There’s been a lot in the press this week about dwindling hedgehog numbers, so I thought it might be a good time to recap a few things that can be done to help hedgehogs in our gardens. Many urban or suburban gardens can have hedgehogs but being nocturnal animals they may go unseen. Look out for tell-tale droppings – about the size of a ladies little finger and usually a dark brown or black colour. This prime example (yes I go around photographing poo in my garden!) even shows the remains of a beetle (jaws next to red arrow) – one of hedgehogs’ favourite foods.
If you think you have hedgehogs, or even if you don’t think you’ve got them but would like them, there are several things you can do to help. The first is of course access – if a garden is completely blocked off and surrounded by a high fence or wall, no hedgehog is going to get in. We discovered our hedgehogs were using a gap under the fence to get between us and the neighbour’s garden.
Having realised this was one of their entrances, we put up this little sign to mark the spot.
You can buy these Hedgehog Highway signs from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – get two to mark either side of the fence if you can, to discourage people from filling in the gap. Try and make holes or gaps in fences (about 5 inch square is all that is needed) and encourage your neighbours to do the same to connect as many gardens as possible. Hedgehogs can roam over a mile a night so they need lots of connected gardens.
Having made it possible for hedgehogs to get in and out of the garden, providing extra food and water can really help them. A shallow dish of water (or even better several dishes) in the garden can be a life saver for hedgehogs, especially in a hot summer like the one we’ve just had. Water can be just as vital in the winter when non-frozen water can be in short supply.
Putting out some extra food will also be a big help, giving them that extra boost to put on much-needed weight before winter hibernation. The best foods to offer are either meaty cat or dog food (poultry/white meat flavours in jelly are best) or dry cat food or specialist hedgehog food. All of these foods can of course be taken by local cats, so if this is a problem, then perhaps consider building a feeding station. I built this one a few years ago (based on instructions from Little Silver Hedgehog https://littlesilverhedgehog.com/2016/06/20/build-a-hedgehog-feeding-station/ ) and the hedgehogs quickly got used to it. You can find a similar design on the British Hedgehog Society’s website https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding_Station.pdf
If you can consider leaving a bit of a messy or wild area in your garden (we have no shortage of those in ours) then it will benefit all sorts of wildlife but particularly hedgehogs. Not only will it give them areas to shelter in, but the weeds will provide food for the insects and other invertebrates that will in turn feed the hedgehogs. If you’ve got a pond, please check that it is hedgehog friendly. Hedgehogs can swim, but if they get stuck in a pond with no way of climbing out they will eventually tire and drown. Sloping sides to the pond, or a few large stones or a ramp will provide safe ways of getting out for any hedgehogs that have accidentally taken a dip.
I realise not everyone wants their garden to be a total wilderness like ours, but if you do decide to do some tidying, please be hedgehog aware. Strimmers in particular can cause horrific injuries to hedgehogs, so always check an area carefully before charging in with the strimmer. A hedgehog’s natural defence is to curl up, but this won’t save it from a strimmer, so please be careful.
Similarly please check compost heaps or piles of leaves carefully before sticking a dirty great fork in – these are ideal places for hedgehogs to rest up and they can easily get spiked. If you are planning on a bonfire – please don’t pile the wood up and leave it for days. Bonfires look like perfect places to sleep for hedgehogs and so many get burnt alive in bonfires. Best to build and light a bonfire the same day. If you must gather the wood earlier then please lift it all up and check underneath before lighting.
Many people like to provide a nest box or hedgehog house. There are lots of these available on the market – the best designs have an integrated tunnel of some kind that not only keeps out cold draughts but deters predators too. We have a couple of boxes in our garden – it’s taken a couple of years but we finally have hedgehogs using both of them, so do be patient.
Here’s one of our hedgehogs (One-eyed Tim – named for obvious reasons) collecting nesting material for his house.
And here’s some more clips of what I think is a female hedgehog at our other hedgehog house. In the first clip she seems to be trying to drag something in that is still attached as she has a real struggle with it!
The slight flashing you see on this second clip is just the infrared going off – nothing that would disturb the hedgehog.
Please keep an eye out for sick or injured hedgehogs. As a general rule most hedgehogs seen out during the day are in trouble and need rescuing. The exception to this is a pregnant or new mum hedgehog who might take short breaks from the nest during the day to gather nesting material or food – she will generally be a large hedgehog and be moving quickly and purposefully and won’t stay out too long. If you see any small hedgehogs or wobbly confused looking ones, or particularly ones just lying out in the sun, then best to rescue them immediately and get them to your local hedgehog rescue. If you don’t know a number for a local contact, call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890801) and they will tell you your nearest one. I found these two babies out on our lawn a couple of years ago on a baking hot July afternoon. I took them straight around to our local hedgehog rescuer Viv, who thankfully managed to save them. Fred & Freda as they were called weighed less than 100g when they were found and wouldn’t have lasted long without intervention.
The other problem to look out for is young hedgehogs that are too small to get through the winter hibernation. If you see any really small ones towards the end of October/beginning of November try and catch them to check their weight. They need to be an absolute minimum of 450g (but preferably bigger) to get through the winter. If they are too small, get them to your local hedgehog rescuer. Last year we had a small hog in our garden at the end of October. You can see how much smaller he was than the adult in the clip below.
I weighed him and he was only 400g, so probably wouldn’t have made it through the winter. Thankfully Viv took Tiny Tim (as we imaginatively named him!) in and he thrived under her care over the winter, before being released back in our garden in the spring.
Finally if you don’t have hedgehogs in your garden, or perhaps don’t even have a garden, there are still things you can do to help. It could be as simple as picking up rubber bands on the street. Every day hundreds of rubber bands get dropped (often sadly by postmen) and hedgehogs (and other wildlife) can easily get a leg or even head stuck in the bands which can then cause horrible injuries or even death.
You could support your local hedgehog rescuer – most of them are volunteers who are self funded and do amazing work rehabilitating sick or injured or orphaned hedgehogs. You could help by volunteering with them (help is often needed cleaning out and feeding), or donating food or other supplies (even old newspapers are useful) or a more monetary contribution. My local hedgehog rescuer Viv (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/ ) often has over 100 hedgehogs in her care – a massive undertaking and amazing commitment.
Or you could support the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ who work to promote hedgehog awareness, campaign on hedgehoggy issues, fund hedgehoggy research and supply hedgehoggy information to schools and other organisations.
Having hedgehogs in your garden and knowing you are doing your own small bit to help them is such a rewarding thing. They need all the help they can get at the moment and a few small changes could make a big difference locally, and if we all did it, then who knows what a difference it could make nationally.