Instantly recognisable, much loved, and under threat; the hedgehog is in many ways the ‘poster animal’ of wildlife gardening and conservation.
Since the year 2000, population numbers of countryside hedgehogs have plummeted by a staggering 50%! Urban populations, although fragmented and localised, seem to withstanding this decline a little better. It would seem that the wildlife gardener might indeed be the saviour of the species!
So what can we do to make our green spaces hoggy-havens, and offer these much loved creatures a last refuge?
1. Food and water – if you know, or suspect, that hedgehogs are visiting your garden leaving out suitable food and fresh clean drinking water will be helpful especially at times when natural food is in short supply, or in hot weather. Leave a shallow dish of water (a heavy bottomed bowl is ideal as this is harder for animals to knock over, but even a saucer would help) in a cool shaded spot and refresh the contents regularly. The only food that should be offered is meat-based cat food (not fish flavours), and never bread and milk. Many people offer mealworms to hedgehogs, but recent studies are revealing some worrying concerns over the serious long-term heath effects of these ‘treats’, so they are best avoided.
2. Take care – many hedgehogs are killed or injured each year by bonfires, garden machinery, litter, and garden rubbish. Always dispose of netting, wire and other garden waste carefully, keep netting off the ground, check fully for hiding hogs before mowing or strimming, and build bonfires on the day of lighting.
3. Highways – a single hedgehog can roam over a mile of territory each night in search of food and a mate. Many of our gardens are totally inaccessible to hedgehogs due to walls, gravel boards and wire fencing. A small hole under your boundaries, about 13cm, is all that is needed to allow your garden visitors to roam.
4. Poisons! – Slug pellets and other garden chemicals can be lethal to hedgehogs and destroy their food sources. Go organic and let your garden ecosystems work in harmony!
These top tips are taken from my previous blog: A Nature ‘How To’: Helping Hedgehogs where you will find more detail and many more ideas on what you can do in your outside space to help the endangered hedgehog thrive again.
A little more about Hedgehogs
- Hedgehogs hibernate through the winter in quiet sheltered places such as under log piles, compost heaps, or thick leaf litter in the base of hedgerows and trees, usually emerging to feed and breed in gardens and other suitable habitat around the beginning of March.
- Hedgehogs must weigh 450-600g before hibernation; supplementary feeding can be valuable in helping late-born juveniles to reach this weight in time.
- Hedgehog fleas do not live on dogs, cats, humans or inside houses, they are host specific, so your pet cannot catch fleas from a hedgehog.
- Young hedgehogs are called Urchins. A female hedgehog will give birth to between 4-10 babies, although the average is 6, and she will feed them for 8 weeks before they have to learn to be independent.
- There are many ‘country names’ for hedgehogs, including furze-peg, hedge-pig or prickly-urchin.
- Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant so should never be given milk.