British wildlife can be overlooked at this time of year. Along with the shortening of the days and bleaker weather, we are outside less, not hearing abundant bird song and frantic parents rushing back to nests. The hedgehogs are hibernating and the badgers are in their sets. The deer who we used to see in the fields in the evening now spend their time roaming in the dark with the shorter days. Caring for wildlife in the winter can be challenging. 

A harsh time of year 

The winter months are the toughest time of year for wildlife. With the temperatures dropping and the leaves falling off the trees it becomes more difficult to find shelter from the elements. Survival of the fittest often comes into play, with reduced food resources and competition for the shelter that is available. 

What can we do to help? 

It may be our initial reaction to try and modify the environments these animals live in, provide additional food sources and shelter and try and make their environments less hostile. However, there is a fine line between making our environments complementary to wildlife, so they don’t encounter additional struggles to what mother nature is already throwing at them, versus interfering too much and preventing nature from being natural. 

That said, preventing wildlife from suffering from the effects of humans at all times of year is paramount; but in the winter is especially important with all the different challenges they face. 

Caring for wildlife – fixing the human issue 

Some simple things you can do to give wildlife a helping hand all year and especially in the winter months include: 

Not disturbing piles of leaves 

It may be tempting to rake them up and make the garden look ‘tidy’; but lots of wildlife including hedgehogs use these fallen leaves as a place to take shelter underneath and hibernate. If you disturb them they will be forced to wake up, and use energy resources to try and find a new habitat, which can be scarce. 

Ensuring there are small holes in the bottom of your fence 

These don’t need to be big holes, roughly 2 fists size should be enough. This is to ensure hedgehogs can move between gardens and have the best chance of finding habitats to hibernate in.

Don’t put food out all the time 

Putting food out for wildlife can be tempting, and many people do this daily as a routine. Sadly doing this means the wildlife in the area become reliant on this food source. And in the cases of foxes often reduce their territory as they have a consistent food source. If at any point this food isn’t available, you are unwell/ on holiday, another animal eats it first, they then have increased competition and reduced roaming areas to find additional food sources. Putting a small amount of food out at irregular intervals throughout the winter, such as when the ground is frozen/ there is heavy snow, can help smaller species that are not hibernating. But it is important this food source is not regular enough to be relied upon. 

Break ice on any frozen water sources in your garden 

During the winter months water sources can freeze over and wildlife can quickly become dehydrated if there is no access to water. A simple breaking of the ice ensures these animals can still access water even on the coldest days 

Keep the garden wild 

Similar to not disturbing leaves, allowing the garden to be wild and natural is a massive help to wildlife. Whilst cutting back hedges can make the garden more aesthetically pleasing, birds are still using these areas to take shelter. And any additional foliage they can rest under or within is always helpful. If you have a pond, place some bricks or similar at the edge so any wildlife accidentally falling in can find a route out. Unlike natural water sources that are shallower at the banks, our man made ponds are often deep all round; this can make it very challenging for wildlife to escape unscathed. 

Injured wildlife 

If you find injured wildlife it is important to take it to your local veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitation centre as soon as possible so it can receive the care it needs. 


– The winter is the harshest time of year for wildlife with reduced food and resources 

– It is important to prevent human actions from affecting wildlife as much as possible 

– Simple steps such as not disturbing piles of leaves, allowing small holes in our fences and adding bricks to the edge of a pond are all ways we can help wildlife survive by reversing the challenge presented by human habitats and behaviours 

– If you find an injured wild animal it is important to take it to your local vet or wildlife rehabilitator ASAP.

Further reading:

You can find a list of wildlife rehabilitation centres here.