We asked mammal verifier, and lead author of the Atlas of the Mammals of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Derek Crawley, for his opinion on the affect of the weather on Britain’s wild animals. Is there anything we could or should be doing to help?
“Every year the weather seems to be a challenge, not just for us enjoying our time outside, if the local weather changes dramatically from the monthly expectations it will have a knock on affect upon the growth season and agricultural production.
This year, unlike last, we’ve had none of the hot sunshine in early spring and, in fact, it was the wettest May for several years. That rain caused some problems for us all, including wildlife. Although, thankfully, we did not have the flooding we have experienced in previous years, the rain we have had keeps animals wet and cold. This means that extra food is needed to keep warm and, in addition, it can become harder to find sources of food.
Water helps flora and fauna to thrive, not only is it used in photosynthesis in plants, which creates growth/food, but water also aids digestion and respiration in animals. It also helps to create habitats which are suitable for the animals and plants that live there. However, as was we have seen, just as too much water can upset that balance, so can too little.
As we enter June the summer heat is welcome, as we laze in our gardens and venture out into the wider countryside. The sunshine we have all craved does however bring about less water in the environment, which can lead to localised droughts. Invertebrates cannot find the moist shelter they need and the dry soil forces many invertebrates to dig deeper into the soil, meaning that they are no longer available as a food supply. If worms become scarce because of this this can effect on badgers and moles, as well as hedgehogs and shrews, who find it harder to find other invertebrates to eat. If the plants aren’t able to grow as well and become stunted or die, this can effect the quality of food that herbivores, such as rabbits, hares and deer consume, and they will need to eat greater quantities to obtain the nutrients they require.
Where we want to see plant growth, whether it be for agricultural purposes or in your own garden, a dry period means that watering becomes the norm. It is these areas that maintain good biodiversity and provide the food resources need to animals to survive ensure a complex food web. Water is not just important for plants but is needed by animals to ensure their body functions well. Just as we tend to drink more liquids in the warmer weather, so do other animals. By putting out water in a dish you can help both day and night time visitors to the garden but you will need to keep it topped up as birds can empty it pretty quickly by bathing in it keeping their feathers in good condition and spreading the water everywhere.
Other tips which can help mammals during long hot spells
- Garden with nature in mind. If you have a garden, try to leave a wild corner with food for wildlife. An open compost heap, if you have space, is helpful to invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals (but don’t add any cooked food!).
- A pond brings so much life to the garden, however, it is important to make sure that if any insects or animals fall in they have a ramp they can use to get out again.
- Plants that give shade also a help to protect animals from the heat and maintain some soil moisture.
- As many of us continue to feed the birds in the summer this can also allow many mammals to cash in on the extra resource which can make the difference when other food sources have dried up.
- If you are not allowed to water your garden due to national drought conditions please keep putting water out for animals to drink it could save your local hedgehog or wood mouse.
- Supplementary feeding helps many small mammals in times for drought. Consider leaving food out for hedgehogs (cat food, never milk) or badgers (they aren’t too fussy!) if you are lucky enough to have them.
- Leave small gaps under fences to make sure hedgehogs and other small mammals can move around.
- If you don’t have a garden, a window-box or a pot of herbs on the doorstep can provide a source of food for pollinators and contribute to biodiversity.”
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