Lets Help Our Hogs
Hedgehogs are in trouble. It’s estimated that the hedgehog population has declined by a third in ten years. There are practical ways that we can all help these endearing creatures, such as leaving leaf piles in gardens, fitting escape ramps to cattle grids and steep-sided ponds, providing 13cm x 13cm (compact disc-sized) access holes in fences to connect gardens (more commonly called a Hedgehog Highway!), and giving them a safe haven for hibernation and nursing females.
Hedgehog houses should be placed in a quiet part of the garden with some weather protection, avoiding areas that flood, such as against a wall or under an outbuilding, and will offer a refuge for hibernation and may also be used as a nursery area in the spring or summer.
Our hedgehog houses have lots of internal space for the hedgehogs to build warm hibernation nests, provide a snug, secure space for females to give birth and nurse their young.
Hedgehogs are insectivores and their preferred diet includes beetles, slugs, caterpillars and earthworms. Our Hedgehog Food is an excellent substitute should supplies of these insects be insufficient. They can also be tempted by saucers of meat-based (not fish!) cat or dog food, but at all times of the year, particularly during the summer, it is important to ensure a bowl of clean water is available. A hedgehog feeding house will let them feed undisturbed and keep the food away from cats, dogs and foxes.
When will hedgehogs wake up?
Hedgehogs usually hibernate between November and mid-March, but their emergence can vary depending on weather conditions. For instance, we’ve already been getting scattered reports of sightings in milder parts of Britain, whereas the creatures might not be seen at higher altitudes for several weeks yet - especially if there is still snow and ice around.
Encourage hedgehogs into your garden
There are lots of different ways that hedgehogs can be helped, and if you’re already gardening with wildlife in mind you are probably doing most of them.
A “wild area” is a good start. Some unmown grass, a nice selection of native plants and shrubs, perhaps a wildlife pond with sloping sides to allow creatures in and out will all help to encourage any passing hedgehog to stake a claim to your garden. Discrete piles of leaves, prunings and general garden refuse can help to provide nest materials or even nest and hibernation sites.
A lot of hedgehog casualties occur because our gardens can be quite hostile places. Steep sided ponds or cattle grids can be death traps for any hedgehog that falls in, unless there is some form of escape route such as a gently sloping plank. Soft netting around fruit can entangle hedgehogs, sometimes causing horrible injuries, while the dangers posed by machinery such as strimmers is obvious.
A lot of hedgehog casualties are caused by grass cutting, particularly when people trim back areas of long grass with a strimmer. Be extremely careful when strimming long grass and, if you can, give it a “top cut” first to reduce the height, then rake up the mowings and return later for a second cut down to the desired height.
Hedgehogs don’t appreciate the distinction between a pile of hedgehog-friendly prunings and a bonfire so it’s good practice to move any combustible materials to one side before you reach for the matches, just in case. Obviously if you do find a ball of leaves in the base, replace some of the materials over the hedgehog’s winter nest and leave it in peace until the spring.
Providing food is an obvious way to welcome guests, with the added bonus in this case that hedgehogs love to eat pests such as slugs and snails. You don’t need to encourage these (there should be plenty in your garden already!) but avoid using slug pellets if at all possible to avoid the chances of hedgehogs eating poisoned molluscs.
Our specially developed food for hedgehogs can be put out every night as a supplement which will be particularly appreciated by nursing females and small hedgehogs trying to gain weight before hibernation. Clean, fresh water in a shallow dish is also a good idea, but ensure the bowls stay clean!
Helping them find food
When hedgehogs come out of hibernation, their fat reserves will be running low. Hedgehogs may lose up to a third of their body weight, so eating as soon as possible is very important. Although people assume that bread and milk are best for these animals, they can actually cause diarrhoea, so canned dog food, minced meat or scrambled eggs are better if you want to put supplies out for them as soon as they emerge. Don’t forget a bowl of clean water, too. We’ve also got specially formulated Hedgehog Food, which is an ideal substitute for the invertebrates and has been forumlated with hedgehogs in mind.
Providing hedgehog habitats
It’s tempting once spring emerges to go outside and attack your scruffy flower beds and lawns with secateurs and mowers, but don’t get too harsh with all the foliage. Hedgehogs will thank you if you leave at least a small corner as it gives them places to hide and can also help them to move around to other habitats without being seen. You can even provide some safe shelter among the grass and leaves to provide a secure refuge for expectant mothers and, later in the year, as a hibernation site. We have special Hedgehog Houses that make ideal homes for them.
Take care with garden equipment
Be careful when you do get the lawnmower and strimmer out, as small hedgehogs can easily be missed among long grass and the results can be devastating. Go around with a broom or your feet first, checking for any of your spiky friends and herding them to other parts of the garden before you flick that power switch.
Also, use pesticides only where you feel you absolutely must as hedgehogs might eat things like slug pellets, or consume pests that have been poisoned by them. This can do them serious harm even at low doses so use as a last resort or, far better, concentrate on growing plants that are resistant to slugs and snails. If you can, try natural alternatives such as beer traps and copper tapes around your plant pots. If you grow some slug and snail-luring plants in your wild section of garden, this might also tempt them away from your prized blooms, as well as providing an in situ food source for the hedgehogs.
Seek help if you see a sick hedgehog
Sometimes, you might spot a hedgehog that is out in the daytime, but take care to observe if it is not moving, visibly hurt or unsteady on its feet, as this might mean it is in trouble. In the first instance, get it out of predators’ reach by putting on a pair of gloves and gently moving it to a cardboard box, and then contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890 801, as the creature may need expert care.
Do let us know when you spot the first hedgehogs in your garden this year!