of different food to attract a whole host of birds to your garden: • Suitable seeds and grains
– like nyjer, millet, oats and sunflower seeds. • Cooked rice, pasta and
unsweetened pastry – all are packed with starch to help birds keep warm.
• Potatoes – boiled, baked, roasted or mashed.
• Cheese – crumbled or grated. • Fat – uncooked and unsalted bacon rinds provide a great calorie boost. Avoid salty fats as these can be toxic to birds. • Apples, pears and soft fruits
– just remember to soak raisins, sultanas and other dried fruit in water first.
• Fresh coconut – sawn in half and hang on natural string. Never use desiccated coconut as it swells up in a bird’s stomach.
• Insects – such as mealworms or wax worms.
• Peanuts – they are rich in fat, but only feed peanuts if they are unsalted, fresh and sold for human consumption, and put in good quality wire mesh feeders. 2
Net-free suet balls for birds are a great way to mix a variety of healthy foods all together. Leave them on your bird table, or thread them on natural string and hang up in a tree. They also make a great activity for children during the festive holidays. Pour some seeds, chopped nuts, biscuits crumbs and oats in a bowl and mix in some melted lard or suet. Then either press them into half a coconut shell, or roll out to 2cm thick and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. 3 As well as food, birds and other garden wildlife need access to fresh water during winter. If there has been an overnight frost make sure any water in your garden, whether a pond or a bird bath, isn’t frozen. Toxic gases can build up in a frozen pond and may kill fish or frogs hibernating at the bottom. Never put salt or antifreeze in the water, or pour boiling water onto the ice, instead carefully place a pan of hot water on the surface to melt a hole. Breaking ice with force can also harm any fish or frogs hidden under the surface.
Make sure to put up nest boxes in and around your garden. Many bird species will really appreciate them as a roosting site during the cold winter nights. But make sure they are appropriate for the wildlife’s size, that removable parts aren’t too tight or too loose, and that they are waterproof, with drainage holes in the base. If they are hanging or on a pole make sure they are fixed securely so they withstand high winds. 5 Bug hotels are another great way to encourage more insects into your garden – they can be as big or small as you have room for! You can buy one at most garden centres or have a go at making your own from bamboo. Also, leaving piles of logs and leaves or compost is a great way to provide some natural shelter for insects as well as other wildlife too.
If you are having a bonfire, be sure to check for hedgehogs and other wildlife before lighting it. If you can, build it immediately before lighting to make sure it is clear. And don’t forget to shut shed and greenhouse doors, or you may end up with unexpected guests who struggle to find their way home again.
Llewelyn Lowen is Scientific Information Officer at the RSPCA. For more information on how you can help your local wildlife this winter visit rspca.org.uk/ adviceandwelfare/wildlife
BELOW RIGHT:Compost could provide valuable respite for wildlife
RIGHT:Offer birds easy access to food over the winter months
BELOW LEFT:Fresh coconut is a treat for birds