Hedgehogs. Why can’t they just share the hedge?

Spring is officially here! The lambs are bouncing, the daffodils are out in bloom, and the sun is shining! And most importantly, one of Britain’s most-loved species is emerging out of hibernation, ready to grace our gardens again. 

European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) are widespread across the UK, living in a variety of habitats such as woodlands, farmland, parks and gardens. Hedgehogs hibernate over the winter, usually from November, and emerge in mid-March to April, depending on the weather. Hedgehogs are nocturnal mammals and can travel as far as two miles in one night!

Hedgehog populations have dramatically declined in recent years, and they are now considered vulnerable to extinction in the UK. Many factors have contributed to their decline including loss and damage of suitable habitat, a decline in habitat connectivity, increased road traffic, pesticides, bonfires, and litter. 

But enough doom and gloom! There are so many ways in which you can get involved and help our favourite spiky friends…

Food

During hibernation hedgehogs lose about a third of their body weight. When they emerge they eat as much as possible to become a healthy weight again. Being mostly insectivorous, hedgehogs are natural pest controllers and prey on beetles, earwigs, caterpillars, earthworms, millipedes and fly larvae. Contrary to popular belief, slugs are not actually a main component of a hedgehog’s diet. Healthy hedgehogs will often avoid eating slugs and snails altogether because they struggle to handle the mucus they produce.  Even so, it is still very important to avoid using slug pellets in your garden, as these can pose a poisoning risk to hedgehogs. Instead, why not adopt nature friendly techniques? Baked eggshells, crushed seashells, coffee grounds, sheep wool and even a garlic wash can be used as hedgehog-friendly slug deterrents. 

Baked eggshells being used as hedgehog friendly slug deterrents

Hedgehogs are opportunistic feeders, and people often attract hedgehogs to their gardens by leaving food out for them. Feeding them periodically can give them a helping hand, but be mindful not to feed them too often, or in the same place, as they can become reliant on unnatural food sources. Plain kitten biscuits, meat-based wet dog or cat food, hedgehog food, carrots, apples, and plums are good food choices if you do want to leave some food out. Never leave out bread or milk for hedgehogs because they cause diarrhoea, and even death.

Nature friendly gardening techniques 

Hedgehogs are good swimmers, but often struggle to get out of man-made ponds and pools. If you have one in your garden, ensure to install a rock or even a ramp in it to enable hedgehogs to get out.

Log piles and compost piles provide safe and secure places for hedgehogs to hibernate, breed and nest, as well as attracting insects for them to feed on. Remember to check for hedgehogs before removing logs or turning the compost pile. 

Leave a ‘wild’ corner or a wildflower patch in your garden. Leaving an area of your garden completely undisturbed will attract wildlife by providing sources of habitat and food. And having a wildflower patch in your garden dramatically increases biodiversity, attracting a wider range of species, especially pollinators, and helping to maintain soil health. 

To learn more about nature friendly gardening techniques, join us on our gardening days at Tŷ Hyll. 

Nature friendly gardening days take place once a month at our Tŷ Hyll property.

Habitat connectivity 

Maintaining a connected wide landscape is another way to protect hedgehogs, especially considering a hedgehog’s territory can be up to 20 hectares in size! 

Maintaining and increasing hedgerows provides nest sites, shelter, and protection from predators, as well as increasing insect populations that are prey to hedgehogs. Well-connected hedgerows with bramble understoreys and good ground cover provide foraging areas for hedgehogs in summer, and hibernation habitats in winter. Maintaining and increasing habitat connectivity is crucial in allowing hedgehogs to disperse and move across the landscape to find shelter, food, and mates. Hedgehogs also favour travelling along linear landscape features, so the more well-maintained connected hedgerows, the better! 

If you live in an urban area, ensure any land boundaries such as fences have a small hole (13cm by 13cm) to allow for hedgehogs to move freely through the landscape. Link your garden into the nation-wide “hedgehog highway” now! 

Cymdeithas Eryri hosts many volunteer days helping to maintain habitat connectivity. Although we have come to the end of the tree and hedge planting season, keep an eye out for woodland maintenance days! 

Snowdonia Society volunteers busy hedge planting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being aware

The fact that you are even reading this article shows that you care enough to make a change and help out our hedgehogs! Thank you!  

If you are one of the lucky people who does have a hedgehog frequenting your garden, make sure to report your sighting. There are many ways to report sightings, including by adding them to the ‘BIG Hedgehog Map’. This helps us to understand where hedgehogs are and where they are missing, allowing us to manage these habitats better to attract hedgehogs.

Although we are all keen to see this elusive mammal, it is really important that we do not disturb hedgehogs. One of the best times to see them is at night, and they are surprisingly noisy with their distinctive huffing and puffing sounds. The best way to see them whilst not disturbing them is to use a wildlife camera. However, if you do want to see them, using a red light is the best way to search around your garden, as hedgehogs cannot see red. It is also important to remember to keep pets away, as they can often scare, injure or even kill hedgehogs. 

If you come across an injured hedgehog, gently pick it up with thick gloves or a towel. Take the hedgehog to your local wildlife centre, your local ‘hogspital’, or your local vets. If you can’t do this immediately, keep the hedgehog somewhere warm and quiet indoors. You can provide a small amount of food or water if needed. 

You can also register to become an injured hedgehog fosterer with your local wildlife centre or local hedgehog rescue centre. 

Helping hedgehogs helps everyone 

The tips mentioned in this article are not only great for hedgehogs but will likely also increase wildlife biodiversity. So, by adopting these techniques for hedgehogs, you will also be helping out a wide variety of other species. 

With the change of the season and the glorious arrival of Spring, keep an eye out for other emerging species such as the first queen bumblebees, butterflies, beetles, ladybirds and the return of many birds such as blackcaps, chiffchaffs and sand martins. Tree leaves will begin to bud, their flowers unfurl, and the first spring flowers will bloom. Keep an eye out for snowdrops, crocuses, wood anemones, cuckoo flowers and bluebells. 

For more information on hedgehog conservation, see: 

https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ 

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/mammals/hedgehog/ 

https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/hedgehogs 

https://thewildlifecommunity.co.uk/blogs/the-wildlife-community-blog/hedgehog-care-after-hibernation 

For advice on what to do with an injured hedgehog, see: 

https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/hedgehogs/injured 

https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/found-a-hedgehog/ 

Or contact The British Hedgehog Preservation Society Emergency number on: 01584 890 801 

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