One of the most recognisable and pleasing noises you can hear at dusk in your garden, is the snuffling and rustling of Hedgehogs. Often you can catch glimpses of them as they forage under bushes and scurry through the flower beds, eating spiders, snails, and any other tasty morsels they deem worthy.
When they first emerge from hibernation in the spring, having snoozed away the cold winter months, they simply want to eat to fill up their fat reserves and start looking for romance!
Unfortunately every year some are not so lucky. During our hotter, longer summers many hedgehogs have a second litter of Hoglets in the autumn. These babies struggle to reach the 600g weight needed to survive the winter and as a result hedgehog carers, myself included, and wildlife hospitals sometimes receive an influx of autumn juveniles, brought in by concerned members of the public. Last year Evesham’s Vale Wildlife Hospital had over ninety hoglets due for release in the spring.
I started caring for Hedgehogs a couple of years ago after finding two Hoglets wandering around a relative’s garden. My wildlife hobby soon developed and took me to the Vale Wildlife Hospital where I began training in Wildlife care and rehabilitation. I now also enjoy doing a range of talks and school visits, educating adults and children in wildlife care, supported by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. The Vale has an open day every year, and is well worth a visit to see what they actually do.
Hedgehogs were added to the ‘species in need of protection’ list recently, but many wildlife carers believe that they should have made the Endangered Species List. Sadly humans are once again the main cause, with habitat loss, road accidents, litter, enclosed gardens and netting, bonfires, and accidents with lawn mowers.
Many people are already Hedgehog aware, and leave out food and provide shelter for them. TV programs such as ‘Autumn and Spring Watch’ have also helped popularise wildlife awareness. This is a lovely time of year to look out for and enjoy our wildlife. Hoglets usually start to appear from May onwards, and you could well have several different Hedgehogs visiting your garden each night. They can wander up to two miles in an evening, visiting ten or more gardens looking for food and love.
There are several ways you can encourage Hedgehogs in your garden:
- Regularly put out meat based pet foods and plenty of water in shallow dishes, or on old dinner plates, which are perfect.
- Contrary to what many people believe hedgehogs should not be given milk to drink, as they cannot digest lactose and can become very ill. Bread is also not recommended as it can cause digestive clogging.
- You can add to their natural diet by giving fruit, unsalted nuts, scrambled egg, meat left-over’s (cut up small), and some cat or dog biscuits. They should not be fed fish, however, or pork products or other salty foods.
- You can make a feeding station by putting the food under a wooden board up on bricks, low enough for a Hedgehog to get under or get a plastic storage box, 30cm by 45cm, cut a door way in the shorter side, 10cm square; tape up the edges of the doorway, line it with newspaper, and place the food and water inside towards the back of the box, shut the lid to keep thieving cats away. Place the box in a sheltered area of your garden where there is any evidence of hedgehogs visiting.
- Create a daytime sleeping place for hedgehogs by putting straw or shredded newspaper in a medium sized box, under a sheltered spot, cover the top with some plastic to keep it dry.
- Keep garden netting and sports netting up off the ground by at least 1ft, to avoid causing strangulation injuries to tangled hedgehogs.
- Cover drains, and check compost heaps before sticking a fork or spade in, and thoroughly check bonfires before lighting. Many Hedgehogs die this time of year because they sleep in piles of dried garden refuse ready burning. If you find a Hedgehog move it to a safer quiet place in the garden.
- When mowing or strimming areas of long grass, or undergrowth check for Hedgehogs who could be asleep. Carers and Wildlife Sanctuaries have seen a big increase in horrific injuries caused by strimmers.
- If you use slug pellets, please buy organic varieties, which are animal friendly and widely available at garden centres, or use some of the brilliant alternatives, such as nematodes, copper tape, egg shells and beer traps.
- If you have an enclosed garden, make a small gap under a fence to encourage Hedgehogs.
- Don’t let your dog ‘play’ with a hedgehog in the garden, as the Hedgehog may die from shock. Move it to a quieter area of the garden where the dog can’t get to it, and distract your dog by playing with its favourite toy.
- If you see a Hedgehog out during the day, it will need help. They never come out in daylight unless disturbed or ill. If you’re worried a Hedgehog is ill, injured, or abandoned by its mum, put it in a warm place wrapped in an old towel, offer it cat/dog food and water and ring a carer or the BHPS for advice.
- Never disturb a nest, especially in the evening the mother generally won’t be far away and could abandon the babies if scared.
Making a few changes and adapting our gardens to help wildlife may seem small in scale, but will have a large impact overall. Hedgehogs are such a pleasure to see in our gardens and have been an inspiration for stories passed down the generations – I still have my very first copy of Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggywinkle.
Hopefully with our help they can thrive and inspire more stories for years to come.
Photos by Steph Best