Tips for attracting hedgehogs to your garden
Sadly the number of hedgehogs in the UK is decreasing rapidly. These creatures, known as 'the gardener's friend' for their love of slugs and other pests, are threatened by the increased use of pesticides and a loss of countryside. Give these prickly friends a helping hand to survive this winter by making your garden a hedgehog haven. To help you to attract hedgehogs into your garden, we've put together a number of tips and ideas.
1. Make sure they have access
One of the main issues with newly built houses is the lack of access they allow for hedgehogs and other garden wildlife. Wooden fences slotted into concrete columns don't leave any room for wildlife to walk in and out.
If possible, the best thing to do is to use hedges for privacy rather than fences. Hedging in itself is an excellent habitat for garden wildlife, evergreen hedges such as Ilex aquifolium Handsworth New Silver' Holly and Pyracantha 'Teton' Firethorn not only provide year round colour but their berries provide a much needed source of winter food for garden birds.
Another option is to create a five inch hole in the bottom of your fence or gate so that hedgehogs can crawl in. You should encourage your neighbours to do the same so that you create a series of gardens for the hedgehogs to explore and hunt for food in.
2. Leave areas of your garden wild
If possible, it's always good to leave an area of your garden naturally unkempt. Hedgehogs and other wildlife can then use fallen leaves, twigs and dead vegetation to build their nests. Wild areas also provide a home for the insects that hedgehogs and birds love to feed on.
In this area create a log pile out of old bits of wood. If you have a real tree in your house at Christmas, this is great way of naturally recycling it. This will give the hedgehogs somewhere to hide, sleep and hibernate. Choose a quiet spot that is unlikely to be disturbed from November to March as this is when the hedgehogs will be hibernating.
3. Hedgehog homes
Having a shelter is essential for a hedgehog's survival during the winter. If you have a tidy garden or a lack of covered areas, hedgehogs might struggle to make their nests naturally. If this is the case then you should give them a helping hand by building a house for them or buying a purpose built one from your local garden centre.
You can use an old wooden crate as the main room for your house and turn it into a home by adding an entrance tunnel and some ventilation. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society provides a great step by step guide to building a hedgehog home.
A few things to remember when building a house are:
- Don't use chemicals such as creosote or wood preservative; instead use felt or polythene to protect it from the weather
- Place the house in an area that is likely to be undisturbed from November to March (when the hedgehogs are in hibernation)
- Use materials that will survive the winter weather without collapsing
- Make sure the opening is around four inches so that the hedgehog can crawl in
- Make sure that you give the house a tunnel entrance to prevent predators from getting in
- Add ventilation using a pipe but make sure the pipe faces downwards so that the rain doesn't get in
- Insulate the house by covering it with leaves or straw and then covering with a polythene sheet.
4. Provide hedgehogs with food and water
Another thing crucial for a hedgehog's winter survival is getting enough food and water. Most adult hedgehogs eat around half of their weight in food each day. For hedgehogs that are born late in the season, building up enough body fat using food found naturally is impossible. To help smaller hedgehogs out you can supplement their diet by leaving food in your garden.
Many home-owners make the mistake of leaving out cows milk for hedgehogs, however they are actually lactose intolerant and so this can give them an upset stomach, something that is potentially fatal for hedgehogs. Instead leave them a bowl of water. Hedgehogs drink lots overnight, so try to top this up each day.
Food & drink safe and enjoyable for hedgehogs
- Boiled eggs
- Chicken or turkey flavoured cat or dog food in jelly (not fish or beef based, either wet or dry)
- Chopped nuts
- Cooked potatoes
- Crushed cat biscuits
- Dried mealworms
- Minced meat
- Specialist hedgehog food
- Sunflower hearts
Don't ever give a hedgehog
5. Avoid using slug pellets and other chemicals
Slug pellets are a common cause of hedgehog fatality as the hedgehogs feed on the slugs with the pellets inside them. There are lots of methods of organic pest control out there that don't have an effect on the environment or wildlife. Hopefully the hedgehogs and other wildlife you attract should do a pretty good job of pest control for you, but if not, beer traps are an effective way of killing slugs and snails. To make one, bury half an eaten grapefruit in your flowerbed and fill with beer. The slugs will fall in, attracted by the smell, and drown.
Take a look at our Guide to Slug and Snail Resistant Plants as an alternative to slug pellets and chemicals.
6. Make ponds safe
A little known fact is that hedgehogs love to swim, and so are attracted into garden ponds. The problem comes when they try to get out and many hedgehogs drown for this reason. If you have a pond, create a sloping edge using rocks or wood so that they can climb out with ease. This will also be useful for any frogs and toads you have.
7. Check long grass before mowing
When hedgehogs feel in danger their natural reaction is to freeze and curl up into a ball. This is why many are injured with streamers and lawn mowers. Long grass is the perfect place for hedgehogs to hunt for earthworms and beetles, so before mowing long grass, please check for hedgehogs and other wildlife.
9. Compost heaps
Compost heaps provide another cosy location for hedgehogs to hibernate and hunt for insects. If you do have a compost heap in your garden, check for signs of wildlife before turning it. You can do this by checking for nearby droppings or entrance holes, and also have a gentle rummage around before going ahead with your fork. Try not to empty your bin before April to avoid evicting any hibernating wildlife.
For more information on what you can do to help save our hedgehogs, visit the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk