Many people are first introduced to hedgehogs in their childhood when they discover the delights of Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’. Sadly, the population of these creatures has declined significantly over the years since this world-renowned children’s book was written, with numbers of hedgehogs living in rural areas falling by 50% in the year 2000 and the urban population dropping by 30%. Gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts can, however, play a significant part in helping hedgehogs to survive. There are simple things we can all do to ensure their safety in our own gardens and encourage hedgehogs to feel safe in our local environment.
Hugh Warwick – author, ecologist, spokesperson for the BHPS and Visiting Fellow at Oxford Brookes University – has been campaigning for several years to encourage new property developers to leave a gap some 13cm square in the fencing they put around new properties. This ‘hedgehog highway’ helps hedgehogs to travel through the night across land in pursuit of food and nesting materials. We too can do the same thing to boundary fences in our own gardens. “If people in a road all create hedgehog holes in their fences,” says Hugh, “you can all help to enable hedgehogs to travel from one garden to another. Each night, the females can roam up to a kilometer with the males travelling further afield up to two kilometers, especially in the breeding season. Take a look at hedgehogstreet.org for more information on how to create and extend a hedgehog highway in your community.”
Hugh is also keen for us to keep a corner of our gardens wild to offer shelter, protection and natural food for hedgehogs and other wildlife. “With the autumnal leaf fall fast approaching, gardeners can be too keen to tidy up their gardens and put them to bed for the winter. Piles of leaves however, can provide ideal shelter for hedgehogs to hibernate in from November to March, but hibernating hedgehogs should be left undisturbed. If you are planning to have a bonfire, especially for Guy Fawkes night, please don’t build the bonfire too early as piles of wood and other garden waste can attract hedgehogs and other wildlife. To keep them safe, collected materials should be re-sited just before the fire is lit. If that is not possible, the base should be lifted with poles or broom handles (never a garden fork) and a torch shone in to look for any wildlife or pets in need of rescue before lighting.”
Gardeners must also remember that using slug pellets in the garden can be deadly to hedgehogs and other wildlife. Let the hedgehogs eat the slugs and snails and create a natural eco-system instead. Garden netting is another hazard for hedgehogs. If you want to keep your vegetable and fruit protected, ensure that the netting is high enough off the ground to ensure that hedgehogs cannot become trapped in it and are able to walk freely underneath. Before using garden machinery such as strimmers, hedge cutters or leaf vacuums, be sure to double check hedgehogs are not living in the area where you are clearing or working.
If you have a garden pond, it should be accessible for hedgehogs and other wildlife. While hedgehogs can swim, they struggle to get over steep walls so build a small ramp or sloping mound to give them safe access in and out of it and keep water levels topped up.
Another tip if you want to make your garden really hedgehog friendly, is to build or buy a hedgehog house. This will offer a safe place away from predators for the hedgehogs to hibernate in over winter and will act as a nesting box for a mother and her hoglets in warmer months. Visit the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for further information or buy one online from them at britishhedgehogs.org.uk. You can also create a more makeshift option using a pile of logs placed in an unordered fashion, filling the gaps with fallen leaves. Hugh explains just how helpful this can be to hedgehogs: “Log piles provide shelter and the insects and bugs they attract also act as a food source for hedgehogs. Don’t forget to leave clean water in small dishes, even in winter, close to your hedgehog house. You can also make a hedgehog feeding station by cutting a hedgehog-size hole in the side of a largish plastic container turned upside down. Put the food underneath late afternoon and secure the top of the container with a weight or tent pegs. Whilst you can buy dedicated hedgehog food, they can also eat meaty dog food or cat biscuits – never give them bread and milk as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant! Please also ensure that you don’t drop litter as this can cause hedgehogs untold problems. McDonald’s even had to change the shape of the cup they serve McFlurry ice-creams as hedgehogs could get their heads stuck in the original shape containers.”
As hedgehogs are nocturnal, car drivers should take care at night as these creatures will often walk across roads, even busy ones.