If you have a hedgehog in your garden, then consider yourself very lucky! If you'd like to keep him or her there then follow these simple tips to make your garden safer and more attractive to these friendly creatures:
Very tidy gardens are NOT friendly places for hedgehogs. If you leave a small corner behind or under bushes where leaves and other garden debris accumulates, a log pile with space inside hedgehogs will be attracted and inclined to stay. If this area is literally a sheltered corner in the fencing it may also serve as a good place of a hibernacula, a nesting place for the winter.
Supplement their normal share of slugs, snails, beetles, worms; caterpillars etc. with regular snacks of good quality tinned cat or dog food (Not fish flavour as this upsets their stomachs). This will encourage them to stay. Please do NOT feed them bread and milk - this will only upset their stomachs. In the winter leave food out whenever you see evidence of hedgehog activity in the garden.
Water is also essential, especially in extremes of temperatures, but it can also be a hazard if you have a pool or pond with a long drop to the water's surface and smooth lined sides. Suitably placed stones near the edge will help the situation (and incidentally frogs, newts and toads too!). Alternatively, a piece of small mesh chicken wire anchored in the earth and trained down the side of the pool will act as a climbing net.
Other hazards to hedgehogs are
- Pesticides - This includes slug pellets! Whilst hedgehogs will not eat the pellet they will be poisoned by eating slugs that have. There are alternative methods of slug control and a resident hedgehog is one of them!
- Fires – Piled up leaves and cuttings make attractive homes for hedgehogs and therefore burning these piles poses a problem for the hedgehogs. To avoid causing issues for resident hedgehogs, move the piles right before you want to burn them.
- Mowing and strimming - Getting into those odd corners with the strimmer can do more than cut the grass. Long grass in protected places is a favourite place for hedgehog families to spend the daylight hours.
- Netting - Nets for fruit, tennis, football etc. can trap hedgehogs very easily. If you have to use netting, check it daily at least.
- Household rubbish - Cans, yoghurt containers, plastic cups etc and the plastic rings from packs of cans can get trapped over hedgehogs' heads! Part of their success in evolution is that they are opportunists and omnivorous eaters. Their inquisitiveness means they will literally stick their noses into anything that might provide a meal! Open containers of oil, paint or other hazardous substances are also a problem.
In more rural areas, cattle grids are also a hazard if they are too deep for hedgehogs to climb out of. A simple ramp of bricks or stones (possible with a piece of wood) in one corner is a simple solution to this problem.
Appreciate your resident hedgehog, but please do not be too possessive. Ensure that there is a means of escape from the garden, especially in a small town or village garden. For full physical and mental health, a hedgehog needs to be able to roam, to seek mates, and find food, but making your garden as attractive as possible will increase the chances of it sticking around.
Should an amorous pair of hedgehogs snuffling and grunting in their mating dance disturb your night‘s sleep, then rejoice! It is one of the best signs you can have to indicate you have an attractive garden!
People often see hedgehogs out and about in their gardens in the evening, but become concerned when they are still seeing them into October and beyond.
Hedgehogs hibernate to avoid the problem of lack of food; it is pointless to waste valuable energy, endlessly searching for food in frozen ground. Instead the hedgehog retreats to his hibernacula, (winter nest) and goes to sleep until conditions improve. It is thought that hedgehogs hibernate from autumn through the winter until the spring, this is not so. Hedgehogs do not have the luxury of calendars; they react to the environment around them. When the temperature at ground level drops sufficiently for a prolonged period the hedgehog slips into hibernation.
In recent years this has been between January and March.
The hedgehog shuts its system down almost to a standstill, the body temperature cools, breathing and heart rate slow, in fact a hibernating hedgehog may only take a breath every four minutes or so. This ‘shutting down', enables the hedgehog to be economical with the built up fat reserves.
Hedgehogs may wake up during hibernation for short periods of activity. It must be remembered that just because a hedgehog is spotted out and about in the middle of winter it is not necessarily in difficulty.
There is increasing awareness about hibernation and the fact that a hedgehog needs to be a certain weight to survive the winter sleep and that some, which are too small, may die, but rarely is this process explained fully, so we know when to and when not to step in.
Late litters of hoglets do not always have the time to put on sufficient fat to carry them through the winter, should we in fact have a season that can be described as winter! If a hedgehog is thought to be underweight it should be weighed, 500g is an acceptable weight as we approach cold weather. Those lighter than this will have to be kept until they reach the acceptable weight and then released. But please, if the hedgehog is healthy and active, behaving naturally and foraging at night, the temperature is mild and there is a plentiful food supply, should we be picking them up at all? If temperatures are mild, those that have been taken in and have gained sufficient weight can be released throughout the autumn and early winter period, there is little point imprisoning a hedgehog in a cage for months on end, as soon as the target weight is reached, if the conditions in the wild are right, the hedgehog can be released.
Sometimes it is not clear whether a hedgehog needs to be ‘rescued' or not, or if it is appropriate to release, so seek advice and don't forget, a saucer of a good quality tinned cat or dog food and a shallow container of water will always go down well, put this out at dusk and then retire to watch.