One of the most appealing aspects of having a garden is the opportunity it provides to welcome wildlife close to your home, helping to protect various species from the ravages of the modern world and giving you a chance to view them upfront. One of our favourite garden creatures, the hedgehog, needs a little more help than most – their numbers are in sharp decline – but encourage some to take up residence in your patch and they’ll return the favour by munching their way through a load of pesky slugs.
At this time of year they’ll be settling down for their winter hibernation so it’s a prime time to think about how hedgehog friendly your garden can be. Here are some top tips on how to look after a hedgehog.
Do not disturb
Hedgehogs like to nest among piles of garden debris, so if you’re thinking about building a bonfire or tidying away garden matter be careful to check for hedgehogs first. Even grass that has been left to grow longer than usual can be an attractive place for a hog to bed down, so always mow with care. A tidy garden may help you be the envy of your fastidious neighbours but, in general, nature prefers a little bit of messiness to help it along.
To give your hog a little more winter protection consider providing it with a custom built home. There are several available to buy or you could have a go at making your own. We got our handsome looking hog hut from online retailers gardensite.co.uk – it’s a sturdy timber shelter with barrel roof, entrance porch at the front and a hatch at the back for cleaning access. We’ve tucked it against a fence and among some fruit bushes to give it some natural cover. Leaves and grass have been scattered around the outside, with an extra couple of handfuls for bedding on the inside. We’ll leave it undisturbed over winter and check for use in March or April before cleaning it out.
Alternatively, encourage your hedgehog to make her own nest by piling up logs, sticks and leaves near a fence or wall.
Providing hedgehogs with regular helpings of food is a good way to persuade them that your garden would make the best home in the neighbourhood. Any hedgehogs yet to settle down for winter will be particularly hungry right now as they’ll want to put on as much weight as possible to survive the winter months, while even those tucked up asleep will occasionally awake for a mid-winter snack. Place food in the same place every night to encourage regular visits and provide a bowl of water for its liquid refreshment. A range of specialist hedgehog food is available, otherwise the following list of dinners will be gratefully received: tinned cat or dog food (but no fishy flavours as it disagrees with them), cat biscuits (crushed), meat (minced) or even hard boiled eggs (chopped up small). But do not give them milk as it’ll make your hog as sick as a pig.
Access all areas
Hedgehogs like to roam, and can travel up to two miles in one night (they can also swim, dig, climb and ride a bicycle*) so if your garden is completely enclosed you’ll be a hog-free zone. Hedges make the best borders for your garden, but if you’ve got an impenetrable fence or wall then consider cutting in a few hedgehog-sized holes to act as access points (getting permission from relevant neighbours first).
Finally, be aware of potential hog hazards such as the following:
- Some dogs go wild for the whiff of a hedgehog so keep an eye on them during their visits to the garden, especially after dark.
- Cover any holes (including drains) that look like they might be potential hedgehog traps.
- Provide an easy exit from ponds – rocks or bricks make useful objects for clambering to safety.
- Remove any bits of netting left lying around the garden – a hedgehog’s spikes make entanglement all too easy.
- Clear away man-made litter – everyday items such as empty cans and plastic bags can be dangerous traps for hedgehogs.
- Avoid using garden chemicals or slug killers… remember: your resident hedgehog will help out with slug removal duties instead.
*This bit isn’t true. Their spikes cause tyres to puncture.