baby hedgehog being held

Be hedgehog savvy

Many gardeners have never seen a hedgehog, but that doesn’t mean they don’t live and breed in and around our gardens. Jean Vernon suggests some ways to support these threatened creatures.

If you didn’t know how vulnerable our precious hedgehogs are then I am very sorry to say they are now on the Red List for British Mammals and classified as ‘vulnerable to extinction’. That’s how bad it is. The next level is extinct, gone, dead and never to return. And that would be a tragedy.

The good news is that gardeners are well placed to help and support these precious creatures. Wildlife doesn’t see or understand the boundaries that we place around our plots and often our gardens border woodland and wild areas where hedgehogs feed and breed. But many gardens also offer safe haven for hedgehogs, which may travel from garden to garden and even hibernate on our patch.

Hedgehog street

Hedgehogs need to be able to move between gardens safely. In fact a healthy hedgehog is quite fast. They can travel two or three miles a night searching for food. And they can climb. If they can’t move freely between gardens safely they may deviate via roads and this can be very dangerous. One of the most effective ways to help hedgehogs is to provide hedgehog holes in fences and boundaries so that they can enter and exit safely. A 13cm square hole can connect our gardens and allow wildlife to move around safely.

Hedgehog food

Set up a feeding station for your local hedgehogs with a wildlife camera so you can see them and watch them safely. Hedgehogs devour a wide range of natural food like insects and berries in our gardens, but you can supplement their diet with a special hedgehog food mix or meaty cat or dog food, plus fresh water. Don’t EVER feed your hedgehogs bread and milk. Hedgehogs cannot digest milk even though they might appear to enjoy it, it can actually make them very poorly. 

Hedgehogs are known to tidy up beneath bird feeders, but it is very important that you don’t actually feed them bird food instead of a bespoke hedgehog mix. That’s because bird food has a poor calcium/phosphorus ratio that can cause life-threatening issues to our hogs. They love it; a bit like we might like chocolate or crisps but if they eat it instead of a healthy diet it can cause Metastatic Bone Disease resulting in painful deformities and fractures. Seek out a well-balanced hedgehog food to keep your hogs healthy or feed them meaty cat or dog food instead. 

Winter care

As winter approaches our wildlife starts to really feed up to see them through the cold months. Hedgehogs hibernate and have to reach a healthy weight to survive. Hungry babes need lots of food and sick hogs aren’t able to hibernate, so if you are feeding hedgehogs keep an eye out for any ailing and get help. Keep putting out fresh food daily while it is being taken, but reduce the amount as winter approaches. Ideally you need to see a little food left then you know your hogs have had their fill. Your feeding station may be a life-saver. If the weather improves, hedgehogs may look for ‘snacks’ in milder spells, so bear that in mind and put a little out so that they don’t have to venture far for food.

Hedgehog babies needs lots of food in order to hibernate. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Hidden dangers

Remember that our gardens can be a dangerous place for wildlife. Take a little more time to ensure that your garden activities don’t endanger these sentient creatures.

  • At this time of year garden bonfires can pose a huge risk to hedgehogs looking for places to hibernate. A pile of sticks and twigs and leaves offers the perfect place to hunker down and with Bonfire Night imminent it’s a recipe for disaster. Check and check again before you light a bonfire. Where possible make your bonfire the same day as you light it to reduce the time available for wildlife to make it home.
  • When using garden machinery fire it up first before you set to work, especially in long grass or overgrown areas where wildlife may be sheltering or hibernating. Injuries from grass trimmers and brush cutters are common and horrendous. 
  • Think twice before using pesticides of any sort, especially slug and snail controls which can be toxic. Where necessary choose organic, safer and kinder options such as Richard Jackson Slug and Snail Control.
  • Install a ladder of rocks or a shallow edge to garden ponds to allow wildlife to enter and exit safely.
  • Tidy up pea and bean netting and other nets around your garden, which could entangle a prickly hog.
  • Do a daily check around your garden to ensure there are no trapped or injured creatures on your plot.
pond ladder for hedgehogs
Pond ladders allow wildlife to enter and exit safely. Image: Jean Vernon

Hedgehog housing

You don’t necessarily need to buy a hedgehog house to have them living or hibernating in your garden. Hedgehogs will naturally use cavities under sheds or even decking, piles of leaves, logs and branches and even spaces under hedges to hunker down. If you do make or buy a hedgehog home be sure it is suitable for these creatures and does not contain wire or netting where they may catch their spines and become trapped. Use natural material but not straw which can poke eyes and cause injuries. Loose dry leaves and moss makes a lovely natural bed for wild creatures. Protect from badgers where possible.

Daylight danger

Hedgehogs are nocturnal and are not normally active during the daytime. 

hedgehog close up
A hedgehog needs help if it’s out and about in daylight. Image: Martin Mulchinock

If you find a hedgehog out and about in your garden in daylight, it needs help. Contact your local wildlife sanctuary or hedgehog rescue for advice, but don’t delay. Don’t leave it a day or two to see if it improves, or try to nurse it yourself. Find a strong box, and an old towel or fleece. Fill a hot water bottle with warm water and wrap it in the towel and place at the bottom of the box. Put some thick gardening gloves on and move it into the box. Provide some meaty cat or dog food and water and get help fast. Hedgehogs need specialist care from an expert that understands their needs. If it is badly injured or in obvious pain, get it to a vet as fast as you can. If in doubt contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/found-a-hedgehog/) for advice and information regarding your local rescue contacts.

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