Hedgehog numbers in the UK have fallen by around 50% since the start of the century. Most hedgehogs live in suburban areas, and it may be that developments in domestic gardening methods have caused this decline.
The biggest misconception about hedgehogs is that they are flea-ridden, rat-like animals. A healthy hedgehog won't have any more fleas than any other animal of a similar size, and they share more genes with moles and shrews than they do with rats, mice or squirrels.
Hedgehogs can also make for excellent vegetable patch pest control, as they love to eat slugs, beetles and caterpillars. Just like the shrew and vole, the hedgehog is an insectivore with a big appetite – an adult can easily eat up to 200g of insects a night.
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Here are 10 ways you can encourage these lovely animals into your garden:
Add a hedgehog home
Compost heaps, specially-made hedgehog homes, or even just a pile of leaves or twigs are all great sanctuaries for hedgehogs. Building a log pile is another good option, and dry stone walls can work well too (with tailor-made gaps for hedgehogs to get through).
You can also make your own hedgehog home with a big box made of sturdy cardboard or plastic. Cut a hedgehog-sized entrance and two ventilation holes of 15x5cm. Next, put some leaves - or straw - inside and on top and place it next to a hedge or fence. Put a sheet of plastic over – an opened up carrier bag is perfect - and then arrange the long twigs over it to make an arch – a bit like building a mini den. Cover it with leaves and dry grass.
Leave out hedgehog food & drink
Never feed hedgehogs milk or bread. They can't digest them, and it will upset their stomachs.
Hedgehogs mostly live on insects, but you can supplement their diet with a feeding station. Leave some water out for them in a shallow dish, and some hedgehog-friendly food.
Meaty catfood is perfect for hedgehogs
Suitable foods include meaty cat or dog food (not fish-based), cat biscuits, chopped boiled eggs, and unsalted peanuts. There is also specially made hedgehog food which you can buy.
To prevent cats and foxes from taking the food, you can use a plastic storage box measuring at least 30x40cm, with a 13cm (5 inches) square doorway. Place the food at the opposite end, so other animals can’t stick their paws in and get it. Put a heavy stone on top of the box.
Plant hedgehog-friendly plants/trees
Cherry trees are great for hedgehogs. They can eat the fruits when they fall, and the insects that the fallen fruits attract are popular with hedgehogs too. The size of the leaves on the trees also makes for perfect hedgehog nesting material.
Cherry trees are great for hedgehogs
Native plants such as honeysuckle, dog rose, hawthorn and blackthorn are caterpillar food plants for a wide range of moths, which lay eggs on the leaves. Most moth caterpillars descend to the ground to pupate before becoming an adult, where they can also become nourishing food for passing hedgehogs.
Make a pond escape route
Hedgehogs can fall into ponds and drown because they can’t get out. If you have a pond, pile up some stones at the side to give them an exit route. You can also use a piece of wood or some chicken wire to create a simple ramp.
Make a rewilding/wildflower corner
Do less ‘gardening’, and leave wild patches to create the perfect hedgehog environment.
You can allow nettles and weeds to take over a corner of your garden, or why not plant some wildflowers?
Wildflower seed packs will probably include bird’s foot trefoil, vetch, hawkweed, wild white clover, bluebell, broom, wild cornflower, hound’s tongue, common knapweed, lady’s smock and wild marjoram.
Link your garden (‘Hedgehog highways’)
Perimeter walls and fencing can restrict hedgehogs from many potential habitats. To help hedgehogs access your garden, you can use hedges instead of fences, or make some hedgehog holes: gaps in your fence so hedgehogs can travel from one garden to another. Hedgehogs travel up to one mile every night, so they need to be able to roam freely. (The males will go further than that, especially in the breeding season – they can move up to two miles!)
The best way to extend the ‘hedgehog highway’ within your community is to team up with your neighbours.
Don’t use slug pellets & don’t use netting on the ground
Slug pellets are toxic to most animals, including hedgehogs. There are some more natural ways to repel slugs, including hedgehogs! Hedgehogs eat slugs, so encouraging hedgehogs into your garden can be an excellent slug repellent in itself!
Netting can also cause injury to hedgehogs. Check that fruit and sports nets are not too close to the ground so that hedgehogs won't get tangled in them.
Check before lighting a bonfire
Hedgehogs like to hibernate and shelter in piles of logs and leaves, so it’s best to check the pile before lighting a bonfire.
Check before strimming / mowing
Likewise, hedgehogs will not run away from the sound of a mower or strimmer, so check before you cut. Single hedgehogs are easily moved, but make sure to use gloves. Moving a hedgehog family is more complicated, and ideally they should be left undisturbed – call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society
for advice on 01584 890 801.
Look out for hedgehog babies
Hedgehogs usually give birth twice a year – in the spring and late summer – and the later babies often struggle to put on enough weight before hibernation time. A hedgehog needs to weigh at least 450g - ideally more like 600g - before it hibernates. If you see one that looks too small, pick it up using gardening gloves or a towel and weigh it. If it’s underweight, get in touch with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890 801) for advice on how best to help it.