AS the nation braces itself for the cold weather and shorter days, so do the hundreds of thousands of ducks who live on waterways cared for by the charity, Canal & River Trust.

The trust is urging the public to head down to their local canal, grab some fresh air and help our feathered friends this winter by feeding them healthy treats.

Ducks need the public’s help to supplement their natural food source as plants and flowers die back and become scarcer.

But the waterways charity, which cares for 2,000 miles of canals and rivers in England and Wales, is reminding people to do so responsibly by swapping white bread for healthier treats.

Every year millions of loaves of bread are thrown into canals and rivers up and down the country - potentially polluting the water and damaging the homes of hundreds of thousands of ducks and other waterfowl who live on the charity’s waterways.

Uneaten soggy bread can cause a build-up of bad nutrients which can lead to greater algae growth, spread disease and encourage pests such as rats.

Throwing bread into a canal or river can create overcrowding of bird populations, as the birds flock to the same location in search of their starchy treat.

Too many ducks or waterfowl in one place can stress the birds and lead to their habitats being damaged. It also creates excessive amounts of bird poo which is smelly and slippery underfoot.

Peter Birch, environment policy advisor for the Canal & River Trust, said: “Ducks and other wild waterfowl need our support even more around this time of year to help supplement their natural food source, when plants and flowers begin to die back and become scarcer.

“But please do it sensibly. We’d like people to make a few simple changes on their visit to feed the ducks.

“Bread’s not great for a duck’s health as it’s nothing like their natural diet so don’t over feed them with large quantities of it.

“Try to vary what you give them and swap it for healthier more natural treats like oats, corn, defrosted frozen peas or cut up leftover vegetables.”