Hedgehogs are such beautiful creatures and always welcome visitors, interesting to observe and useful predators of garden pests, David Coton describes how you can attract them into your garden.
Unfortunately the hedgehog population is declining each year, so encouraging them into your garden and looking after them is important if you value wildlife and the benefits that they bring.
Hedgehog Friendly Garden
Forget about manicuring the whole of the garden, leave an overgrown patch with logs, leaves and prunings. Ensure that they can roam freely in adjoining properties by leaving a small gap if your garden is surrounded by fencing fence
Although hedgehogs can swim make sure they can extricate themselves from ponds by having sloping sides and from swimming pools by hanging a length of chicken wire over the edge.
Cover up any open drains, hedgehogs can fall in and might not get out. If you enjoy the November 5th festivities, or use bonfires to get rid of garden rubbish, check for hedgehogs first before lighting them. It's also worth while checking a compost heap before digging into it with a spade.
Dangers to Hedgehogs
What you don't want to leave around the garden includes cans that aren't crushed, those plastic loops that hold them together, bottles and cartons. Wire mesh, barbed wire and netting are also hedgehog death traps.
Be careful with insecticides and other pesticides including slug pellets, if hedgehogs eat the corpses of garden pests they'll also ingest the poison. Buy wildlife friendly brands that are easily obtainable.
Remember to clean up any spillages in the shed, you don't want noxious substances seeping through the boards onto any hedgehogs below.
When you're gardening, watch out for hedgehogs in the long grass. Strimmers and lawnmowers aren't hedgehog friendly at all.
Ensure that there's a gap in your fence to let hedgehogs through, they can forage for long distances and fences are insurmountable barriers.
What Food do Hedgehogs Eat?
Food and water should be left out all year round, if hedgehogs can't find food during the summer they're liable to fall victim to parasites and disease and they need to put on weight to see them through hibernation. Even when hedgehogs are hibernating they may wake up and need nurishment.
Dog or cat food that doesn't contain fish is ideal but, as hedgehogs are omnivores, there's lots of other food they'll eat in addition to the specially prepared hedgehog food that's also available.
Any cooked left over chicken, lamb, turkey or beef (without gravy) will be eaten, but avoid salty bacon.
Chopped unsalted peanuts and sultanas are good together with most vegetables, bananas, apples, mango but not citrus fruits. Chop the food up as hedgehogs cannot chew or easily tear up large pieces.
Provide plenty of water but do not leave out bread and milk, hedgehogs are lactose intolerant.
The best time for feeding hedgehogs is at night. Any food should be removed in the morning so that flies aren't attracted and the dish washed ready for the evening.
Similar to people, they prefer a dry, cosy place to live, especially in the winter when they like to shut the cold weather out and hibernate.
In the wild hedgehogs will collect leaves, grass, bracken and other material to build nests under hedgerows or logs. In the garden they may set up home under your shed or compost heap.
To encourage hedgehogs into your garden, you can buy a hedgehog house and there are also other garden mammal houses to choose from.
Alternatively build one yourself, a stout wooden crate perhaps 18ins square is a good starting point, but don't use any wood that has been creosoted.
Take a jig saw and cut an entrance at the base of one side measuring about 6ins x 6ins. Drill a hole wide enough for a hose at the top of one side. Place the box on two bits of wood or something similar to raise it slightly off the ground. After lining the inside with dry leaves and newspaper, secure a removable lid to the top, this can be made of anything that is weatherproof.
Attach a tunnel made from timber and about 12ins long to the entrance. Put a length of hose through the hole that you drilled for ventilation. Give a nest box protection from the elements by covering with leaves and plastic sheeting (keeping the entrance clear and with any ventilation hose going through the plastic and pointing down).
Hedgehog House Location
Hedgehog houses should be located in a quiet part of the garden, preferably against a wall or fence. The entrance should face south to avoid cold northerly winds.
It might be a while before any hedgehogs take up residence. If you have had no luck for a couple of years, think about re-locating the house to a more favourable place.
In the spring any hedgehogs should emerge looking for food. After they have checked out of the hedgehog house you can clean up after them using Pyrethrum, sometimes called nature's insecticide. The hedgehog house will then be ready for its next family to move in.
Gardens are incredibly important habitats and if you want to encourage wildlife and help combat a worrying depletion of native fauna, there are a number of insect and animal boxes that will attract a wide variety of insect and mammals.