The extreme heat is increasing. All ten of the warmest years in history since 1884 occurred within the last 20 years. Experts can guide people to take the necessary precautions in order to avoid the heat. But who is looking out for animals?
Heat can be uncomfortable for humans and wildlife. You can help by taking a few simple steps.
Water is available for free.
Some wildlife can benefit from hot weather. The UK butterfly population tends to rebound from dry and hot summers. This could be because the larvae survive better.
Even species that thrive in heat can only survive if they have to drink. You can still benefit wildlife even if you do not have a garden. A shallow dish with water is a great way to attract a variety of animals. If you want to help butterflies and bees climb out of the water, add marbles or small stones.
Parched: insects also need to stay hydrated. BernadetteB/Shutterstock
If you want to attract hedgehogs and foxes, then a shallow dish placed on the ground will do. A higher-up dish can be used as a birdbath. You could also create a mini-pond if you are feeling ambitious. You can make one simple from a used washing-up basin.
Add gravel and rocks, plus logs or larger stones. Fill with rainwater. Fill the pond with gravel, rocks, logs, or large stones. A water butt can be used to collect and store rainwater. Add a few water plants, such as spiked milfoil, to oxygenate the pond water. These can be found at your local garden center.
Rare toads can’t detect water sources from afar and so can only locate ponds that they have previously visited. Many other animals can see references of water even from a distance. It’s, therefore, important to cover or drain paddling pools at night to avoid animals from climbing in.
You’ll find it much cooler if you get out of the sunlight. By providing a cool place for animals to rest, you can help them. Insects can hide in a pile of logs placed in a shady area. They also make a great snack for larger animals. Leave any plants uncut during heatwaves. If they have gone to seed, they will provide shelter and food.
A cool retreat. Allik/Shutterstock
Animals eat leaves, fruits, roots, and seeds. The hot weather can cause plants to wilt. Water your plants and flowers to ensure they survive the heatwave. Make sure you have enough food in your bird feeders if you usually feed birds.
You can help animals long-term as well as in the immediate heatwaves. As the climate changes, many UK species are moving to new areas. Between 1981 and 2000 European curlews, Europe’s largest wading birds with their curved, thin beak, moved by 119 km to the north-east.
Scientists studied the movement of UK invertebrates for 40 years and found that species who eventually found new habitats travelled further than those whose movements were limited by the habitats on which they relied. Make your local area more welcoming to a variety of species. This will help you make more migrations successful.
Plant bee-friendly plants such as lavender or sage on windowsills and balconies. Why not transform your lawn into a wildflower garden? The more species that are present in these habitats, the more resistant they are to drought. This means less mowing and better habitat for wildlife.
Add a pond if you have space. Amphibians, like frogs and newts, will find refuge in a pond. Make sure at least one side of the pond is deeper so that larger animals, such as squirrels and hedgehogs, can climb out in case they fall.
Read more: How to make your lawn wildlife friendly all year round – tips from an ecologist
Reduce the heat
Concrete slabs and artificial lawns can be 20 degrees Celsius hotter than grass in the sun. Concrete paving in the sun can be 20 degrees C or hotter than grass. This is too hot to stand on for humans and wildlife. Why not use plants to replace artificial and hard surfaces?
The shade from native trees will cool you down and the wildlife in your garden. My elder tree (Sambucus black) provides flowers and berries that are good for wildlife. It grows about two meters per year.
You can prune elders to fit your garden size, either as a bush or a tree. Planting one now could provide shade for your garden as well as shelter for nesting birds by the summer.