Here at the Garden, we have been working with volunteers to try to capture footage of hedgehogs on site and find out how we can best aid the spiky little individuals, which have been declining in population. Whether you have a deep passion for conserving this iconic native species, or you simply wish to benefit from their natural pest control activity, we can all help out in a number of ways, right in your own back gardens.
Populations of hedgehogs in urban areas seem to be showing signs of recovery, meaning that your garden could be ground zero in the resurgence of hedgehogs nationally! They will need to get in first though, which is easily achieved through the installation of at least one 13 x 13cm (5 x 5”) hole in the bottom of a strong wall or fence (generally, the larger the garden, the more access points are needed). This will allow hedgehogs to come and go freely, without letting your pets do the same. Hedgehogs will wander between 1-2 km a night during their active season, so it’s worth considering teaming up with neighbours to provide a long chain of gardens for them to explore. Alternatively, you can head to hedgehogstreet.org to register your garden as part of the ‘hedgehog highway’, and figure out where hedgehogs may be able to reach in your area.
Provide Food and Water
One of the best ways to provide food for hedgehogs is by planting native species such as honeysuckle, dog rose, hawthorn and blackthorn, which all provide food for a wide range of caterpillars. Most moth caterpillars descend to the ground to pupate, where they become food for passing hedgehogs. This has the added benefit of adding plant diversity to your garden. Year-round, but especially in autumn when hedgehogs are readying themselves for hibernation, and just after hibernation in mid-March, it is useful to leave out supplementary food. Non-fishy pet food or specific hedgehog food you can buy from a pet shop is best. Bread or milk should be avoided, as they can dehydrate and kill hedgehogs. You can create a hedgehog feeding station, or simply place it under something low, or cover it with a plastic box with a small entrance hole to avoid attracting cats. Leaving water out is also helpful, especially in hot weather, and water is the only drink you should provide. The dishes used to serve food and water should be cleaned regularly, and the water should be replaced each night.
A pile of leaves, twigs, or logs left in a quiet part of the garden is a great habitat for hedgehogs. It will provide a warm, dry and secluded area for them to nest and hibernate, as well as attracting some of their prey, like slugs, beetles and centipedes. Log piles are easy to create, and encourage a wide range of wildlife. A compost heap will have a similar effect, however extra care will be required when turning the heap, as garden forks can easily injure or kill a hedgehog.
If you’re in the mood for a project, you could also build a hedgehog house (instructions and guidance can be found here). Hedgehogs may use these constructions to hibernate and raise young. It is best to cover it with plastic sheeting and a layer of leaves for warmth, camouflage and waterproofing. An entrance tunnel of 13 x 13cm and 40cm long should prevent predators from getting in, however, if you do see this, adding an internal dividing wall with a gap on the side furthest from the entrance, like a chicane, will create a secondary barrier to entry for larger animals.
This is an easy one. Just do nothing! Let some of your garden overgrow, perhaps that corner that’s already annoying to get the mower into, and watch as hedgehogs use this area to forage and shelter. In winter, they might even nest in your garden. You can use branches to add structure to this area, but the increased abundance of insects alone will create a huge benefit for insectivorous mammals.
Plant a Hedge… (hog)
If you’re up for more intensive garden work, putting in a hedge instead of a fence will allow easier access to adjoining areas, as well as create leaf piles where hedgehogs can forage, hibernate and raise their young. Certain native plants such as hazel and hawthorn are most recommended, as they attract egg-laying moths, providing hedgehogs with their favourite snack: caterpillars!
Hazards to Avoid
- Hedgehogs share gardens with the pets that live in them. At night, if your dog is about to be let out, you can warn any hedgehogs of the danger by switching on an outside light a minute before you let the dog out.
- Although hedgehogs are adept swimmers, ponds with steep sides are death traps to them. If they can’t climb out of the water, they will become exhausted and drown. This is easily avoidable through the use of exit points. This can be in the form of sloped sides to the pond, thick rope netting draped over the side as a ladder, a plank of wood leading out of the pond, or a pile of stones at one side of the water. This also applies to other steep-sided features, such as open drains.
- Entanglement in plastic waste or garden netting can be very dangerous for hedgehogs. If possible, replace garden netting with more rigid structures, otherwise, thicker cordage should be used and kept taut at all times. Any netting, wiring, or string that is at least a foot off the ground should be fine, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Hedgehog hospitals and rescue centres are full of hedgehogs with horrific injuries caused by strimmers. This is because a hedgehog will not run from the sound of a mower or strimmer (especially if they’re asleep). Make sure to check for hedgehogs before you start strimming. If you see a hedgehog on its own, use gloves to carefully move it to a safe and secluded spot. Families of hedgehogs should ideally be left undisturbed, but you can contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice on this.
- Hedgehogs will often lick new smells or substances, so it’s important to use environmentally safe wood preservatives on garden furniture, and many other garden chemicals should be avoided where possible. Any chemical which impacts invertebrates will reduce the food availability for hedgehogs, including lawn treatments, pesticides and insecticides. Slug pellets can be lethal to hedgehogs due to the metaldehyde present in them, and even wildlife-friendly organic pellets take slugs and snails out of the food chain, reducing food sources for hedgehogs. There are some precautions you can take, such as making the pellets inaccessible to the hedgehogs by placing them in a narrow tube. Although slugs and snails only make up a small proportion of a hedgehog’s diet, by boosting the hedgehog population in your area, they will help control the slug population through predation.
- Bonfires made up of branches, twigs, and other garden waste may be mistaken for a place to hibernate or nest by a hedgehog. To avoid tragedy, it is best to either build and burn your bonfires on the same day, carefully search through the pile with a rake or spade to encourage wildlife to escape or simply move the bonfire to a different location just before burning.
Sources for further information can be found here:
- 10 trips for encouraging hedgehogs in your neighbourhood | Hedgehog Street
- Hedgehog Street | British Hedgehog Preservation Society
- How to help hedgehogs in your garden | Sussex Wildlife Trust
- 10 Ways to Help Hedgehogs | BBC Gardeners World Magazine