The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs – Why do Hedgehog need our help?
Published data suggests that hedgehog populations have decreased up to 50% since the start of this century here in the UK (The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs, 2018). Habitat loss and fragmentation is thought to be the primary cause of our hedgehog population decline; More and more gardens/open areas are becoming enclosed due to fencing and walling, impacting our urban hedgehogs, and in rural areas agriculture is becoming more widespread and intensive at the expense of woodland edge habitats. Habitat loss and fragmentation not only affects hedgehogs, but the whole ecosystem around them. Vegetation loss leads to a drop in invertebrate biodiversity and populations, meaning less food for our spikey friends. A reduced variety of food or reduced access to food sadly means our beloved hedgehogs either have to walk more than their average 1-2km per night to find suitable food, resort to eating slugs and snails that could cause them life threatening lungworm, or in the worse case starve to death.
Here at Lucky Hedgehog Rescue we are working hard, along with other rescues, to reverse this through our rehabilitation work and raising awareness of our spikey little friends. Our work alone is not enough though and we need your help….
How can I help hedgehogs at home?
- Become a Hedgehog Citizen Scientist – Locate Hedgehogs!
Logging hedgehog sightings is one of the easiest ways to help scientists and researchers monitor hedgehog populations. If you spot a hedgehog, dead or alive, please log your sighting on the BIG Hedgehog Map: https://bighedgehogmap.org
Knowing whether hedgehogs are present in your area is useful too. If there are hedgehogs living close by you may want to consider some of the steps below to encourage your spikey neighbours to venture into your garden…
- Connect your gardens and create a hedgehog highway
Cut a 13 x 13cm (5 x 5”) hole(s) in walls or fences to allow the free movement of hedgehogs. Drawing around an old CD case will give you the perfect size, but don’t worry it is small enough that most pets won’t escape! If you’ve made a hole in your garden wall or fence please visit www.hedgehogstreet.org and log your hedgehog highway.
How can I garden for hedgehogs and wildlife?
Gardening for all wildlife will ensure that there is maximum potential that your garden will be the perfect pit stop or nesting site for a hedgehog. Here at LHR we recommend…
- Planting native wildflowers. The greater the variety the better! Wildflowers can be incorporated into flower beds, lawns, long grass or can even be a stand alone feature and all will increase biodiversity in your garden. Follow the link to the RHS website for more information on creating a wild garden: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=551
- Being untidy is OK! Let areas of your garden grow wild (weeds are wildflowers really)… You may think weeds are unsightly, but wildlife will thank you for letting them grow. Try leaving an area of your garden untouched, or reduced herbicide use on your lawn to encourage nectar rich buttercups, clover, dandelions, and daisies to flourish. In the autumn/winter leave fallen leaves and dead heads on plants. They will provide the perfect micro-habitats for invertebrates, as well as being the perfect mulching material come spring.
- Create log piles and insect hotels. Use felled logs, pruned branches and dead wood to create a natural shelter. Invertebrates will soon call it home and it will be the perfect bug cafe for hedgehogs! If you are more creative you could create an insect hotel. Make sure to face it southward to create a warm cosy home for the creepy crawlies! For helpful instructions pay The Wildlife Trust a visit: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-bug-mansion
- Stop/reduce using chemicals. Lawn treatments reduce worm populations (Hedgehog Street, 2019). Pesticides, insecticides and slug pellets are toxic and reduce hedgehogs’ creepy crawly prey and can indirectly poison hedgehogs too. They are all unnecessary in a healthy, well managed garden.
If pest/weed control is absolutely necessary LHR recommends organic alternatives.
- Fell trees/shrubs outside of the bird nesting season. Tidying up your garden should ideally be left until Autumn or Winter. Cutting down trees and shrubs should be undertaken between September and March (RSPB Hedge Cutting and The Law, 2019). Not only will this protect nesting birds, but will mean nesting hedgehogs are less likely to be distrubed. Each year many nests are abandoned due to disturbance and hogelts are left to die or are brought into rescues where intensive care is required. Sticking to the bird nesting season will lessen this disturbance.
- Create hedgehog safe ponds
Ponds are the biggest single-contribution to increasing wildlife in your garden. Ponds not only provide a breeding site for aquatic animals such as frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies, but they are also a vital source of drinking water for other visitors to your garden too (RHS Wildlife in Our Gardens, 2019). Ponds can be dangerous however! Although hedgehogs are able to swim, due to their small legs, they are unable to climb out of steep-sided ponds and will eventually tire and drown. Planting ponds with native aquatic plants will provide structures to grab onto. An escape route in steep ponds is a must – these can be easily created using piles of stones or bricks as steps, or installing a wooden ramp.
- Plant deciduous trees
Hedgehogs can be pretty fussy about which leaves they use to build their nests for hibernation. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn and species like oak, apple, cherry or hawthorn and hazel have leaves just the right size for your hedgehogs to build a nest in time for winter (Hedgehog Street, 2019). Hedgehogs may even tuck into the fallen fruit from your trees in late summer too!
- Check long grass before mowing/strimming
Over the summer months many hedgehogs enter rescues due to strimmer injuries. Hedgehogs will not run away at the sound of a mower or strimmer. Checking grass before cutting is vital to prevent horrific injuries or death. If a hedgehog is found they can be easily picked up, but remember to wear gloves. If a family of hedgehogs is found then mowing/strimming should be postponed (Britishish Hedgehog Society, 2019). Your local hedgehog rescue or the British Hedgehog Society can be contacted for further advice.
- Bonfire/Garden Rubbish Fires – Safety
We not only need to keep ourselves safe around garden rubbish fires, and bonfires, but need to consider the safety of our wildlife too. Piles of wood and debris are enticing for hedgehogs when they are looking for a place to sleep, hibernate or nest. Ideally bonfires should be constructed on the day or moved before burning to check for any hidden creatures such as hedgehogs.
- Check for Dangerous Drains, Netting and Litter
Uncovered drains, low lying netting over ponds and plants, along with litter in gardens can be dangerous obstacles in gardens for hedgehogs. All the above can cause hedgehogs to become trapped and this must be prevented. Having a tidy up is a simple solution to these issues, and having suitable drain covers will stop hedgehogs falling down and becoming trapped in pipes. Where possible, if netting is required please raise this above the ground. If you have children who like to play football in the garden, please ensure slack football nets are tied up as these can also pose a danger.
- Clear up bird food debris
Bird food, in particular meal worms, sun flower seeds and peanuts can be dangerous and potentially life threatening to hedgehogs. If you own a bird feeder it is vital that any debris is swept up on a daily basis, or that a seed tray/hoop is installed below the feeders. Bird food can cause metabolic bone disease. For more information see our feed station and hedgehog house advice below…
- Create feeding stations and hedgehog houses
If hedgehogs already visit your garden, or you have checked the BIG Hedgehog map and discovered hedgehogs in your area, providing a hedgehog house and/or feeding station may encourage our spikey critters to visit your garden.
Hedgehog houses can be created at home or can be purchased in garden centres and online. If you would like to have a go at making your own hedgehog house LHR recommends the PTES/British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s instructions: https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Hedgehog-Street-Hedgehog-houses-instructions-2018.pdf
A feeding station can be created easily from a clear plastic box, newspaper, dog/cat food, a bowl of water and a brick. Simply create a 13 cm x 13cm hole in the side box, cover the edges with duct tape to make them safe, and inside place a brick, bowl of food and water. You can even place a solar light near by to see if there are any visitors to your feeding station! Hedgehogs will enjoy good quality wet or dry cat/dog food, or a mixture of both. Hedgehog food can also be purchased. LHR recommends Brambles Hedgehog Food: http://bramblespaw.co.uk/. NEVER feed hedgehogs bread and milk – hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. NEVER feed hedgehogs mealworms, peanuts and sunflower seeds. All can cause metabolic bone disease which strips the bones of calcium and causes mobility issues. Peanuts can also become lodged in the roof of the mouth and cause feeding difficulties, and at worst starvation. More detailed information can be found by following the link to Vale Wildlife: http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding-wild-hedgehogs.pdf