Trail running or hiking can be a brilliant way to get some exercise, whilst enjoying the beauty of nature around you. If you’re lucky you might even see some wildlife, but how can you help them these animals? We asked our friends over at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital for their top tips for trail runners.
Enjoy from afar
Firstly, wherever possible, try to appreciate British wildlife from afar. Whether it’s the glimpse of a big bucks’ antlers, or the sight of a rabbit’s tail bobbing away from you, it can be exciting to see British wildlife in person, but wild animals will naturally be fearful around people and so the avoid causing unnecessary distress we would advise that you don’t approach too closely and keep noise levels to a minimum around them.
A lot of wild animals will have specific dietary requirements that they can hunt for in the wild. You can leave out bird food and cat/dog food for hedgehogs in your garden, but it is inadvisable to feed them food meant for humans as it may actually cause them harm.
Unfortunately, one of the main causes of fatalities in deer are dog attacks. Even the most placid of domestic dogs can be triggered by the sight of a running animal into behaving outside their normal character as its hunting instincts take over. This is true no matter how well trained or reliable they are at other times. Even if the target animal is not caught, the act of being chased can cause the deer detrimentally high levels of stress.
Particular care should be taken to keep dogs under close control when walking them in places where deer, other vulnerable wildlife or farm stock are known to be present.
This is especially important between the months of May and August when the newly born young of most deer species are likely to be left alone while their mother feeds.
When their young are threatened, parent deer can overcome natural fears and be unusually defensive of them; their flailing forefeet are sharp and can cause serious injuries.
Another key time to be aware of is during the annual deer rut, which for the larger deer species takes place mostly around October and November. Adrenaline-filled stags (and especially those in parks) are more likely to stand their ground, rather than flee and can defend themselves vigorously with both antlers and feet. The key to preventing the indiscriminate chasing of deer and any resulting attack is to always remain in full control of your dog. However well trained they are considered to be, dogs should be kept on leads in all places where deer or other sensitive species might be present.
If you’re running late in the evenings, or very early in the mornings (especially in the winter when it is darker), you are more likely to come across animals that you wouldn’t see in the day. Animals such as Badgers, Hedgehogs and Foxes are nocturnal and therefore unlikely to be spotted during a mid-day run. Any large and powerful animal, such as fox, deer, badgers and swans should only be handled by experienced wildlife rescuers.
If you have a large animal in need please stay with the animal so the rescuer can locate it and either call Tiggywinkles on 01844 292292 (24hr line, please wait for instructions when calling out of office hours) or, if you are not near to us, you can check www.helpwildlife.co.uk which has a directory of rescue centres to find your closest one.
Leave squirrels unless injured
Due to the recent changes in the law, we are no longer legally allowed to release rehabilitated grey squirrel. Every year lots of baby squirrels are picked up as suspected orphans. As these little squirrels will no longer be able to be released, it is far better for them to be left in the wild wherever possible, instead of being condemned to a life in captivity. If a nest or tree is accidentally destroyed and the babies are exposed or on the ground, carefully pick them up in as much of their nesting material as possible and pop them as close to the nest site as possible. Please then come away from the area and monitor from a safe distance. This will give their very dedicated mothers a chance to come back for her young.
Sometimes juvenile squirrels can be found alone when they are first finding their feet – they are not always scared of humans and can even sometimes approach people. At this age it is possible to support them in the wild and help them without picking them up – this is preferable to condemning them to a life in captivity.
If you have a squirrel like this in your garden or local park you can provide food and even water to help them out. A shallow dish of water and a handful of mixed (unsalted) nuts, such as pecans will be gratefully received by most youngsters. Please do not attempt to handle the young squirrels or attempt to tame them. They must remain as wild as possible. Please continue to monitor them, call Tiggywinkles if you need any help or advice to make sure you are doing the right thing – 01844 292292.
When to help and when to leave alone
In the springtime when most wild animals are breeding it can be concerning to see a juvenile alone without its parents, but this might not always be a cause for concern. Some animals such as deer and leverets leave their young for large chunks of time and return later with food and removing them from their mother when they don’t need to be removed will be needlessly distressing for both of them. It is always better to monitor from a distance and see if the parents are still in the area before intervening. If in doubt you can call Tiggywinkles emergency line 24 hours a day for some advice: 01844 292292.