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News article created on 21 December 2015

Mild winter putting wildlife at risk

We're asking our visitors to do everything they can to avoid disturbing hibernating wildlife this winter as the mild weather already poses the risk of disrupting the animals’ usual winter schedules.

Hedgehog sat in fallen leaves Hedgehog

We're making this appeal to highlight the slim margins of fat reserves mammals rely on compared to people’s average Christmas intake. It’s estimated the average person’s calorie consumption on Christmas Day alone is enough to sustain 166 bats, 39 dormice or six hedgehogs through hibernation.

It takes wildlife all summer to fatten up for winter – gaining just 4g in some species of bat – on their usual diet of insects. Lowering their body temperature and heartbeat during hibernation, mammals use very little energy throughout the winter months, with 80-90% of their fat reserves used to wake up when the temperature is warm enough. If disturbed, most won’t have enough energy stored to re-enter hibernation and make it through to spring.

Leaving any messy areas be will protect any wildlife hunkered down there Laura Mullholland

Laura Mullholland, ecologist at the Canal & River Trust, said: “Given the amount we all eat over Christmas, it’s amazing to think that the calories in just four mince pies is enough to get a hedgehog through hibernation. Although it seems like nothing to us, it really is life or death for them, as without access to their usual food sources to build up reserves again, hedgehogs, bats and dormice are all in trouble if they’re woken too early. Unfortunately it’s not just a case of chucking them some roast potatoes. 

“We can really help them out by protecting their likely hibernation spots over the winter. On the waterways this means leaving piles of leaves or logs where they are, staying out of the hedgerows and being wary of any cracks and crevices in structures that might be home to a bat or two. The same goes for gardens – leaving any messy areas be will protect any wildlife hunkered down there. That way we’re giving them the best possible chance to get through to the spring.”

  • On Christmas Day the average person consumes enough calories to get 166 bats through winter
  • A dormouse needs to eat the calories equivalent to one medium sized roast potato to put on enough weight for hibernation
  • The calories in four mince pies would give a hedgehog the extra 100g of weight it needs to survive
  • Unlike us, it takes wildlife all summer to gain weight for winter, and they’re unlikely to survive if woken early