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Helping wildlife survive a heatwave

Rebecca Elliott / 27 July 2018

While humans are enjoying barbecues and basking on beaches, extended heatwaves can prove deadly for wildlife. Find out what you can do to provide food, shelter and water to animals.

With the ground baked solid hedgehogs find it difficult to dig for food

While many of us are enjoying long, hot summer days the heat and drought are causing problems for Britain’s wildlife. Much of the country is suffering from parched soil, with an estimated 5.5 inches of rain needed to restore soil to the moisture levels of spring. Hard, dry ground makes it hard for birds and small mammals to dig for invertebrates, and water is becoming increasingly scarce, meaning it’s more important than ever for gardeners to provide food and water for their garden visitors.

Helen Bostock, Senior Horticultural Advisor at the RHS, says “gardens are a haven for wildlife with many gardeners plumping for plants and features that support their numbers. Instigating some small changes this long, hot summer could bring major benefits for the many insects, amphibians, mammals and birds that call our plots, pots and baskets home.”

Keep blooming

Keep pollinating insects well-fed by deadheading nectar-rich flowers such as single dahlias, single fuchsias and verbenas regularly to promote constant flower and stop plants going to seed. It’s also important they’re kept well-watered as nectar flow slows down when plants become thirsty.

Pay attention to falling pond levels

It’s natural for a pond’s water level to drop a bit in summer, but this can sometimes mean the usual way in and out of the pond is cut off. Make sure ramps and rocks still allow hedgehogs and other mammals a route in and out of the pond to drink.

Find out about summer pond care

Leave out some water

All animals need water, even insects, so keep the bird bath topped up and keep a low, shallow tray on the ground for mammals. Insects will benefit from a bowl of water filled with pebbles or marbles as the stones allow them to crawl right down to the water’s edge and prevent drowning.

Don’t be too tidy

Uncut areas of the garden provide cool, shady spots for wildlife to shelter. Long meadow grasses and wildflowers also provide a valuable food source. A log pile is an ideal place for amphibians to hide in, but if you don’t have a log pile gathering all your potted plants together can also create a safe refuge for them.

Find out how to create a wildlife-friendly garden

Tend to the compost heap

The compost heap provides an important source of food for many animals, as it attracts slugs, worms and beetles – all good food sources for hedgehogs and amphibians. Keep it topped up with rotting vegetation and moisten it a little to stop it drying out.

Take care when tending to your plot

Be careful when digging in the garden as toads can burrow underground to escape the heat.

Feed hedgehogs…

Hedgehogs rely on moist soil to easily dig for worms and other invertebrates so providing a food source for the prickly visitors would be much appreciated by them. It’s important to NEVER leave milk out for hedgehogs. Although this was common in the past it is now known that hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant and will develop stomach problems after consuming milk, so always provide water instead. Hedgehog food such as Spike’s (sold in pet stores and some farm shops) or wet cat food are good food options for them, but if opting for cat food avoid fish flavours as this can cause stomach problems in some hedgehogs.

Find out how to create a hedgehog-friendly garden

…and birds

Many of us feed birds over the winter months but it can also be beneficial to feed them over summer too, particularly when it is hot. Birds will have young to raise and it’s hard work feeding a family in this heat. They won’t eat as much as they do in winter so the RSPB advises topping up your feeder little and often. Don’t feed birds bread or peanuts as these can be harmful for baby birds. If you only have peanuts the RSPB recommends using a mesh feeder with holes too small for an entire peanut to get through to reduce the choking risk. Remove any food that starts to rot immediately.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.