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British Wildlife In The Winter

British Wildlife In The Winter

22nd November 2010
A Freshwater Otter

A Freshwater

Technically speaking, the British winter usually includes the months of December, January and February but for animals coping with the extreme changes in conditions, winter can last for much longer. Animals have had to not only adapt to be able to survive (including the freshwater otter that has to change it's diet when the water freezes), but also must prepare themselves for the hardships ahead ensuring that they are in the best possible condition when the first frost appears.

Some animals even try to avoid the winter completely such as birds that migrate to warmer climates further south and other animals that hibernate. Despite the fact that a number of British species seem to sleep through the cold, only three of our native animals actually hibernate which are frogs, dormice and hedgehogs. Animals such as insects and reptiles do not really hibernate but instead enter a state of torpor, where their bodies slow down dramatically but they don't experience the sheer drop in body temperature and heart rate that is associated with true hibernation.

The European Hedgehog

The European

One of the most common ways for our native species to prepare themselves for the months ahead is to stock up on food. Warm-blooded animals like birds and mammals, need to eat more when it's colder to maintain their body temperatures but food at this time is scarce and can often be very hard to find. Animals fatten up to ensure that they are warm and generally weigh significantly more at the beginning of winter than they do at the beginning of the summer.

All animals adapt to the climatic changes in slightly different ways whether it's stashing food, padding out dens and nests, or in the case of furred animals, replacing their thin summer coats with thick warm fur to keep them cosy throughout the harsh months ahead. Even animals such as hares and deer are known to make small migrations from the exposed hilltops down into the more sheltered valleys when the weather begins to turn.

A Rare Red Squirrel

A Rare Red

However, it isn't all doom and gloom as a number of our native species including red squirrels and even foxes, actually seem to thrive when the colder months set in. Some animals are able to prepare themselves so effectively before the snow begins to fall that they actually begin to breed during a period of time when so many of the other species surrounding them are struggling to endure the most difficult time of the year.