It’s not a good idea to constantly put out food which can make wild mammals reliant on unnatural food-sources. But during winter and when the weather is unpleasant, putting out a bit of food will allow mammals to replenish any low food stocks which will hopefully see them through the colder weather.

As mammals eat at night, the best time to put food out is at dusk. It's also best to leave a small dish of water near the food to help avoid dehydration.

The following are suggestions of food to put out for common British garden mammals:

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs have recently been added to the list of priority species of conservation concern in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, based on dramatic declines in population estimates over the past 25 years, so there’s an even bigger reason to give them a bit of help.

  • Meat based pet food is particularly good, the plainer the better
  • You will usually need to use cat food, but some garden centres stock specialist hedgehog food, as it helps keep their teeth sharp and clean
  • If you have a problem with cats eating the food, hedgehogs also enjoy unsweetened muesli or weetabix. (Alternatively, place the food under a shelter of brick with a gap too small for cats but large enough for hedgehogs.)
  • Hedgehogs are also know to be fond of sultanas and small pieces of fruit, cooked potato, light fruitcake, plain biscuits, cooked chicken and raw mince
  • It is important not to leave bread and milk out for hedgehogs, as it can cause diarrhoea.

Badgers

Dry or frosty weather makes it difficult for badgers to be able to access their usual diet of earthworms and insect larvae. Putting out food and water at these times can help to distract them from eating any of your garden plants.

  • Wet cat or dog food
  • Fruits - such as apples, plums or pears
  • Nuts - unsalted peanuts or brazils
  • Root vegetables are known to be popular with badgers, so you could leave out carrots and cooked potato as well as fruit to try to divert them.
  • A specially formulated badger food is available commercially

Foxes

Foxes have become very adaptable mammals and have now established themselves in a number of habitats. The 'Living with Mammals' surveys carried out by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species suggest that there are currently around 35,000 foxes in urban areas nationally.

Foxes natural diets vary seasonally, in spring and early summer they are more likely to eat earthworms and birds, insects in summer, fruit in the autumn and small mammals over winter, however increasingly urban foxes eat anything which is available.

  • Fresh or dried fruit and berries
  • Eggs
  • Raw or cooked meat (no cooked chicken bones)
  • Vegetables