At this time of year when the weather becomes colder and the long summer days finally give way to the long winter nights we find ourselves starting to prepare for this change. Whether it be by wrapping up warm, popping on the heating or spending more time indoors we need and crave a warm, cosy atmosphere. While the majority of our preparation is for our comfort, for some of our wildlife being well prepared is a matter of survival and this is most definitely the case for one of our most popular garden companions the hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are an integral part of British wildlife and are an excellent friend to gardeners. As they are nocturnal you may not have noticed them scurrying around in your garden helping to eat the slugs, snails and insects that damage the plants you have carefully grown. However, our favourite helpful, spiky mammals are sadly in decline. During the 1950s there were supposedly over 30 million hedgehogs in the UK. Sadly that number has now reduced dramatically to less than a million. A number of factors have contributed to this sharp drop from new buildings and roads intruding on hedgehogs habitats to climate change disrupting natural hibernation times. Nevertheless, all is not lost! There are a number of things that you can do to help prepare your small friends for winter and hopefully help stop this trend.
A Hedgehog Friendly Garden
Creating a hedgehog friendly garden is simple to do and will help to protect hedgehogs over the long winter months. Hedgehogs are attracted to gardens which have lots of nooks and crannies that they can hide and nest in. Some of their favourite places include the base of a hedgerow, under a shed and in dense undergrowth. Not only do these areas provide shelter but they are often teeming with invertebrates for hedgehogs to feast upon. If you would like to encourage a hedgehog to nest in your garden you will find that it helps to keep part of your garden wild.
Hedgehogs also like to be able to move around freely. During their nighttime wanderings when they are out looking for mates, food and nesting areas they can travel as far as 2km! In the build up to winter it is particularly important that hedgehogs find enough to eat so that they can survive hibernation. So if it is possible (and your neighbours have agreed) it is a good idea to create a little hedgehog hole in your fence (or dig a channel underneath) so that they can roam happily between your gardens.
If you are trying to attract a hedgehog to your garden you need to make sure that it is a safe space for them. With the hedgehog population in decline it is important to ensure that potential dangers are kept to a minimum. Chemicals used in the garden, especially ones found in slug pellets, can seriously harm hedgehogs so it is best to avoid them. Hedgehogs eat slugs so should be a great pest controller anyway, but if there are still too many slugs try using beer to get rid of the pests or place obstacles around your plants. Ponds can also prove to be a problem. Hedgehogs often like to drink from ponds and can fall in. Even though they can swim it is important that they can exit the pond quickly otherwise it can prove dangerous. One thing you can do to help them is place a brick at the side of the pond to act as a step so that they can find their way out. Finally, it is important to check bonfires, grass cuttings, compost heaps and rubbish bags before disturbing them. You might find a hedgehog has decided to use it as a nest and has set up home!
Feeding Your Hedgehog
As winter approaches hedgehogs are starting to prepare for hibernation. Typically hedgehogs will hibernate between October and March and need to rely on their fat stores to keep them alive until spring. However, there are many reasons why a hedgehog may not have put on enough weight. For example, bad weather can affect their food supply. Some young hedgehogs might not have been alive long enough to have put on enough weight. So as hibernation season approaches it can’t hurt to give the hedgehogs a helping hand when it come to feeding. You can leave a variety of things in the garden for hedgehogs to munch on including meaty cat and dog food (no fish flavours), sunflower seeds, nuts and kitten biscuits. You can also find special hedgehog food in the shops and a bowl of water is always well recieved. However, you should never feed a hedgehog bread or milk as they can’t digest it.
A Home Fit for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle
If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog living in your garden one important thing that you can do is provide them with their very own hedgehog home! Hedgehogs tend to go house hunting during the autumn months when preparing for hibernation so the earlier you place your hedgehog home in your garden the more likely it is that you will acquire a new neighbour. We have a few wonderful purpose built Hogitats which can be placed in the garden and are ready for new occupants to move into straight away. Or if you are feeling adventurous and fancy a DIY challenge you can easily create your own Hedgehog home fit for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle herself!
There are a few things that need to be taken into consideration if you decide you wish to make your own custom built hedgehog palace. You will need to build a home that has a large compartment which provides protection from both the cold and the heat. You should also make sure that there is an entrance tunnel leading to this main section. This will stop predators such as badgers, dogs, foxes and cats from being able to reach in and grab the hedgehogs with their paws. You should also ensure that there you have placed material inside that hedgehogs can use to build their nests such as dry leaves, grass and newspaper. Hedgehogs like to build large nests and will appreciate having materials in the home to help get them started.
When you have finished building your house you also need to think about where you will place it in your garden. Just like human house-hunters, for hedgehogs location is everything! You should place the house in a quiet spot and cover it with vegetation. For a step by step guide on how to build and maintain a hedgehog home both the RSPB and The Wildlife Trust provide excellent instructions to help you build a house that any hedgehog would be happy to call home.
Let Sleeping Hedgehogs Lie
If you have a hedgehog family living in your garden it is important that during the winter you leave your hibernating hedgehog alone. If you have a hedgehog house make sure you are not frequently checking it to see if there are any occupants. Accidents do happen and if you do wake a sleeping hedgehog don’t panic! If it is an adult hedgehog you can leave out some food and water and it will hopefully settle back down to hibernate again.
However, if you do see hedgehogs out and about in the daytime during the winter they may need some help. In that case you should carefully pick up the injured animal using gardening gloves to protect your hands and bring them inside. You should make sure you don’t handle the hedgehog for too long and should place it in a cardboard box lined with a towel so that the hedgehog can hide. The box should be kept in a quiet place and you should place a warm, wrapped hot water bottle in the box so that the hedgehog has a heat source. You should offer the hedgehog food and water, make sure they are settled and then call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice on what to do next.
Hedgehogs are an excellent friend to gardeners and are an important part of British wildlife. It is easy to make your garden a safe haven for our prickly friends and one that they choose to spend time in. By following our advice, you can help preserve these wonderful creatures and give them a helping hand during the harsh winter months – ready for their next adventure in spring.
Annie works for the Primrose product loading team mainly creating web pages and writing product descriptions. When not at her desk you can find her writing for The Independent, re-reading Harry Potter or out for a walk.