Hedgehogs

This summer I was delighted to discover I have a regular hedgehog visitor to my garden.

Last year my fence had blown down in a storm and before it was repaired, I had a Hedgehog Highway gap put into the base of it.

I didn’t really expect it to be used as my garden is small and I live near a large open, scrubby area of suitable hedgehog habitat, so I thought any local hedgehogs wouldn’t bother with my garden.  However, as I walked up my drive late one night after watering the front garden, I saw a hedgehog leaving the back garden through the hedgehog gap!

I watched the next few nights and saw that it was using the large flower pot tray that I keep filled with water for the birds, to drink from.  A regular source of water would have been especially valuable to it during our hot, dry summer.  I then started putting out supplementary food for it regularly too, as their usual invertebrate food is also harder to find when it is very hot and dry.

Hedgehogs need to forage in a large number of gardens to find enough food for one night (as they need an area totalling around 90 hectares) and to do this they travel a mile or more overnight.  Our modern, tightly fitted garden fences therefore make a lot of areas inaccessible to them.  Hedgehog Street is a project (run by PTES) encouraging garden owners to make gaps the size of a CD case in the bottom of fences and to ask their neighbours to do the same, thereby making a whole street of gardens accessible to hedgehogs.

As well as gardens being valuable to hedgehogs, hedgehogs are valuable to gardeners.  They feed mainly on invertebrates, some of which gardeners may want to control such as slugs, caterpillars and leatherjackets.  Hedgehogs are a good reason to avoid using slug pellets, as you risk poisoning them too.  Hedgehogs can benefit from supplementary feeding to ensure they get fat enough to hibernate successfully over winter.  The minimum weight they need to be before hibernation is 450 grams, so if you find a small hedgehog under this weight from October onwards, it will need help (see the more info links below).

If we feed hedgehogs it is important to put out meat-based cat or dog food (not fish flavoured or with lots of jelly), cat biscuits or specialist hedgehog food, never the traditional milk and bread.  You can feed within a feeding station to stop local cats eating the food instead of the hedgehogs!  Maintaining a shallow, fresh, water supply is also valuable to all wildlife.

In autumn hedgehogs start to look for somewhere safe to hibernate for winter.  We can provide these places in our gardens.  Piles of logs, twigs and leaves are ideal.  Alternatively, you can buy ready-made hedgehog houses or make your own.

The danger at this time of year is that a hedgehog chooses a bonfire pile which is ready for November then very sadly gets burnt when the bonfires is lit.  If you want to enjoy a bonfire, pile the materials elsewhere first, then only build it on the fire site on the day you will light it (other tips in the more info section below).

Another potential danger to hedgehogs comes from garden ponds.  Hedgehogs may fall in when trying to drink.  Make sure your pond has shallow sides or add a plank covered in chicken wire as a gentle slope in one corner, to help any wildlife that falls in to climb out again.

Enjoy your garden, make it accessible and friendly to wildlife and I hope you also discover a hedgehog visitor before long.

 

More info…

Hedgehog Street FAQs www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/faqs/

Wild About Gardens hedgehog booklet

The BBC have an interesting talk by Hugh Warwick (hedgehog expert) on de-fragmenting our landscapes here.

Hedgehogs seen in the day are fine if busily going about their business, it might be a mother collecting nesting material and should be left alone.  However, if you see one in daylight acting lethargically, or apparently sunbathing, it is likely to be ill.  If you find a sick or injured hedgehog, or one that is very underweight late in the year, see www.hedgehogstreet.org/sick-or-injured-hedgehog/ or www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/found-a-hedgehog/

More hedgehog facts www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/the-basic-facts/

Tips for a wildlife-friendly bonfire evening:

  • Site your bonfire in an area away from nest boxes, trees and bushes in order to avoid giving roosting birds and other wildlife a nasty surprise
  • Build the bonfire on the day, or as close to lighting it as possible so there’s less chance of wildlife moving in
  • Use broom handles to lift the bonfire up to check for wildlife sleeping inside before lighting the fire. Make the check while there is still daylight on the day of lighting it, to make spotting wildlife easier
  • Move any animals found to an alternative sheltered, dry and safe place, well away from the fire
  • Light the bonfire at one side rather than all round to give any hidden animals an escape route
  • Once the celebrations are over, how about stacking any unused logs, twigs or leaves in a quiet corner to provide shelter for all sorts of wildlife.

 

Alison Riggs, St Luke’s Environment Officer

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