How you can help hedgehogs
British hedgehogs have suffered a rapid population decline. Here are 10 ways you can save these adorable mammals.
1 RESCUE HEDGEHOGS
Sick, injured, orphaned or underweight hedgehogs can be saved by expert care, and many are released back into the wild. If you find an animal you’re worried about, put it in a box indoors with a towel to hide under and contact your local hedgehog hospital, or call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890801.
2 CREATE A WILD CORNER
Add a tussocky patch to your garden as a perfect daytime nesting area for hedgehogs. Allow a corner of your lawn to grow long, or sow a mix of native grasses and wildflowers, such as meadow foxtail, cock’s-foot, lesser knapweed, yarrow and ox-eye daisy. Leave this vegetation over winter as it provides a crucial habitat for many invertebrates to complete their life-cycle – a garden buzzing with insects is a great garden for hedgehogs.
3 TURN ALLOTMENTS AND VEG BEDS INTO HAVENS
Growing veggies creates perfect ‘hogitat’, so long as you avoid chemicals and don’t fence your plot with netting or chicken wire (try living willow instead). Speak out at allotment management meetings: hedgehogs make great pest controllers.
4 BREAK DOWN BARRIERS
Opening up your garden is the bread and butter of being hedgehog-friendly. So if you do nothing else, cut 13cm by 13cm holes in your fences at ground level, or make small tunnels underneath the panels. These will be too small for pets, but big enough for grateful rotund hogs to pass through.
5 OFFER EXTRA FOOD
Supplement natural foods by offering meat-based cat or dog food, crushed unsalted peanuts, mealworms or raisins. This is most important if you spot any active hedgehogs in November–March, the usual hibernation period, when invertebrate prey is scarce.
6 PROVIDE NESTING PLACES
Go natural! Purpose-built ‘hog houses’ are fun and sometimes used, but a woodpile is a multi-functional, one-stop shop for hedgehogs, providing abundant insect food together with a sheltered spot for them to start a family. Simply leaning a piece of wood against a wall or fence can help, too. Hedgehogs breed between April and September.
7 AVOID CHEMICALS
Go chemical-free in 2014. Using weedkiller on your lawn reduces the availability of earthworms, a key hedgehog prey item. Slug pellets and pesticides can also make hedgehogs very ill or even kill them.
8 PLANT A TREE
If space allows, plant an oak, beech, hornbeam or lime tree. These have the ideal leaf size for hedgehogs to make their winter hibernation nests. If you buy trees from a nursery, check they haven’t been imported from Europe and have been grown from UK seed in the UK.
9 MAKE A COMPOST HEAP
Composting is better than wasting money on fertilisers and a huge help to hedgehogs. This is because leaf decay, and the associated bacteria and fungi, support diverse communities of creepy-crawlies, which in turn are food for hedgehogs. Start your mound of decaying plant matter in a spot that’s accessible to hedgehogs and open to the elements: avoid covered heaps or bins.
10 SPREAD THE WORD
Hedgehog conservation is all about collaboration, so show this page to your friends, neighbours and work colleagues. What our hedgehogs really need is safe neighbourhoods, not single gardens.
HEDGEHOG IN YOUR GARDEN? SPOT THE SIGNS
Tracks Faint trails through flowerbeds or long grass or across dew-covered lawns in the early morning may indicate that a foraging hedgehog has been in the area.
Prints Hedgehogs have wide front feet with splayed toes and narrow back feet with longer ones. Their prints are hard to find, so try leaving out a ‘footprint tunnel’ that has an ink pad to record them. Buy a kit from the Mammal Society for £9.95 plus P&P, or make your own.
Droppings Hedgehog scats are dark, gritty and up to 5cm long. Often they glisten with indigestible prey fragments, such as beetle wingcases, though these are absent if a hedgehog has been eating mostly worms.
Vocalisations If you hear huffing, snuffling or wheezing in your garden at night, it’s a fair bet that you have hedgehogs. They are noisiest on warm evenings in May–July, the peak breeding season in Britain.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE NOW
For more information about hedgehogs and advice on how you can help them, visit www.hedgehogstreet.org
Take part in Britain’s national hedgehog hibernation survey at www.ptes.org