Winter can be a very difficult time for wildlife, with plummeting temperatures and scarce food. Find out how you can help your local wildlife survive through this tough period.


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.

Slow worm (Anguis fragilis)
A harmless slow worm on a compost heap. © Robin Bush/Getty

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 is very 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.

Young Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) walking over ice of frozen pond in garden, Bristol, UK
This fox might be happy with a frozen pond, but it's bad news for the little creatures below the ice. © Bertie Gregory/Nature Picture Library/Getty

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.

As the cold season approaches and natural food supplies begin to dwindle, resident British birds and winter visitors start to rely even more on the food you put out in your garden.

Check out our guide to feeding your garden birds, including which types of feed are best for different species.


Provide fresh water

When the temperatures drop below zero, finding clean fresh water to drink can be difficult for wildlife. You can help by leaving some out for them. It is best to provide fresh water each night in a shallow bowl. Don't add anything to stop the water freezing, and change the water every day to ensure it's fresh.

Blackbird (Turdus merula) having a bath
Blackbird having a bath. © scooperdigital/Getty

Attract garden visitors with good food

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.

For hedgehogs: 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.

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.