How To Help Our Hedgehogs

How To Help Our Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs, the gardeners friend

Hedgehogs are one of our most charismatic native mammals and they need our help. A survey commissioned by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species concluded that the hedgehog population has declined by approximately a quarter in the last ten years. In 2007 they were declared a priority conservation species. It is thought that there are several reasons for their decline including intensive agriculture which has destroyed their hedgerow habitat and killed off their food source with the widespread use of pesticides. They have a range of between 10 and 50ha and can travel up to 2km in a night. Garden fences and walls prevent them from having a large enough area to gather food. Roads also divide up their habitat area with the result that thousands are killed each year. They hibernate from November to the beginning of April. 

There are 17 species and they are native to Europe, Asia and Africa. They were introduced to the Scottish Islands of North Uist and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides with devastating results. As there are no natural predators of the hedgehog on these islands they soon began to devastate the ground nesting bird population by eating their eggs. They have changed very little over the last 15 million years. They are a nocturnal, insectivorous mammal feeding mainly on snails, beetles, frogs, carrion, bird’s eggs and berries. Their name is from the Middle English; hedge from the fact that their preferred habitat is hedgerows and hog from their pig-like snout.

Hedgehog snout

Even the smallest garden can accommodate a hedgehog restaurant and hibernation hotel. Make a hibernation hotel out of a pile of brash formed into a dome shape and covered with leaves, make sure there is a thick enough layer of leaves to keep out the frost. Another easy hog house to make is take a fairly large strong cardboard box, cut an entrance in one side, about 15 x 15cm (6 x 6”) and make a short tunnel to fit the entrance with another cardboard box. Cut a small air hole in one side and place in a secluded position, ideally under a hedge. Cover with strong plastic, put some dry grass or straw inside, cover with twigs and a good layer of leaves and dry grass.

Gardeners can easily help the hedgehog population by carrying out a few simple measures. If possible leave a small part of the garden to go wild, this will provide cover and a foraging place. Planting shrubs which are close to the ground will be an ideal substitute for a hedge. Either garden organically or use pesticides sparingly to encourage the invertebrates the hedgehog loves; if you have a hedgehog in the garden you won’t need to use slug pellets as they will devour the slugs. Try and leave small gaps in the fence so the hedgehog can come and go and so increase its foraging area. If you have a water feature make sure a hedgehog can get out if it falls in; put a pile of stones or crumpled up chicken wire in the water to enable it to clamber out. Put out some hedgehog food or cat or dog food (not bread and milk) to supplement its natural diet. Leave piles of leaves for it to nest in, and as a bonus eventually you will have a lovely soil conditioner.

Baby hedgehog

Baby hedgehog (hoglet)

One of the main considerations is Bonfire Night, build your bonfire just before it is lit, or if you have built your bonfire ahead of time please take it to pieces and reassemble to make sure hedgehogs are not hibernating inside.

You may not think doing any of these suggestions will do much good but if lots of people do then we will make a difference.

Angela Slater

Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas.