by Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer
It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week and these much-loved prickly characters need our help. No longer a common sight, hedgehogs numbers have dropped by a third in the last ten years alone. Changes to both urban and rural landscapes have made life much tougher for them but thankfully our gardens are proving to be a real stronghold.
Here are our top tips to turn your garden into a Hedgehog haven:
- Leave wild patches Undisturbed areas can provide food and a safe place to nest and hibernate. Females like to nest in long grass, under hedges, in bramble patches and amongst overgrown vegetation, so try not to be too tidy.
- Avoid injuries Please take care when turning compost heaps and check for nesting hedgehogs before strimming overgrown areas.
- Reduce hazards Garden ponds can become death traps for wildlife, so please make sure they have gently sloping sides or an escape route such as a piece of wood leading to safety. Slug pellets and other pesticides are poisonous and eliminate the hedgehog’s natural food supply. Any chemical treatment that kills slugs, snails or insects will be bad for hedgehogs and other wildlife, so we advise against using them.*
- Open a Hedgehog café Hedgehogs eat worms, beetles, grubs and other mini-beasts, so compost heaps, log piles and a wide variety of garden plants will help create a varied natural buffet for them. A shallow bowl of clean water is particularly helpful as the weather warms up. If you’d like to provide a little extra, hedgehogs love meaty cat or dog food. Never feed bread and milk (hedgehogs are lactose intolerant) and be stingy with the mealworms (too many can make hedgehogs seriously ill).
- Create Hedgehog highways One of the most important things to consider is connectivity. Hedgehogs roam a mile or more in a single night, so they need to be able to get into and move through multiple gardens, allotments, parks, playing fields and other local greenspaces. Create Hedgehog highways by cutting small holes at the base of your fence panels (about the size of a CD case) or digging shallow channels underneath to provide a way through. Talk to your neighbours and encourage them to do the same.
- Natural slug control By far the most effective and sustainable method of control is to encourage natural predators like the song thrush, hedgehogs, slow worms, ground beetles, frogs and toads. If you find any leopard slugs, leave them be – they kill and eat other slugs, so are helpful to have around. If you need to protect vulnerable plants, try creating a defensive barrier using crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, pine needles, brambles or sheep’s wool, or re-use an empty plastic drinks bottle by cutting off the end and removing the cap to create an individual cloche. Providing an alternative meal can be effective too, especially if you have any greens in the fridge that are past their best. Scatter the leaves between the plants you’re trying to protect and hopefully the slugs will be distracted. Slug traps are often recommended but may end up luring more slugs and snails into the garden. You can make one by burying an empty yoghurt pot and filling it with milky water or beer. Don’t bury it completely though, just to half its depth or with at least 2cm above ground level to prevent unintended victims falling foul of the trap. If your plants fail to thrive despite your best efforts, maybe opt for a more slug-resilient option - try onions, chives, lamb’s lettuce, mint, lavender, rosemary, foxgloves, daisies or hardy geraniums.
For more information on helping Hedgehogs please visit our Hedgehog webpage.
We are always pleased to hear about your Hedgehog sightings at: sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/sightingsform
Join us on our Facebook page on Thursday 7 May for live Q&A at 10am, where you can ask any Hedgehog related questions.