The number of hedgehogs in the UK has fallen from an estimated 30 million in the 1950s to only around 1 million today and the rate of decline is getting worse. But we can help to change that!
Did you know that hedgehogs are brilliant allies to have in garden? They love to feed on slugs and snails, which are certainly pests in most gardens. So, let’s look at a few ways we can attract hedgehogs to the garden, and help them survive (especially when winter comes around).
How to attract hedgehogs into the garden
Leave an area wild! This might be really difficult for avid (and neat!) gardeners, but hedgehogs like these untouched areas, such as big hedges and patches of brambles
If your garden is surrounded by fences or other manmade boundaries, you will need to create a small opening for hedgehogs to come in and out.
Hedge boundaries are of course the most suitable for all kinds of wildlife
Leave out food and water. See below for a great hedgehog meal!
Make sure fruit nets and sports nets are not on the ground, otherwise hedgehogs can get caught in these and injure themselves.
What do hedgehogs need?
Hedgehogs hibernate throughout winter, and the process to prepare for hibernation is an important one.
If you have some visiting your garden frequently throughout the summer, it’s a good idea to give them a helping hand while they prepare themselves for the colder months, as that is when hedgehogs are most at risk.
I’ll give you a few pointers on how you can help make sure your local hedgehogs have stored up enough nutrition and have a safe place to cosy up for the winter.
The animals need to stock up on food, eating as much as they can before hibernating. It’s usually helpful to leave some food and water out for them.
Like most animals, hedgehogs are very sensitive to certain human foods. A myth is that milk is good for hedgehogs, but it’s definitely not and can cause digestive problems, sickness and dehydration, so avoid giving it to them at all costs! Also avoid raisins, citrus fruits, onion, chocolate, raw meat, bread and peanuts.
Try wet cat or dog food (preferable chicken or turkey flavoured, in jelly not gravy) and some cat biscuits crushed up in a shallow bowl to leave out overnight. Some shops even sell hedgehog biscuits. Don’t forget to leave out a water dish too!
Sometimes leaving the food in a sturdy box, that has an entrance big enough for a hedgehog is beneficial, as this stops cats and foxes getting to the food!
If you happen to spot a hedgehog over winter that isn’t hibernating, it probably needs extra food, so keep leaving food and water out overnight until it’s no longer eaten.
If a hedgehog is out during the day in the winter it is probably in trouble, so I’d recommend bringing it inside.
How to make a hedgehog home
The nests hedgehogs need for hibernation have to be robust, warm and waterproof. Here’s how to make a brilliant hedgehog home that should prevent them from hiding under bonfires!
This is a great idea to look after hedgehogs over winter and protect them from predators like badgers and foxes.
Check out my video for step-by-step instructions on how you can make your own hedgehog house for the garden. Alternatively, follow these steps:
Use the timber to make a tunnel for the hedgehog to get to the house. Cut the timber into three equal lengths (around 13cm squared) and nail them together lengthways.
Take the wooden crate and turn it upside down so the open side is on the ground, using the saw, cut an entrance hole out of one side at the base. The hole needs to be around 13cm x 13cm maximum. You then need to nail the tunnel to the entrance hole, by nailing it from the inside of the crate, so make sure the main entrance hole is smaller than the tunnel’s dimensions.
If your box doesn’t have pre-existing holes, drill a few small holes down the sides for ventilation. An alternative is to drill a large hole at the back and place a piece of old hose pipe through it to get air in there for the hedgehog.
Place the box in a quiet part of the garden, underneath a hedge. Hedgehogs like to make themselves at home so don’t put anything inside the box, and instead place dry leaves, grass and straw all around it.
If you’re using a crate that has gaps on the roof, make sure you cover it to ensure it’s fairly watertight.
Hedgehogs tend to move hibernation areas once or twice during the winter so make sure you don’t get rid of any house you put outside if you can’t see anything in there, leave it out for the next resident!
Hedgehogs usually come out of hibernation around March/April time, but this can differ depending on the weather conditions.
If you know hedgehogs have been hiding in and around your garden, put out some fresh food and water for a few nights during this time of year.
Hedgehogs who have just come out of hibernation will be extremely grateful to have a good meal before moving on.
Compost heaps – hedgehogs like to nest in compost heaps, so check before you turn it over!
Bonfire heaps – make dangerous hiding places so be sure to check yours before you light it
Lawn mowers and strimmers – your gardening equipment can prove fatal to hedgehogs so take extra care when cutting your garden, especially in the spring when hedgehogs are coming out of hibernation and your grass is long
Slug pellets – hedgehogs eat slugs, so let them be a natural pesticide as slug pellets will poison and kill.
Remember, hedgehogs are garden friends, so use these tips to invite them into your garden to eat those pests, as well as helping the species flourish.
To find out more, visit The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, of which I am a patron.