How to care for hedgehogs
- Credit: Tom Marshall
Rebecca Taylor of the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust explains how you can help our endangered hedgehogs
Over the past 50 years we’ve seen a decline in two thirds of the UK’s plant and animal species. For a range of reasons including loss of habitat, many of our common garden species – house sparrows, starlings and common frogs, for example – are now endangered species. As you may have read in the news, the hedgehog, one of Britain’s most emblematic species, has recently joined that list.
Sadly, the UK’s hedgehogs are now in real trouble and their population is declining at the same rate as the tiger. If we fail to take action, these much-loved animals could be gone from Hertfordshire in just 10 years.
Gardens have enormous potential to act as mini-nature reserves for hedgehogs. There are 15 million gardens in the UK, estimated to cover about 270,000 hectares – more than the area of all the National Nature Reserves in the UK. There are things we can all do to encourage and help hedgehogs in our gardens. In return they will help to keep some of your common garden pests at bay, happily munching through all sorts of insects, slugs and snails. Helping hedgehogs is particularly valuable in autumn and winter when they’ll be facing their biggest challenges.
Places to hibernate
Installing a hedgehog home in your garden is a great way to help hedgehogs. These can be used as hibernation sites during winter and also double up as nesting boxes during summer. You can buy these ready made or make your own; use a wooden crate with an entrance created in the side so hedgehogs can get in and out easily, turn it upside down and cover it with stones, earth and wood. As long as it’s dry and sturdy enough to protect the animals from predators like foxes, it should be a safe place for hedgehogs to nest over winter.
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If you want to put food down, try chopped up unsalted peanuts, or meaty cat or dog food. A shallow dish of water will provide them with a drink – not milk which is poisonous to hedgehogs.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society holds a database of 700 hedgehog carers across the UK, so if you find a hedgehog you think needs help, call the society on 01584 890801 or visit britishhedgehogs.org.uk. You could also contact the RSPCA or a local vet for advice.
Many thousands of hedgehogs are killed each year at bonfire night celebrations. This is just the time of year that hedgehogs are looking for a place to hibernate and piles of wood are, unfortunately, just what they are looking for. So, please check before having a bonfire and encourage your friends and family to do the same. The best thing to do is to move the wood to a new place just before you want to have your fire, so that you can ensure there aren’t any animals trapped before you set it alight.
Simple things to keep hedgehogs happy
• Ensure there is a route in and out of your garden, by leaving a gap in fences (five inches should be enough). Check with your neighbours before doing any cutting!
• Leave a corner of the garden wild and undisturbed – piles of leaves and debris make great places for hedgehogs to shelter.
• Make sure ponds have shallow edges so hedgehogs can get in and out.
• Go chemical-free in your garden – slug pellets can poison hedgehogs.
• Move piles of rubbish before burning and check compost heaps carefully before using turning with a garden fork.
Hedgehog feed recipe
Mix these ingredients in a large bowl and put out in the garden:
240g chopped/crushed unsalted peanuts
240g sunflower hearts
80g dried meal worms
160g chopped/crushed dried banana
For more information about how to help hedgehogs visit Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.