Hedgehogs are wonderful little creatures and everyone seems to love them … but the evidence strongly suggests that their numbers are falling across Britain. A vast amount of the UK is either used for agriculture or gardens and this has meant that hedgehogs can find it all a bit tough. Most people would like see more hedgehogs so here’s a list of the top ten ways to help.
1. HEDGEHOGS ARE NOT PETS
Hedgehogs are cute. Young hedgehogs (hoglets) are even cuter. There is an enormous temptation to try and keep them as pets but this simply never works. Hedgehogs are wild animals with no history of domestication. As adults they definitely don’t wanted to be petted or confined. The average hedgehog – even with its tiny legs – can travel as much as two kilometres per night looking for food or for a mate. The only time a hedgehog should be confined is when it is either too young or too unwell to survive without human intervention. Simply put – look but don’t touch … unless the hedgehog really needs your help.
2. CREATE HEDGEHOG HIDES / HABITATS
Hedgehogs need places to breed and hibernate. Woodlands offer plenty of natural places such as old burrows, leaf drifts and hollow logs but suburbia rarely offers the same opportunities. You can make your garden much more hedgehog friendly by providing them with a home. It’s quite easy to make a simple wooden box with a staggered entrance and then place it in a secluded part of your garden out of direct sunlight and sheltered from the wind. There’s an excellent design here from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (pdf). Equally, you can buy hedgehog habitats from most of the leading garden centres or from hedgehog support groups online. In can take a while for a hedgehog to move in but so long as they can get into your garden you’re likely to have a new resident come winter.
3. ESTABLISH A LITTLE BIT OF GARDEN WILDERNESS
The average ‘Brit’ loves their garden and it’s therefore no surprise that gardening is one of the most popular pastimes in the UK. This means neat grass borders and perfectly manicured flowerbeds. These prize gardens may look lovely to humans but for a hedgehog it’s a very unfriendly place indeed. One of the best things you can do is let a small part of your garden revert to nature. Hedgehogs love thick dense undergrowth and long grass. Add a few piles of leaves and a few rotting logs and it’ll be the hedgehog equivalent of a Michelin rated restaurant. The larger you can make this wilderness area the better, but even a few square metres can make a world of difference.
4. THE RIGHT FOOD AND DRINK – NO BREAD AND MILK!
Hedgehogs need to put on plenty of weight during the summer months to be able to survive their winter hibernation. Putting out a little food at night can make all the difference. PLEASE DO NOT PUT OUT BREAD SOAKED IN MILK. The hedgehogs will eat it but it will also make them sick. The best food for these animals is small amounts of meaty dog or cat food in jelly but not gravy (no fish), mealworms, crushed cat biscuits, unsalted peanuts, sunflower hearts and some chopped fruits such as apples.
To protect the food it’s best to place it on a shallow dish and the cover it with a plastic pot that has a hole cut into the side large enough for the hedgehog to enter but too small for a fox or a cat. A few carefully arrange bricks will prevent it from being knocked over. Dedicated feeding stations can often be purchased from pet stores or garden centres.
5. MAKE FENCE HOLES
This is so simple and yet so important. Hedgehogs roam at night but walls and fences not only stop them from getting into your garden but can trap them in an environment that can’t sustain them. By simply cutting a small access gap – 15cm square – at the base of your fences you can open up great new territories for hedgehogs. It’s even better if you can get your neighbours to do the same thus linking up many gardens.
6. AVOID PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES AND POISON PELLETS
Whether or not to use pesticides has always been a problem for gardeners. They certainly eradicate pests but they can also eradicate hedgehogs and frogs which are both sensitive to the chemicals. In particular, pesticides destroy the hedgehogs’ food and on occasions may even contaminate the food and water supply. The rule is simple – the fewer pesticides the more hedgehogs.
7. BEWARE OF BONFIRES & COMPOST HEAPS
Piles of wood and leaves are irresistible to hedgehogs. Please check there are no hedgehogs nesting under that pile of wood which you’re about to turn into a bonfire. Equally, extra care is so important when turning over compost heaps with sharp garden forks. If you do discover a mother with its hoglets please simply replace the wood and leaves and leave her to it. Your bonfire or compost heap can surely wait a while.
8. MINIMISE GARDEN HAZARDS
The average garden can be a real danger zone for hedgehogs but a little care can seriously reduce the number of hazards they’ll have to face.
Barbed Wire: Hedgehogs easily become entangled and impaled on barbed wire if it is left lying on the ground.
Netting: Grass and shrubbery netting easily traps hedgehogs by becoming wrapped around their legs
Drains & Pits: Any kind of hole or pit can be a death trap for hedgehogs which fall in and can’t climb out. Drains should be covered with a suitable grate.
Tins & Containers: These provide a double-hazard. Firstly, the hedgehog can become trapped inside the container and, secondly, many of these containers often contained chemicals that may be relatively harmless to us but lethal to animals. Old wood protector tins, oil cans, fertiliser tubs and the like need to be put out of harm’s way.
Lawn mowers & Strimmers: Both of these common garden machines can be deadly to hedgehogs particularly if the grass is long and the hedgehog hidden by the foliage. If dealing with long grass or overgrown shrubbery please first check for any wildlife that may be using it as a home.
Dogs: In the wild there are very few animals that will attack a hedgehog. Foxes and Badgers can and will kill these creatures. However, dogs will often attack hedgehogs if they have the chance. By keeping an eye on your dog it may be possible to intervene and stop it harrying a hedgehog.
Ponds: Frogs and toads love ponds and we actually need more of them but they can be very dangerous for hedgehogs which, although they can swim, can’t climb the plastic sides. The solution is to make sure that each pond has a slope or ramp that will allow a means of escape.
9. EMERGENCY WINTER RESCUE PROCEDURE
It’s unusual to see a hedgehog outside during the day and this usually means that they’re in trouble. If its late autumn or winter and the weather is cold then intervention may be needed – especially if it’s a young (small) animal. Take the hedgehog indoors. Fill a hot water bottle with fairly warm but not boiling water and place this at the bottom of a cardboard box. Cover the bottle with a towel so that warmth permeates through the cloth but isn’t likely to overheat the hedgehog which is then placed on top of the towel. Once the hedgehog is a little recovered offer it some dog food and water. Call your local wildlife rescue centre for advice.
10. TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBOURS AND FRIENDS
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide to helping hedgehogs. Please share it with your friends and neighbours. The more people that follow these simple steps the more hedgehogs will survive.