Our spiky friends are one of the most cherished wild animals in Britain and the one we love to watch through the garden window on summer evenings. You may not even know you have hedgehogs in your garden. Look out for signs like their black droppings full of chewed up insects, or listen for their rustling in your hedgerows at dusk. Hedgehogs are famous for their ability to roll into a ball, sticking out their spines when they feel threatened. But most of the time you should see them happily exploring your garden.
Why are hedgehogs declining?
This year, hedgehogs along with water voles and some species of British bat, joined what’s known as the Red List. This list also found that a quarter of British mammals are now at risk of extinction. The Red List is drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is a database of the world’s threatened species. Dangers to hedgehog numbers include cars, rubbish, pesticides and slug pellets as well as a reduction in natural habitats. But there are a number of things you can do to help hedgehogs with some very simple hedgehog friendly gardening.
What should I do if I find a hedgehog in my garden?
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and you tend to see them in your garden during spring and summer evenings and late at night. They can come out in the autumn and winter if we are experiencing particularly mild seasons, as the warmth will wake and go out looking for food. But come late October, early November they tend to be hibernating until March time. If you do see a hedgehog out in the open in your garden during the daytime you may want to alert your local hedgehog hospital. If it’s happily walking somewhere with a purpose, perhaps carrying nesting material, then it’s probably fine. Just check again later. But if it looks like it’s asleep out in the open, is making a shrill calling sound and looks very young, looks injured or has a wound or has been hit by a car then offer it a shallow dish of water and google your local hedgehog hospital.
Make your garden accessible to hedgehogs
In order to encourage hedgehogs into your garden, then first things first you need to make sure that hedgehogs can actually get into your garden. If you are surrounded by fences or walls then it will be incredibly difficult for them.
If you have a fence between yours and your neighbour’s garden, first ask permission, and then cut a semi circular hole in the fence measuring about 13cm by 13cm. This is too small for dogs to escape! You can do the same with your gate if you are surrounded by walls. If you can, try to encourage all your neighbours to do similar, thereby providing a network of access for your local hedgehogs. They can travel as much as a mile in an evening to collect food and find mates.
Next up, try to leave some of your garden to go a little wild. Hedgehogs don’t enjoy ornamental gardens. They adore log and wood piles, messy hedges, brash and mulch where insects love to roam. You don’t need to start propagating a forest in your garden, just a small area somewhere quieter perhaps next to a compost heap, where your hedgehogs can feel safe and comfortable during the day to sleep.
What do hedgehogs eat?
Hedgehogs are the gardener’s friend. Their favourite meal of choice is a slug. Give them access to your veg patch or allotment bed and they will happily hoover up hundreds of slugs in a night. Thereby protecting your cabbages as well as filling their own tums. They also enjoy tasty beetles and earthworms. If you have raised beds you can even offer a ramp to help them up. Just make sure it is safe and secure and won’t tip over.
If you would like to feed your hedgehogs it’s easy to do so. They enjoy meat flavoured (never fish) cat food and cat biscuits but you can also buy proprietary hedgehog food that’s been designed with hogs in mind. It’s best, if you have your own cats or your neighbours do, to protect the food either inside a hedgehog house or by building a small box around it with an entrance hole that’s too small for your feline friends.
Should I leave water out for my garden hedgehogs?
The simple answer is yes. Especially if you are leaving out dry hedgehog food or cat biscuits or it’s a particularly warm summer’s evening. It is best to leave a shallow dish filled with fresh clean water each night. Something that is low to the ground is much easier for hedgehogs rather than them having to lift their paws onto a raised bird bath. If you have a pond in the garden, make sure it has sloping rough sides which would enable a creature like a hedgehog to take a drink from it, pop some bricks or large stones in so that anything which could fall in would be able to easily get out again. And remember that hedgehogs shouldn’t drink milk as they are lactose intolerant.
Will the hedgehogs have babies?
Hedgehogs mate during the springtime and can make quite a bizarre racket in the garden so don’t worry! Babies, known as hoglets, usually appear in June and July. They tend to have one litter a year of about four of five hoglets. After a few weeks the hoglets will leave the nest and explore their surroundings with mum for about ten days before they go it alone.
How can I help my garden hedgehogs to hibernate?
Hedgehogs begin looking for suitable hibernation places in the autumn and may even move sites during the winter. During hibernation their body temperature drops, slowing down their bodily functions and allowing them to conserve energy. During this time any energy resource they need will come from fat stores developed during the summer. And that is why we encourage you to feed your hedgehogs during the spring and summer in addition to their natural food supplies. The best thing you can do to provide a hibernation friendly garden for hedgehogs is to keep part of it nice and messy! They love hibernating under hedges, inside compost heaps, inside log piles and brushwood piles. If you choose to buy a hedgehog house, then it’s best to place this somewhere with lots of dense foliage around it so it’s hidden and feels safe. Cover it with dead leaves and twigs and make it look as natural as possible.
The danger with strimmers
One of the best things you can do in your garden to help hedgehogs is stop using garden strimmers, particularly when you are close to hedgerows, bushes and dense foliage. Strimmers are incredibly dangerous around hedgehogs. If you do accidentally injure a hedgehog with your strimmer then call your local hedgehog hospital as soon as you can to get it reduced and looked after.