Have you heard the recent news?
On 7th February a new report (Published jointly by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).) revealed that hedgehog numbers have plummeted by half since the year 2000! This is very worrying news indeed!
From Beatrix Potter stories to console game characters, the hedgehog, the ‘gardeners friend’, has a deeply rooted place in our culture. Life without hedgehogs roaming our countryside seems unthinkable, but that could be the reality we are facing.
But there is hope. The ‘State of Britain’s Hedgehogs’ report also highlights that although countryside hedgehog populations are in a downward spiral, some urban hotspots are supporting stable or even increasing numbers of hedgehogs. This is the strongest evidence yet of how vital our gardens and urban green spaces are, and how small but collaborative efforts can really make a difference.
So if you haven’t yet turned your garden into a hedgehog haven, here are a few tips!(Many of these ideas are perfectly adaptable of office or school gardens, or allotments too).
Why not use the half-term holiday as the perfect excuse to get outside? Or if it’s raining there’s plenty you can do inside, from contacting your local council, to writing a postcard to share hog-inspired ideas with neighbours!
Make Your Garden Hog-tastic!
Home Sweet Home
As their name suggests, the natural home for the hedgehog is hedgerows! Woodlands, parks and gardens are also able to offer just what a hedgehog needs. As well as areas in which to forage for food, hedgehogs must have safe places to rest, nest and to hibernate. Hedgehogs are famously nocturnal, snuffling around at night, but where do they go during the day?
Dense vegetation such as shrubs and hedges or long grass, leaf piles and log piles all offer the shelter and security a tired hedgehog needs. Although apparently well defended by their coat of prickles, hedgehogs are fearful of open areas, and prefer to stick close to cover.
When baby hedgehogs are born, they are small, their eyes and ears are closed and their spines are soft and covered with a layer of skin. This makes them quite defenceless so the mother hedgehog is very fussy and careful about where she makes her nest. Under sheds or in thick undergrowth of a hedge are the usual spots, sometimes even under a pile of leaves. She will rear the young, usually a litter of 4-6 babies, without any help from the male. Pregnancy lasts 35 days, during which time she will build a maternity nest for which she will collect material such as dry grass and leaves. Young hedgehogs are independent after 8 weeks.
Later in the year the purpose of the hedgehog’s nest is to hide and protect the individual during hibernation. Hedgehogs usually hibernate from December through to late March, but this is influenced by temperature so sometimes they may hibernate earlier or later.
How you can help: providing places for hedgehogs to find refuge, raise their young and get through the winter, is simple. Leaving a quiet corner of your garden (ideally with plenty of undergrowth) undisturbed, may be all you need to do. Additionally, log piles and leaf piles are a great way of creating extra opportunities for hedgehogs – they love a messy garden where they can find long grass and leaves with which to build their nests, so try to resist being too tidy, or leave access to a compost heap or leaf pile so they can help themselves!
You can also build or buy ‘hedgehog homes’ in a variety of styles. Often taking the form of a specially designed wooden nest box, these can be placed in a secluded spot and filled with dry bedding such as leaves, ready for a hedgehog to move in!
The Hedgehog Street project has many brilliant and easy tips for helping hedgehogs. Here is their guide to building a hedgehog house: https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/hedgehog-homes/
Back in the autumn, I created a bug hotel on my allotment,
with a built-in hedgehog house underneath it!
Hedgehogs are insectivores, meaning their diet is mostly made up of insects and invertebrates. Favourites are slugs and snails, millipedes, worms and beetles. These opportunistic little mammals will also sometimes take fruit and even birds’ eggs if they can reach them.
How you can help: encourage a natural balance in your garden by avoiding slug pellets and pesticides, and hedgehogs will happily help keep garden pest numbers under control. Building a pond is a great way to boost the invertebrate populations of your garden, which in turn provides a plentiful resource of natural hedgehog food. Supplementary feeding can be helpful to hogs, particularly when they need to put on weight in the late summer and autumn, ahead of hibernation. Young hedgehogs born late in the summer will struggle to find enough food to fatten up in time, so offering some extra treats can certainly make a difference. Meat flavoured cat or dog food is a good option, to which you can add mealworms and chopped peanuts (the sort from bird-food, not salted!).
To stop other animals stealing your hedgehog’s dinner, you can build a bespoke hedgehog feeding station. There are lots of guides online, here’s one from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust on Youtube: Hedgehog feeding station
The dry city
Hedgehogs need fresh water every day for drinking. In warm weather hedgehogs can struggle to find enough water, and their favourite moisture loving slug-and-snail-food can be scarce too. Our warm towns and cities are increasingly dry, as steams and drainage ditches are channelled under tarmac and concrete, hidden away from the reach of wildlife, and climate change affects our weather patterns.
How you can help: Providing water in your garden will make a big difference to all kinds of wildlife, not just hedgehogs. Make sure it is safe; ponds must always have a ramp, or a shallow sloping edge with logs or stones, to enable a hedgehog to escape if it falls in. A shallow dish of water, placed on the ground near to or under the shelter of bushes will be a perfect watering hole for hedgehogs, and may be used as a bath and drinking station by birds during the day as well. Remember to keep the water fresh and clean. Hedgehogs are actually lactose intolerant, so never offer milk, as this will make them very ill.
Dangers for Hedgehogs
Imagine waking up one morning and finding a high fence or wall just outside your front door. This is the reality for many hedgehogs and a major factor in their struggle to survive. Hedgehogs are nomadic creatures, roaming up to 2 miles in a single night in search of food. This large territory will overlap that of other hogs, allowing them to meet and socialise, and to breed. Enclosed gardens, and concrete barriers such as busy roads, restrict the areas over which hedgehogs can roam. The smaller the territory the harder it is for a hedgehog to survive; eventually it simply cannot find enough food, and if it doesn’t meet another hog, it cannot breed either. A connected network of gardens is vital for the hedgehogs’ future. A gap 13cm square, in the bottom of your fence or gate is all they need (best to check with your neighbour first!)
How many neighbours in your street can you persuade to create a super hedgehog highway?!
Once you have made your hole, you can add it to the Big Hedgehog Map via Hedgehog Street project
Hedgehogs are shy and sensitive animals. Our gardens are their last refuge, but this means they come into regular contact with people; whilst they are trying to rest and sleep, we are busy and active. If a hedgehog’s maternity nest is disturbed during the 8 weeks that a hedgehog mum will feed her young, she may abandon the babies, before they are old enough to fend for themselves.
If a hibernating hedgehog is disturbed it may use up vital fat reserves finding a new place to hide.
St Tiggywinkles Centre, experts in hedgehog welfare and rescue, have some helpful information if you are concerned: St Tiggywinkles hedgehog-fact-sheet
Remember, remember on the 5th of Novemeber! Hedgehogs cannot tell the difference between a bonfire pile and a cosy place to nest. Whatever the time of year, always check under a burning heap before lighting it, and if possible move all the material and rebuild the heap on the day of the burn.
Wildlife rescue centres see hundreds of cases every year of hedgehogs injured or killed by garden machinery such as strimmers, brush-cutters and lawnmowers. Always check carefully for nesting hedgehogs before undertaking any work, and remember it is not advised to cut hedges during bird nesting season (March – August). Individual actions are important, but hedgehogs will also use public land beyond our own gardens. Encourage your local council to remind their grounds workers and maintenance teams to ‘Think Hog’ and to always check first, when they are using machinery to clear or maintain vegetation on verges and in parks.
Hedgehogs can swim, but they will tire quickly if there is no escape route from the water. Garden ponds bring lots of important benefits to hedgehogs and the wildlife garden in general, but do pose a drowning risk. Always ensure there is a ramp, or a shallow sloping edge with logs or stones, to enable a hedgehog to escape if it falls in.
Slug pellets pose one of the biggest dangers to hedgehogs. Many of the brands available in shops contain a chemical called metaldehyde which is toxic to hedgehogs (and to pets and humans too!). If you suspect there may be hedgehogs using your garden, or want to attract them in, never used slug pellets.
Our streets are messy places. Litter is a serious threat to hedgehogs. They seem to like the dregs of our take-away coffees, and the disposable cups can get stuck on their heads. The plastic ring holder from multipack cans, discarded fishing line, elastic bands, plastic carrier bags, sky lanterns and balloons, oil and chemical containers… there are many dangerous objects discarded along our roadsides, canals and in our parks. Remember to always dispose of rubbish carefully and in an appropriate recycling or waste bin. Pick up any litter you see (if safe to do so), or join a community litter pick in your area.
When you are snuffling along on the ground, and used to squeezing through gaps in hedges and under brambles, it is easy to get tangled up in netting! Many gardeners use netting to support or protect vegetable crops, or put it over ponds for safety. Try to keep netting at least 30cm above the ground, and pulled taught. Do not leave netting in bundles on the ground, and don’t dispose of it in bonfires or rubbish piles, as it can trap hedgehogs or cause serious injury.
Paint and wood preserver
For some reason, hedgehogs like to lick freshly painted fences and wood, which can lead to poisoning. For this reason, avoid using preserver or paint on your hedgehog house if you build one! Seek out eco-friendly treatments that do not contain harmful substances – they do exist but you may find you have to search. If it is harmful to hogs, it is likely to harm your pet too – always check the label and store left over paint or chemicals safely.
If there is one thing that the statistics show us it is that we need to act now. Changing the fortunes of the Hedgehog in the British countryside will not happen overnight; working with the farming community, landowners and politicians takes time and careful co-operation. However, our gardens, rural or urban, are a place where we can instantly take action that will make a difference. Creating a habitat where hedgehogs can thrive will help build a sustainable reservoir; ‘a puddle of hogs’ that can overflow back into our restored rural areas.