Helping spring wildlife

The freezing winter and cold, wet spring will no doubt have caused problems for many a Briton, and the chilly conditions have taken their toll on our wildlife too.

Help spring wildlife

Pic: Getty

Not only have the nation's wild creatures been struggling to find food throughout the months of cold weather, but an unusually late start to spring is playing havoc with natural breeding patterns.

However, now that the warmer weather has finally arrived, it should kickstart the mating season and successful breeding is key to the survival of our native species. Here's what to keep your eyes peeled for, and how you can help.

It's been a tough winter for Britain's wild birds and many of you may have spotted a few unusual species such as jays and fieldfares in the garden as they were forced to seek alternative sources of food. While leaving out high-fat feed will have helped all the birds through the harsh weather, once the sun begins to shine, it's protein that they need.

The RSPB recommends black sunflower seeds, pinhead oatmeal, soaked sultanas or raisins, or good seed mixtures for the smaller species, while mealworms or waxworms may help insectivorous birds like the blackbird or song thrush, for whom the cold spring may have left their natural diet thin on the ground. Peanuts, fat and bread should be avoided at this time of year, as large pieces can easily choke nestlings being fed by mum and dad. As always, a ready supply of water will ensure you'll see plenty of birds taking advantage.

Putting up nestboxes may encourage birds to breed in your garden, and there is plenty of advice on the RSPB website as to how and where to place them depending on the species. But remember, if you spot a young fledgling that seems to be all alone, the chances are they're not. If the bird is not in any immediate danger, leave well alone, as mum or dad are likely off collecting food. Where there is danger, move the bird gently to a safe area, but leave it as close to where it was found as possible so that the parents will hear its cries.

Reptiles and amphibians
As the warmer weather arrives, Britain's reptiles and amphibians will be waking from their winter sleep, and it won't be long before you spot frog or toadspawn in nearby ponds. If you're very lucky, you might even spot the odd newt. For those of you who have frogs or toadspawn in their garden pond, it's a good idea to keep trees and bushes trimmed back a little to let plenty of sun to warm the water, but do leave longer grass around the edges of the pond to give little ones somewhere to hide once they've grown out of the tadpole stage.

Grass snakes, adders and lizards will also be emerging, and if you are out in the early mornings, or late evenings if there's a prolonged spell of hot weather, you might come across reptiles that are basking to raise their body temperature before heading out to hunt. Though bites are rare, if you happen across a basking snake, stay still and either move away or wait until he does. They are notoriously shy and will avoid you if possible, but they will be grumpy if disturbed.

Spring is also a busy time of year in the mammal world, with hedgehogs coming out of hibernation, and the nation's foxes, badgers, hares beginning to get amorous. Though badgers are difficult to spot due to their nocturnal lifestyles, you will often spot foxes out and about in the early mornings, while hares are also active during the early morning or at dusk.

Hedgehogs emerging from their winter hibernation may need a little help this year, as the extended period of cold weather will have left them weaker than usual. Those that woke up to be greeted by snow or hard frosts will also be in trouble as food will have been scarce.

You can help these prickly creatures by leaving out fresh water, and wet cat or dog food, avoiding the traditional bread and milk option.

Wildlife is, of course, extraordinarily resilient but a little helping hand will ensure our native species continue to breed so that we can enjoy these wonderful creatures in our gardens and countryside for years to come.