By April, hedgehogs have spent all winter snuggled up in leafy dens in the woodlands, under hedges and even in our gardens and are now out and about looking for food. And for hedgehogs food is a tasty, plump slug, snail, beetle, bug or earthworm. They will travel up to two miles every night in search of their supper and munch a staggering amount of garden beasties that are also out and about at night.
This food hunting activity is perfectly timed not just with the slug and snail explosion that occurs in our gardens in spring. But also with their nighttime activity. Slugs and snails in particular do most of their damage at night when the hedgehogs are at large. As the warmer weather and damp April rains encourage the slimy slugs and snails to procreate, our spiky friends are in need of food. It couldn’t be better timing. Encourage hedgehogss into your garden where they can feast on your slugs and you solve two problems at once.
So the first lesson in having a hedgehog friendly garden is to live and let live, stop using garden chemicals and let nature deal with pest explosions. More slugs will attract these amazing creatures into your garden to feed on their favourite fodder.
Avoid using slug controls altogether and instead encourage wildlife into your garden. If you must use them then organic slug pellets (ferrous sulphate based) are a safer choice for pets and wildlife than the toxic metaldehyde based pellets and work just as well. Whatever you use, use them very sparingly and place one pellet under a propped tile every 12 inches (30cm) or so.
Access all areas
To enable your prickly companions to get into your garden you need to ensure that there are tunnels through your hedge bases and little windows or doors in your fencing. Hedgehogs might visit 8-10 gardens or more in a night, returning to those where there is a good source of protein and if he can get in and out safely and easily he is more likely to return.
You can buy special hedgehog fencing with doorways woven in, or why not create passageways between several gardens especially where they are bordered by countryside. It is safer for the hedgehogs to move through the gardens than to navigate via the roads where they can be injured by passing cars.
Supplement their diet
When you’ve seen the evidence of hedgehogs in the garden, you can boost their diet with a specialist hedgehog food or by putting out meaty (not fishy) cat or dog food and fresh water.
NEVER feed hedgehogs bread and milk. They might eat it but they cannot digest it and it can make them very ill.
Ensure you have a few hedgehog friendly nesting sites, or a hedgehog house in your garden. They need somewhere dry and may choose to nest or hibernate under a shed. They breed in the summer and have their babies in late summer and early autumn. The young hoglets need to gain plenty of weight if they are to get through a long cold winter of hibernation.
Leave an area of your garden wild for wildlife, it will encourage all manner or insects and creatures and provide vital forage for pollinators. Place a hedgehog house under the hedge or in a wild spot in the garden.
- Hedgehogs need a fresh source of water. If you have a pond or a swimming pool ensure there is a shallow end and a ramp out for any creatures that fall in.
- Before cutting the lawn and using garden machinery, disturb the area carefully by hand to warn any creatures hiding there, before you start work. Give them time to move on safely.
- If you have a compost heap, always check for creatures nestling in the debris, especially hedgehogs in the autumn or winter. Don’t fork through your compost before you have made sure there are no creatures within.
- Always check your bonfire for sleeping beauties before lighting. It’s best to make the bonfire on the same day you light it to be sure it hasn’t been adopted as a nest site.
- Don’t disturb a hedgehog if it is sleeping or hibernating. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so if you see one in daylight hours it could be in trouble. It may be injured or malnourished. Contact your local wildlife rescue centre for advice.
- Check garden netting regularly, hedgehogs can become trapped in the nets and injured.
For more information about hedgehogs visit the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS). From May 3 to May 9 2015 it’s Hedgehog Awareness Week #hedgehogweek