Questions about wildlife

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Questions about wildlife

Urban fox. Image by: Terry Whittaker/2020VISION.

Questions about wildlife

On this page you'll find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about wildlife. If they don't answer your query please feel free to contact us by email mail@northwt.org.uk or call us on 0191 284 6884.

I’ve found something I can’t identify in my house/garden. Can you help me?

The best way to identify photographs is to visit the iSpot website, part of the OPAL project (Open Air Laboratories network, an extension of the Natural History Museum) which encourages individuals and communities to upload and identify species photos. Once the species has been identified, you can then feed back your sighting to the Environmental Records Information Centre (ERIC) North East.

Alternatively, you can email a photograph and description or visit our Wildlife A-Z page.

I’ve got an injured animal, what can I do with it?

Unfortunately the Trust is not able to take injured animals or offer anything other than very generic advice about animal care and welfare. The following local organisations should be able to help: Blyth Wildlife Rescue, The Wildlife Retreat on 07532 167717 or Northumbrian Hedgehog Rescue. Alternatively, the RSPCA can be contacted on 0870 5555 999.

If you find a live seal, live whale, dolphin or porpoise, which looks sick or injured, report it to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) who are trained marine mammal medics. For your own saftey and the safety of the animal, do not attempt to attend to the animal. If you want to help, arrange safe cordon around the animal and keep people and dogs away until the medics arrive. BDMLR 01825 765546 (office hours, 07787 433412 (out of hours). Alternatively contact the coastal warden on 07932 440838. Please take a photo if you are able to for records.

If you find a dead seal whale, dolphin or porpoise, report to Northumberland County Council on 0345 6006400. Information requested will be: name of beach or shore, location on the shore, any signs of injury or cause of death, state of decomposition, photographs if you have them. The council will report the incident to the relevant bodies and will liaise with them to agree the removal of the carcass wherever practicable.

If you see a seal with a tag/find a tag on the beach, it is likely to be part of a survey run by the Sea Mammals Research Unit, into life expectancy of seal pups and to track their movements. These tags are for identification and the numbers or letter codes on them should be recorded if possible and passed on. Contact Dr Ailsa Hall at SMRU (flipper tags) on 01334 462634, or Dr Bernie McConnell (telemetry tags) on 01334 463280.

What do I do with the baby bird in my garden?

Baby birds should always be left alone if at all possible. The parents are almost certainly still nearby and will come back to their young so long as they are not disturbed. Where young birds are under immediate threat from cats or other domestic pets, it would be sensible to lift them up onto a nearby branch or fence out of harm’s way. If the bird’s condition obviously deteriorates please contact Blyth Wildlife Rescue on 07910 643 122.

What can I do about my neighbour shooting birds in their garden?

Some birds are classed as pest species and can be legally killed, though a license is required; contact DEFRA Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301 or RSPB Newcastle on 0191 256 8200 for more advice.

How do I build a bird box?

Visit our Wildlife Gardening page for information about bird and bat boxes, including a downloadable 'Guide to Wildlife Gardening'.

Hedges are being cut and trees are being felled, and I’m concerned about nests - what can I do?

All wild birds, their nests (during use and under construction) and eggs are protected from damage and disturbance, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Contact the police on 101 and find out more about wild birds and the law. Activity including cutting down hedges and felling trees should be delayed until September-March, or until all of the chicks have fledged and the nest is no longer in use.

Is it ok to feed birds in the summer?

As long as the food is fresh and would not be a choking risk to chicks (such as large chunks of dry bread or whole peanuts), then feeding birds in the summer is fine. There are many specialist suppliers of bird food for summer feeding.

I’ve seen a ringed bird - what should I do?

Visit the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) website or call them on 01842 750 050 - for wildfowl reports/sightings contact the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust or call them on 01453 891900.

What should I do about bats living in my roof?

Bats and their roosts are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981; contact Natural England on 0845 600 3078 who will be able to advise you. Many timber treatment products are toxic to all mammals, not just bats, and any timber treatment in the roof should be done using safe products. Any reputable roofing contractor should be aware of the law on this matter.

It is against the law to handle bats without a license, unless the animal is clearly injured. If the bat is injured, it should be left where it is and Natural England should be contacted. It is also against the law to disturb, destroy or block access to a bat roost, even when not currently in use, no matter where it is located.

They are developing/building on a site with a badger sett/area regularly used by badgers - what can I do?

Badger setts are protected by law but their foraging areas are not. The developers may have applied for a license to disturb the sett and the necessary precautions have most likely been made. If you are still concerned, contact your local planning authority, your Police Wildlife Crime Officer and Northumberland Badger Group.

I’ve seen/found a dead badger - who do I inform?

Please note details of the location of the animal and contact Northumberland Wildlife Trust on 0191 284 6884 and Northumberland Badger Group. If the animal is injured but not dead, contact the RSPCA on 0300 123 4999, as Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Northumberland Badger Group cannot collect/handle any injured animals. Do not attempt to handle the badger.

What can I feed badgers in my garden?

Feeding any wild animals, including badgers, can lead to more serious problems further down the line. Feeding should always be done in moderation and it is far better to create a habitat with natural food (berry and fruiting plants). Access to drinking water for the badgers is also recommended and chemicals on the garden should not be used. For further information contact Northumberland Badger Group.

I’ve seen some people interfering with a badger sett - what can I do?

Do not interfere in the activity or approach any suspected individual, but immediately contact the police on 999 as this is suspected criminal activity. Please obtain an incident number from the police and contact the Northumberland Badger Group as soon as possible to record details.

How do I keep badgers out of my garden/from destroying my lawn?

Badgers are extremely powerful, determined animals and can be very hard to deter once they are used to visiting a site - we would recommend that you seek specialist advice from Natural England. They are often attracted to gardens because of the high value food available. This can be especially noticeable in dry conditions, when invertebrates are hard to find in the wider countryside but can still be available in watered gardens. Remember that badgers are fully protected by law and some forms of exclusion can require licensing. It’s also unlawful to stop-up badger holes without an appropriate licence.

When’s the best time to cut our hedges?

Hedges can be extremely valuable for wildlife and in particular for nesting birds and for the berry crop they provide. It is therefore best to cut them in sections (perhaps only half the length or just one side at a time) where they are big or berry-laden. Cutting in late autumn/winter is ideal but earlier in the year can be acceptable depending on circumstance. As a general rule it’s best not to cut them between the end of February and the end of August to avoid nesting birds, which are fully protected by law.

I’d like to donate trees to Northumberland Wildlife Trust - how do I do this?

We often get offers of tree saplings from people who’d like us to plant them on our reserves. Whilst this is a very generous offer, we cannot usually accept tree donations, as they may be non-native and may not fit into our management plans for the sites. We need to be very certain about species and very selective when we choose trees to plant, to ensure we maintain native woodland and tree planting. However, if you have native trees to donate and you wish to discuss this further, please contact us on 0191 284 6884.

Trees are being chopped down in the area - what can I do?

Contact the Planning Department of your local authority to see whether the area is protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) - if so they will deal with it. If not, NWT has no power to prevent anyone felling trees if it is on their land. If they are felling a number of trees, they may require a felling licence from the Forestry Commission. If you can prove that there is a nesting bird in the tree, RSPB or the Police may be able to help. If a bat roost or a squirrel drey is likely to be disturbed, Natural England should be informed.

Hedges are being removed - what can I do?

NWT has no powers to prevent hedgerow removal, but planning permission is required for all hedgerow removals. Contact your local authority to see whether a hedgerow removal notice has been applied for. If you are certain that there are nesting birds using the hedge and that their occupied nests are (or have been) damaged then you should contact the police, on the non-emergency number 0300 333 3000 if the work has been completed, or 999 if it’s ongoing and you consider there to be an immediate risk to an occupied nest.

I have too much frogspawn. Where can I take it?

Frogs produce a lot of eggs to help ensure as many as possible survive the effects of bad weather and predation. So while you may have a lot of frogspawn now it will reduce very quickly, a process which will continue for the tadpoles as they develop into froglets, and only a handful will probably survive to adulthood from the initial thousands of eggs. In urban areas garden ponds are now key habitats for our native amphibians such as frogs and newts. We would therefore advise that unless you really need to remove it, you leave it to develop and take pride that your garden is of good enough quality to be an urban nature reserve. It’s also worth remembering that removing spawn to other ponds can upset their existing ecosystem and has the potential to spread disease around.

I would like to get some frog/toad/newt spawn for my pond. Where can I get it from?

We do not recommend the transferring of these materials of any sort. This is due to disease and infection that can be transferred between ponds. It also should limit the spread of non-native plant species. If a pond and surrounding area is suitable to support frogs/toads/newts, they will find their own way there!

Additionally, for great-crested newts, moving spawn is likely to constitute an offence against wildlife legislation, as they are a protected species. If there are existing populations of newts in your area it is likely, over time, that they will colonise naturally (great-crested newts are generally thought on average to travel around 500m from their breeding ponds). Their presence may not be so easily recognised as common frog and toad, as newts do not lay their eggs in clumps. They normally lay individual eggs on the underside of aquatic plants which they then fold over to protect them.

The frogs in my pond are dying and look diseased - what can I do?

This may be a case of red leg disease. Visit the Froglife website or email them info@froglife.org for more information. Dying frogs should be left alone, though dead ones can be disposed of or buried if the individual wishes to do so. If a number of dead frogs appear floating on the water surface in the spring, they may be males that have over-wintered in the pond instead of hibernating somewhere, and may have died due to extreme temperatures.

Where do frogs and toads go in winter?

Frogs and toads hibernate in dark, damp places in winter such as under stones, in long vegetation, in the soil etc. They find a stable temperature in this type of place. Occasionally, some frogs and other, particularly young, amphibians will over-winter in the bottom of the pond.

I’ve seen a newt in my garden – what type is it?

If it is six inches or larger, black in colour with a dry, warty skin and possibly with a large crest, it may be a Great Crested Newt - a species protected by law. If it is smaller than this, even with a crest, with smooth skin, it is likely to be a smooth or palmate newt. The best way to identify it is to visit the iSpot website, part of the OPAL project (Open Air Laboratories network, an extension of the Natural History Museum) which encourages individuals and communities to upload and identify species photos. Once the species has been identified, you can then feed back your sighting to the Environmental Records Information Centre (ERIC) North East.

Alternatively, you can email a photograph and description or visit our wildlife A-Z page.

Can I get rid of snakes in my garden?

All snakes are protected from killing and injuring by law - contact Froglife for further information.

I have a hedgehog in my garden – what should I feed it?

Feeding should always be done in moderation and it is far better to create a habitat with natural food (berry and fruiting plants). Access to drinking water for the hedgehogs is also recommended and chemicals on the garden should not be used.

However, many people love to help hedgehogs by feeding them so if you still wish to do so, specialist food can be bought. Alternatively, tinned dog/cat food (not pork or fish) or meat scraps will do. Do not feed bread and/or milk! If you are worried about cats taking the food, cover it up with a saucer of a similar size – this will often deter the cat but not a hungry hedgehog!

There is a hedgehog outside during the day/in the cold weather/winter - what should I do?

It is very rare for a hedgehog to be out in the daylight, so more than likely there is something wrong. Concerned individuals can contact Hedgehog Rescue (Newcastle) on 0191 266 3553, or Northumbrian Hedgehog Rescue on 01665 570911.

In a dry summer a hedgehog may occasionally be out in the day if it has not been able to obtain enough food at night. In winter they should not be out at all but may occasionally wake from hibernation if there’s a warm spell. In either case it should not be out on a regular basis. If you are worried, weigh the hedgehog. If it weighs over 450g it is probably OK and can be fed (see above) and left alone. If it is under 450g or showing signs of distress, it is probably suffering from a serious fluid deficiency and needs help. Place in a cardboard box on torn (not shredded) newspaper and bring into the warm. Try to feed (see above). If you can get hold of some goats’ milk (available in frozen form from health food shops), this is excellent for hedgehogs and should be warmed and given to the hedgehog in a saucer.

How can I attract hedgehogs into my garden?

Visit the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website or call them on 01584 890801. The best way to attract hedgehogs to your garden is by providing areas for them to shelter and forage in such as log and leaf piles, areas of long grass and an accessible water supply. Hedgehogs mainly eat slugs, snails and worms so do not use slug pellets, as this will most likely poison the hedgehog. 

Where can we go to see otters?

Otters are present on every river catchment in Northumberland, but the chances of seeing them are small. Otters are mainly active around dawn and dusk. It can sometimes require long hours of waiting to catch a fleeting glimpse – it is often down to patience and good luck! NWT’s Big Waters and Druridge Bay reserves are good places to start!

Who do I tell if I see an otter?

Otters are eating my fish - what can I do?

Otters are predators with a preference for fish. In natural circumstances otters eat fish of up to 14cm long of whichever is the most abundant species. In most cases, otters live in harmony with their prey, not taking too many or too few for its needs.

Artificially-stocked fisheries, fish farms or ornamental ponds are slightly different as otters find the constricted size, easy access and abundant stock difficult to resist! In some cases they will also teach their young to fish there too. This can, of course, have detrimental effects on the artificial stock – the only reliable way to stop this is to fence the area off.

I’ve found orphaned/abandoned otter cubs - what should I do?

As with all wild creatures, the best thing is to leave them alone. This can sometimes be difficult especially if the cubs seem to be crying out. Female otters are good mothers and will rarely be far away, although they will leave their cubs for up to 24 hours unless they are very young. If there is still concern for the welfare of the cubs, return to the location in 24 hours (but do not feed or attempt to touch the cubs). If you are absolutely certain the cubs have been abandoned, contact us on 0191 284 6884. If you are happy to provide help (once it has been established that the cubs have definitely been abandoned) warmth and fluid are essential to the otter’s survival. The otter should be wrapped in a blanket for warmth and given water if possible, but no food.

I’ve found a dead otter - who should I inform?

Contact us on 0191 284 6884 with information about the location (with grid ref. if possible), road details if relevant and your contact details. The Environment Agency should be also contacted on 08708 506506 who may offer to collect it.

There’s a wasps’ nest/rats/mice in my house/garden - what can I do?

If they are causing a problem, call the Environmental Health Department of your local authority/council. There may be a charge for the service and assistance is not guaranteed. Northumberland Wildlife Trust is not able to assist or make visits for this type of enquiry.

I have moles digging up my garden - what can I do?

There isn’t much of a solution here as moles’ natural behaviour is to dig and tunnel. The best and most humane advice is to plant a few ‘Caper Spurge’ plants which are supposed to deter moles, or try sonic mole chasers. Small plastic windmills placed in runs can also deter them.

Where can I get a humane mouse trap?

Most hardware shops supply these, including Thorpe’s in Gosforth and B&Q.

Who do I report a red/grey squirrel sighting to?

Visit the Red Squirrel Northern England website to report your sighting.

I’ve seen/found a dead red squirrel - what do I do?

If the squirrel is not showing any signs of having died from squirrel pox, then you should either leave it or bury it where it was found, if you wish. If the squirrel does show signs of pox, contact Red Squirrels Northern England.

Where can I see red squirrels?

Red squirrels are present throughout Northumberland with the biggest population right here in the North East! A sighting of a red squirrel is never guaranteed but your chances are increased early in the morning, as they are most active within the first few hours after dawn. Kielder Forest has the biggest population of red squirrels in England so there is a good chance you will see one there - try Leaplish or Bakething wildlife hides or Kielder Castle. Also try areas surrounding Kielder, such as Bellingham and Hareshaw Linn. Other suggested locations include:

Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre
Plessey Woods
Gosforth Park
Bolam Lake
Ford & Etal www.ford-and-etal.co.uk
Thrunton Woods
Hulne Park, Alnwick *
National Trust properties such as Cragside & Wallington Hall *
*It is recommended that visitors contact these places prior to visiting to check opening times and admission fees.

What can I do about water pollution/flooding in my area?

This should be reported to the Environment Agency on 08708 506 506, but if the flooding is from a street drain, this is Northumbrian Water’s responsibility, and they can be contacted on 0845 717 1100.

My pond has frozen over – what can I do to prevent this?

Floating a ball or plastic bottle half-filled with salty water should prevent the entire surface from freezing. In the short term, wildlife will not come to any harm provided the pond is deep enough and there is still water underneath the ice. If you are still concerned, a small area on the surface can be carefully melted with hot water to provide oxygen. The ball or bottle trick can then be applied! Do not break the ice – the water can often be a higher temperature than the air and rapid changes in temperature can be particularly harmful to fish and amphibians.

I want to report sewage issues/illegal discharges/storm drain overflows - who do I contact?

Report these to the Environment Agency if the sewage is flowing into a river/stream constantly. If it is not constant, storm outflows are designed to flow at times of high rainfall so this may not be an issue. However, contact Northumbrian Water if the sewage is flowing from a pipe in the street.

What can I do about blanket weed (invasive pond plant species)?

We can no longer recommend barley straw bales for use in ponds, due to changes in legislation. If this occurs on a garden pond, it is often down to excessive shade or, more commonly, run-off from garden fertilisers used on the lawn and the use of tap water, which contains a lot of chemicals used to purify it. Elbow grease and a garden cane are best to remove it! However, the weed should be left nearby to allow pond life to escape before putting it on the compost heap.

How do I create a pond in my garden?

Visit our Wildlife Gardening page to download a free 'Pond Pack' which will give you all the guidance you need.

What is the Trust’s stance on species reintroduction?

Northumberland Wildlife Trust believes there are both moral and ecological reasons to consider the reintroduction of species that have been driven to extinction in the UK by human-induced habitat loss or persecution. Reintroductions should only be attempted for species for which there is good evidence of previous presence within historical times at, or nearby, the target site and within similar habitats. 

What is the Trust’s current position on protection of hen harriers?

The hen harrier is a rare upland bird of prey - only a handful of hen harrier nests were successful in England during 2017. There is widespread acknowledgement that the bird’s decline and failure to recover is linked not just to the loss of habitat but to illegal persecution usually related to their being unpopular with grouse shooting estates as they can prey on grouse chicks – see herehere and here

Rather than address the problem directly, the statutory agency Natural England has started issuing licences to allow the removal of hen harrier chicks and eggs from nests in northern England. The chicks will be taken to a facility where Natural England say they will be hand-reared and then released in an area where they are less likely to be killed illegally. The Wildlife Trusts do not believe this is the right way to address hen harrier persecution which is occurring against a bleak backdrop of habitat damage and loss in the uplands. Our hills and mountains should be much richer in wildlife than they currently are. The uplands face multiple challenges. The UK’s peatlands, which can be fantastic habitats for wildlife, are currently eroded, and because they are drying out they are releasing carbon at a rate equivalent to three major cities. Eroded or compacted upland soils are making flooding worse downstream and discolouring our drinking water, increasing water treatment costs and water bills. YET these uplands can be restored relatively cheaply.

The Wildlife Trusts work with everyone we can, whether water companies, other landowners or farmers, to seek to restore habitats so that wildlife can thrive again, and carbon and water can be stored in upland soils as it should. The moorland managers we work with are restoring upland habitats like peatlands and heathlands and are great supporters of nature and wildlife. As we work so hard to restore upland habitats we need to restore the populations of wildlife that should be thriving there, not least the hen harriers that are an emblem of healthy thriving uplands.

Natural England is a statutory body set up ‘to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby contributing to sustainable development’. Natural England manages some of the finest wildlife sites in England – our national nature reserves, but it is also a regulator. It is responsible for ensuring the protection of those wildlife sites and species identified under domestic or EU law. It therefore has oversight of the vast tracts of our uplands designated for their wonderful wildlife: blanket bogs, upland heaths and meadows. Natural England is expected to work with the police to address wildlife crime including the illegal killing of wild birds of prey, bringing perpetrators to justice. Natural England is also tasked with intervening if high quality wildlife sites are damaged – for example by burning of blanket bog or destruction of wild-flower meadows. In these cases they can seek management agreements with landowners if this can resolve the issues fully or they can prosecute. But the political pressure put on Natural England in recent years combined with massive budget cuts has muzzled its potential as a watchdog. As a result we are seeing ideas such as ‘brood management’ or ‘restoration burning’ of blanket bog replacing stronger management agreements or prosecution.

It is time to reclaim our uplands for the wonderful wildlife it should support and for everyone who benefits from that. The Wildlife Trusts cannot support the licensing of ‘brood management’ for a bird as rare as the hen harrier. Rather much greater energy should be put into preventing illegal shooting and poisoning of hen harriers and prosecuting wherever possible.