12 01/12/2010

Winter warning for wildlife

Native species 'at risk' as weather worsens

NATIVE species such as tiny Harvest Mice could be plunged into crisis if the early cold snap sweeping the country continues for much longer.

That is the warning shot from Chester Zoo specialists who say Harvest Mice could see their numbers drop by 95 per cent in harsh weather over the winter.

Other smaller, fragile species such as wrens and goldcrests could also face hardship if the current cold weather continues.

Sarah Bird, the zoo’s Biodiversity Officer, said “Harvest Mice in particular will struggle if this goes on for very much longer.

“Frozen ground can also make it difficult for species that have to dig for food, such as moles. This weather will particularly affect small or weak individuals of any species as they will find it more difficult to find food and keep warm.”

However, Sarah said blankets of snow could make it easier for people to spot wildlife and in turn do their bit to help them. She said it was well worth watching out for unusual birds feeding in trees with berries or at bird feeders. This year there have already been a lot of waxwings seen across the UK, which have come here from Eastern Europe and Siberia.

Footprints from foxes, squirrels, rabbits or hares can spotted on the ground in gardens, and some birds leave distinctive trails too like the marks left by pheasants’ tails along side their foot marks.

The zoo has given its top tips for caring for native species over the winter months including:

- feeding birds with seeds, fat balls and fruit can also help other wildlife including mammals. Food should be provided in feeders, on bird tables and on the ground too. 

- providing water is extremely important when the temperature is below zero. Make sure a shallow water container is ice free for at least part of the day.

- trees and shrubs with berries on are a very festive sight in the frost and snow, but it is worth remembering that they are very important food for wildlife, so always leave plenty if you collect any from your garden.

- submit your records to RECORD the local wildlife recording centre based at the zoo. http://www.record-lrc.co.uk and help us build up knowledge of local wildlife.