Rory Reynolds and Fern Brady: Helping paw for creatures outfoxed by biting winter

In another bitter winter storm, Rory Reynolds and Fern Brady discover we're not the only ones suffering

Scotland's plunging temperatures have thrown day-to-day life into chaos for most of us.

As we struggle to dig out our cars and navigate treacherous pavements in -10C temperatures, however, it's worth remembering we're not the only ones suffering.

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The city's wildlife has been badly affected by the big freeze, and now experts are warning that they need our help to survive more than ever.

With tightly-compacted snow already covering much of the Lothians, and more showers expected, many small birds like tits and goldcrests are unable to get to the worms and insects they live off.

Large birds like barn owls and kestrels cannot reach their usual prey of small mammals, as they bury deep beneath the layers of ice and snow.

It's the same story for foxes, which depend on voles and rodents to survive the winter.

So what can we do to help? Over the past fortnight, wildlife groups have urged local residents to help keep many creatures fed by leaving leftovers, nuts and high-fat foods outside.

For birds, RSPB Scotland recommends Christmas scraps like cake crumbs, mince pie pastry crumbs and biscuit crumbs. Other suitable leftovers include mild, non-salty grated cheese, rice or other grains, dry porridge oats, cooked potatoes and fruit.

James Reynolds of RSPB Scotland says: "These birds don't have the access they normally would to the food that sustains them through the winter period, especially now we have another covering of snow and it's again very cold temperatures.

"Particularly with our smaller birds - wrens, long-tail tits, goldcrests, the smaller finch species and thrushes - a lot of food they would normally have access to is now not available.

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"It's very, very important that people do try and feed birds in their garden. Some very high calorific and high fat content foods help sustain them through this very cold period."

Mr Reynolds adds that it is not just smaller creatures with far lesser reserves that have been affected.

Last week, the charity launched an appeal alerting residents to the plight of barn owls, many of whom have been found starved to death, while Mr Reynolds says many have been forced to stay awake during the day to have a chance of catching prey.

He says: "The weather has also affected some of the larger birds, particularly species that rely on small moles and mammals like kestrels and barn owls.

"When there's a snow covering on the ground, they will be finding it very difficult to find food because all of those little vole species may very well be scurrying underneath that snow covering, and these birds find it much more difficult to hunt them.

"However, that means they're using more energy reserves and are therefore more imperilled as a result."

To add to the struggle wildlife is facing, experts say salt and chemicals poured on to the roads to prevent icing has been working its way into watercourses.

RSPB Scotland has urged homeowners to leave out water for birds so that they have a clean source available.

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Mr Reynolds adds: "The salt does enter some of our watercourses and some of our bird species who choose to feed there can be affected.

"It's certainly not healthy for extremely high levels of salt and other de-icing pollutants to be washed into our freshwater courses."

Meanwhile, Scottish Natural Heritage has asked dog walkers and families not to disturb or let their dogs chase animals, including foxes and squirrels, who may be lying still to conserve energy.

Spokesman Calum Macfarlane says: "We're saying to people if they're out and about it's very easy to come across wild animals sitting motionless. You've got to be careful, because they're being very still to conserve their energy and living off their own body weight.

"So if they have to start moving around to stay away from you then they're losing energy that they wouldn't otherwise have to use, so our advice is to keep clear, give them space, and let them conserve their energy and let them look for food.

"If they get disturbed too much, it could be the difference between life and death for some of them."

Not everyone is finding it so tough - city-dwelling natives such as pigeons, crows and urban foxes fare best.

Julian Warman, Scottish Wildlife Trust's central Scotland reserve manager, says: "In severe winter conditions, animals known as 'generalists' tend to be the ones that can cope better. Generalists have a broad diet and can draw on a variety of food sources, which makes them more likely to find food even when it is in short supply."

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With few escaping the severe winter that has unexpectedly returned for a second year, it seems the least man and beast can do is pull together.

That way perhaps we'll both make it through the storm.



• Put out feed regularly. Set up a bird table and use high calorie seed mixes and also kitchen scraps such as cheese, pastry and porridge oats.

• Put out hanging feeders for black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, sunflower-rich mixes or unsalted peanuts.

• Ensure a supply of fresh water every day.

• Put out hazelnuts or peanuts for squirrels.

• Put out fruit, such as apples and pears, for blackbirds and thrushes.

• Food bars or fat hung up or rubbed into the bark of trees is a great help for treecreepers, goldcrests and other species.

• Put up nest boxes to provide roost sites for the smaller birds. They will then be used for breeding later in the year.

Do not

• Put out salted or dry-roasted nuts as they make squirrels ill.

• Put out mouldy food, cooked porridge, milk or cooking fat as these can be harmful to birds.

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• Put your feeder on the ground - it will be vulnerable to attacks from domestic pets.

• Put out turkey fat as it can damage birds' feathers and many people rub turkey joints with salt which is toxic to birds.