Stocking up on snuggly winter gear for you and your pets this autumn? Once you are all prepared, take a minute to think about all the wild animals who will be spending the autumn and winter outdoors in a daily struggle for survival. The cold is not the only factor they have to worry about; human activity has an enormous impact on the welfare of British wildlife and 1 million are killed on the roads each year.
Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to help wildlife and even encourage it into our back gardens so we can gain a fascinating vantage point on the natural world.
If you’d like to see some hedgehogs in your garden, start by leaving out a bowl of water and some food. Don’t ever offer them cow’s milk as this can cause severe stomach upsets. Minced meat, fresh liver, wet dog or cat food (not fish flavour) or chopped boiled eggs are all enjoyed by hedgehogs and will provide them with lots of important protein. If you see juvenile hedgehogs in your garden during the autumn it’s unlikely they will survive hibernation over winter so contact a wildlife rehabilitator (see list below) for advice on how you can help them.
You can make your garden hedgehog friendly by leaving areas to ‘go wild’ and place nesting materials under hedges. You can even build or buy small hedgehog shelters. Avoid using any rodent poison in the garden or slug pellets which can also poison hedgehogs. Keep an eye out for any litter which could cause injury to a hedgehog and of course, double check bonfire piles of wood and leaves before lighting them!
There are now more than one million deer in the UK from six different species including two native (Red and Roe deer) and four non-native species (Fallow, Muntjac, Sika and Chinese Water Deer). Up to 70,000 deer are killed each year on the roads in the UK. Take care when driving in areas with deer and slow down if you see deer warning signs. Be especially vigilant in the autumn as deer movement can be more erratic during the rutting season. If you spot one deer be aware that further deer may well cross after the ones you have noticed. If you do hit an animal and it is not killed outright, call a local animal rehabilitation centre or the RSPCA to give them your location.
Keep your dog under control in parks, fields and woodland if they like to chase deer, especially if you are walking anywhere near a road. Although we sympathise with the owner of naughty Fenton, the youtube sensation last seen hurtleing after the deer in Richmond Park, traffic accidents involving deer are not a laughing matter and can cause harm to both the wildlife and motorists.
One of the best things you can do for wild birds is to give them a chance against your moggy! Our cats kill and injure 100 million wild animals every year but owners can do their bit to help. Try putting a bell on your cat’s collar or keep your cat indoors when birds are most vulnerable. This is normally around an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise.
In autumn wild birds will be moulting and getting their bodies ready to survive the cold winter months to come. Not sure what to feed? The RSPCA recommends the following wild bird favourites: Meal worms, fruit (apples, pears etc), fresh peanuts (unsalted), seeds and grains and table scraps such as cooked pasta, boiled potatoes, rice, cheese and unsalted bacon rind.
Water should be refreshed daily and all feeding and water bowls thoroughly cleaned regularly to prevent disease spreading. Keep the feeding areas away from bushes or areas that cats may find easy to access.
If you find an injured wild animal, watch it for a short while to find out how badly hurt it is. Then either contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or find a vet or wildlife rehabilitator near you.
RSPCA Wildlife Centres:
British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council: List of rehabilitators
UK Animal Rescuers: List of rehabilitators