By Charlotte Owen
With spring now well on the way, hibernating hedgehogs are waking from their winter sleep. Many of them went to bed much later than usual last year thanks to the relatively mild weather, which allowed them to remain active well into December and cram in a few vital extra meals in preparation. Even so, they have had to rely almost entirely on their body fat to see them through the past few months, so they will still be waking up very hungry.
Hedgehogs eat a wide variety of insects and other invertebrates but will opportunistically hoover up whatever they can find from carrion to bird’s eggs, frogs and fallen fruit. They love earthworms, beetles, slugs, caterpillars, earwigs and millipedes and these can be plentiful in gardens with compost heaps, log piles and plenty of undergrowth.But natural food can still be hard to come by this early in the year, even in the wildest of gardens, so providing a supplementary meal will give your local hedgehogs a welcome boost.The most popular option is meaty cat or dog food, either wet or dry, along with a shallow dish of water.Other favourites include unsalted peanuts, boiled eggs or a commercial hedgehog food. One item that should never be on the menu though is bread and milk; hedgehogs are severely lactose intolerant and milk will make them seriously ill, while bread is nutritionally poor (and no good for ducks, either).
If you’re not sure whether hedgehogs are visiting your garden, look out for faint trails in the grass, especially on their more regular routes, and their droppings are gritty, dark and about 5 cm long. They can also be very vocal, so any strange nocturnal huffing and grunting may well be hedgehogs. They can easily travel a mile or more in a single night, passing through multiple gardens, parks and other green spaces in their search for food but often encountering fences, walls and other impenetrable barriers along the way. If there aren’t already any gaps in your fence, try cutting a small (13cm x 13cm) hole at the base or digging a channel underneath it to create a simple ‘hedgehog highway’ and welcome these prickly characters into your garden.