Helping Hedgehogs

05 May 2020 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Wildlife Advice
Helping Hedgehogs
© Miles Davies

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.

Hedgehog info

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.

Comments

  • Stefan Bartkowiak:

    07 May 2020 12:04:00

    I have an area of woodland that has all the ingredients for an excellent hedgehog reserve. I would be delighted if they took up residence there, but they never do.
    One problem is their roaming. We are surrounded by fields that are actively farmed, currently maize. Although there are contiguous strips along the edges of the fields, they can be thin in places and leave the hedgehogs exposed.
    I’d also like to encourage frogs and other pond life to the adjacent ditches and pond.
    Where might I be going wrong?

  • Carole Mendham:

    07 May 2020 17:29:00

    Is the blue “Hedgehog Nests” poster available for distribution?

  • Phil Willcocks:

    07 May 2020 19:46:00

    I am surprised that, like the Woodland Trust, you also believe that loss of habitat is the cause of hedgehog decline. That has been the case for far more than ten years. I am not anti-badger, but if you would only talk to your wider membership and especially your farmer members they will assure you the the badger is now top predator and the rapid decline in hedgehogs has been since badgers were protected. Not only do they eat hedgehogs but they dig up many ground-nesting bumble bees
    nests. I know that the are very influential groups who are misinformed also but the wildlife trusts have huge influence and should be addressing this error.

  • June:

    07 May 2020 19:47:00

    Last Autumn I made a Hedgehog hotel from an upside down damaged recycling plastic box part filled with dry straw. I put dry cat food inside .There is easy access between my garden and my neighbour but there has not been any sign of a hedgehog . Any advice ?Thank you, June

  • 07 May 2020 20:19:00

    @Phil Willcocks: Badgers do eat hedgehogs in some cases but the two species can and do co-exist in areas with plenty of good quality habitat.
    They have very similar diets and therefore compete for resources. Competition becomes more intense when food becomes scarce, so any pressure on the food supply may cause a shift from competition to predation of hedgehogs by badgers. As with all predator-prey interactions, this is a natural and essential part of a functioning ecosystem and badgers and hedgehogs have co-existed for thousands of years.
    The problem arises when the ecosystem is damaged and degraded to such an extent that it is no longer fully functional and becomes inhospitable to hedgehogs (and badgers and their food supply and wildlife in general). So while badgers do eat hedgehogs and are certainly a contributing (and in some cases major) factor, they are not solely to blame for the decline in hedgehogs.

  • 07 May 2020 20:21:00

    @Carole Mendham: The blue infographic is only available online, but you can download a copy here

  • Steve:

    07 May 2020 20:30:00

    In regards to badgers killing hedgehogs, this is true but only if they are very hungry. Yet again though, it is intensive farming that is destroying the habitat that hedgehogs hide in and thus making them easier prey for badgers!!! Also, why are badgers more hungry in the first place? Something to do with intensive farming reducing their usual food supply perhaps?

  • Elaine Evans:

    07 May 2020 20:59:00

    I think the problem could be with weedkillers. I’ve lived in my house in Hove for 54 years. Many years ago there used to be hedgehogs in the road. Then I remember seeing a dead mother and her three dead babies in a neighbour’s garden.Horrible! We thought it was because he used weedkiller in his garden. Our garden is organic.

  • Patricia Hall:

    07 May 2020 21:39:00

    When we lived in Ferring in the eighties, gardens were full of hedgehogs. Now there are very, very few. There are no badgers anywhere near Ferring so they cannot be responsible for their demise here at least. There must be other factors. There is anecdotal evidence that local foxes may have learnt to kill hedgehogs by biting their back legs and this may mean they can’t roll into a protective ball.

  • Jane:

    07 May 2020 22:02:00

    I have always thought that any cat food left out should not be fish based?

  • Colin Keith Allum:

    08 May 2020 17:57:00

    This is my second year of five hedgehogs, who have slept in my barn over winter. I feed them around 10.30pm every night, I call them and sometimes they come over to me. They do not seem to be afraid if I pick them up and have a little chat. Is that ok?

  • Linda Head:

    08 May 2020 19:49:00

    We have hedgehogs (3 on night camera earlier this year) in our Durrington garden most nights. We put out dried cat food and there is always a pan of fresh water. There is under fence access to the gardens on each side.

  • 11 May 2020 12:51:08

    @Stefan you’ve hit the nail on the head: connectivity is key, so if hedgehogs and other wildlife cannot get to an area they will not be able to colonise it, even if it’s perfect habitat for them. Hedgehogs need a mosaic of woodland and grassland with plenty of hedgerows to move safely through the landscape.

  • 11 May 2020 12:56:05

    @June Hedgehogs have quite a patchy distribution here in Sussex and are absent in many places, or present only in very low numbers. There may not be many in your neighbourhood or they might just be unable to reach you. Connectivity is key – hedgehogs roam over a large area and face many impenetrable barriers. It’s great that your garden is connected to your neighbour’s but what about the rest of the street? Encourage everyone to make hedgehog highways in their fences and create wildlife-friendly gardens to give hedgehogs (and other wildlife) a helping hand.

  • 11 May 2020 13:01:36

    @Elaine Evans yes, garden chemicals definitely have a detrimental effect on hedgehogs and other wildlife, as well as the trend for tidy gardens, wooden decking, paving and now artificial grass. This is one many interacting factors that have contributed to the decline in hedgehog populations, ultimately affecting habitat quality, quantity and connectivity. Our wildlife needs more, better and joined up habitats to thrive.

  • 11 May 2020 13:04:31

    @Patricia Hall maybe but this alone would not account for such a drastic decline. There are many interacting factors that have contributed to the decline in hedgehog populations – you’ll find more info here: https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/about-hedgehogs/why-are-they-disappearing/

  • 11 May 2020 13:07:46

    @Jane I think this is a bit of an urban myth, there is little difference nutritionally and fish is not bad for hedgehogs, but they may prefer meaty favours.

    @Colin That’s great but we don’t advise picking them up, they may not show it but it is stressful for them. They are wild animals and it’s important to respect that.

    @Linda Great to hear!

  • Steve Dubois:

    07 Aug 2020 21:52:00

    I have a juvenile hog every night coming for the dry dog food and water i put down. The last few nights however a larger hog has been seemingly taking the food while the little one snorts. This can go on for 30 mins or an hour. I’ve even seen a third hog join the frey.
    What’s going on?

    Hi Steve. Hedgehogs often get quite feisty around a food bowl, and the larger hogs will usually claim it for themselves. If you scatter the food across a larger area, it’ll give the smaller ones a better chance of accessing it and they might all manage to forage in relative peace. Food is particularly hard to come by in such hot, dry weather, so competition may be fiercer than usual at the moment. It can be a good idea to soak dry dog/cat biscuits before providing them, to help them get enough moisture, as well as a shallow dish of water, or perhaps a couple if you can.
  • Paul:

    10 Jan 2021 13:26:00

    Sadly the foxes in our neighbourhood, which are on the increase, killed our last remaining hedgehog in September. We heard a horrible screaming sound and rushed out at 4am to see a fox with something in its mouth running down the road.

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