Environment

How you can help birds, bees and hedgehogs as the heatwave brings record temperatures

Wildlife can be threatened by dehydration and starvation in extreme weather. Here's how you can help.

A hedgehog drinking from a shallow bowl.

Shallow dishes of water can help wildlife in high temperatures. (Image: British Hedgehog Preservation Society/Ian Harris)

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UK wildlife is at risk of serious harm as temperatures soar to unprecedented levels during this week’s heatwave, conservation groups and environmentalists have warned. 

Animals and insects including hedgehogs, birds and bumblebees are at risk of dehydration and possible death if they are unable to find refuge during the heatwave, charities have said.

“Heatwaves like this are a stark reminder that climate change is already having an impact, not only on the way we live but on our wildlife too,” Jo Gilbert, the RSPB’s conservation programmes director said. 

Fay Vass, chief executive at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, (BHPS) said the charity was already seeing the effects of hotter weather on hedgehogs, a species classed as “vulnerable” to extinction in the UK.

“Hedgehogs are coming into rescue centres extremely weak and dehydrated – and those are the lucky ones, the ones which have been rescued,” Vass said.

Chris Packham, environmentalist and presenter of BBC’s Springwatch, warned that many creatures will find it hard to adapt to higher temperatures in the coming days.

He told The Big Issue: “You and I can change our habits to cope with heatwaves. But it doesn’t work like that for wildlife. They haven’t got houses to go into, and fans to put on, and air conditioning. The impact will be quite significant.”

He added that invertebrates like butterflies and bees will suffer particularly badly because plants run out of nectar more quickly when it’s hot.

“I was watching butterflies this morning. Usually flowers replenish their nectar overnight and insects spend a long time feeding from them – but this morning the butterflies left quickly, which indicates the plant had already run out of nectar,” he said.

Across the country, staff on nature reserves are being forced to take extra measures in an effort to protect wildlife from extreme temperatures over the coming days.

RSPB staff, for instance, are closely monitoring water levels across wetland habitats to ensure they don’t run too low. Staff are also creating shady spots and water points on reserves to prevent overheating in animals. 

Charities are now calling on members of the public to take action at home to support wildlife through the heatwave. 

Here are four easy actions you can take to help birds, bees and other wildlife survive high temperatures.

Provide fresh water – and food 

Dehydration is a significant risk for wildlife during hotter weather. One way you can help is to put out water in a shallow bowl, with a few pebbles at the bottom if you can manage this. 

The pebbles will allow insects like butterflies to perch while they drink, as well as allowing easy access to the water for animals like frogs and hedgehogs. 

Packham says that makeshift ponds are also a great way to help small mammals and birds access water when it’s hot.

“If you have any amount of space, put a pond in your garden and keep it filled up,” he said. “Even a washing up bowl filled with water can help.”

He adds that you should use recycled water – i.e. rainwater – to fill this wherever possible, instead of treated water from the tap.

Aside from water, putting out food for dogs or cats, either in the form of meat or biscuits, can also help hedgehogs if they’re feeling peckish. 

Create shade 

There are several ways you can create shade in your garden to help creatures struggling in the heat.

This includes growing longer grass or hedges, as well as allowing leaf piles to accumulate in your garden – providing the perfect refuge for small animals.

You could also construct a bug hotel yourself to help insect populations thrive. 

Leaving gaps in your fence can help hedgehogs move around more easily, giving them greater access to shade. 

Keep bird feeders clean

When temperatures rise, birds can find it difficult to penetrate the ground to find insects to eat.

Installing a bird feeder in your garden, yard or outside your home is a good way to help mitigate this problem.

However, it’s important not to put out too much food at once while it’s hot – as this will mean it rots faster, making it inedible to the birds who drop by to eat. 

It’s also important to not let old food or dirty water build up to avoid the spread of diseases through contaminated bird feeders and baths.

As such, you should aim to clean your feeders around once a week. 

Think twice before you BBQ 

A lot of us will want to get outside at some point to enjoy the warmer weather. If you do, make sure you’re careful about potential fire risks. 

This includes avoiding disposable barbecues wherever possible as well as avoiding any other potential fire risks such as leaving cigarette butts on the ground.

In extremely hot weather, such activities can create the spark needed to drive a devastating fire, destroying habitats and wildlife. 

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