5 ways you can help wildlife this winter

The RSPCA shares its top tips on how to care for the creatures that visit your garden during winter.

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Robin in the snow.

1. LET YOUR GARDEN GO WILD

  • Leave undisturbed wild areas in your garden – piles of leaves or brushwood can make the perfect nest in which animals can hide, rest and hibernate.
  • By leaving the task of tidying your garden borders and shrubs until early spring, shelter can be provided for insects throughout winter.
  • If you have a compost heap, this will become a welcome habitat for toads, and even grass snakes and slow-worms. 

2. BREAK THE ICE

  • If your garden pond freezes over, ensure you make a hole in the ice. Toxic gases can build up in the water of a frozen pond, which may kill any fish or frogs that are hibernating at the bottom. 
  • When you make a hole in the ice, it isvery important to do so by carefully placing a pan of hot water on the surface.
  • Never break the ice with force or tip boiling water onto the pond, as this can harm or even kill any fish that live in it.

3. FEED THE BIRDS

  • Birds may find it difficult to find natural foods such as berries, insects, seeds, worms and fruit during this cold season. Therefore, any extra food you can put out will help. 
  • Provide a range of seeds, fresh unsalted peanuts and table scraps (cheese and fruits such as apples and pears.) Garden birds also love dried mealworms or waxworms, which can be bought from bird food suppliers. 

4. PROVIDE FRESH WATER

  • Clean water and food will encourage visiting hedgehogs to return regularly to your garden. Minced meat, fresh liver, tinned dog food (not fish based), or even scrambled eggs appeal to these prickly creatures. 
  • Be aware - hedgehogs like milk but it may cause severe diarrhoea in youngsters. It is best to provide fresh water each night in a shallow bowl.

5. ATTRACT GARDEN VISITORS

  • When food is scarce, putting out a small amount of an appropriate treat will help to see the mammals visiting your garden through the winter.
  • For foxes: Put out cheese, boiled potatoes, chicken carcasses, bread and fat scraps at dusk. 
  • For squirrels: Squirrels do not hibernate, instead they cache food during autumn to eat when food is scarce. Offer them nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, plus some chopped apple, beans, carrots or spinach.
  • For badgers: Badgers have a tough time finding their favourite food - earthworms - when the ground is frozen. Provide them with lightly cooked meats, cheese, peanuts and fruit. 
  • Do not leave out large quantities of food each evening to avoid your guests becoming dependent on handouts.
  • It is also not advisable to provide food if it encourages wildlife to cross a busy road.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is the UK's largest animal welfare charity.

The charity rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes hundreds of thousands of animals each year in England and Wales.

It offers advice on caring for all animals and campaigns to change laws that will protect them, which it enforces through prosecution. 

Find out more about the work of the RSPCA. 

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