Providing suitable habitat
One of the main threats to the hedgehog is habitat loss. Habitat loss can occur either as a result of destruction or because hedgehogs no longer have access to an area of suitable habitat. Making a 13 x 13cm hole in walls and fences allows hedgehogs to roam freely between gardens and gives them access to an adequate area to find food, water and shelter. Creating hedgehog holes in adjacent gardens results in hedgehog highways. This is the basis of our Hedgehogs without Borders campaign.
Hedgehogs nest in a variety of places including:
- Hedgerows / dense shrubs
- Long grass/overgrown areas
- Under sheds and decking
- Compost heaps
- Purpose-built hedgehog houses
Hedgehogs look for places that provide plenty of cover and will use materials such as grass, moss, leaves, straw and hay to create their nest. You can help hedgehogs in your area by ensuring that these materials are available for them to take and use, by leaving an area of the garden to grow wild. You could also buy (or make) a hedgehog house, fill it with straw/hay and place it in a quiet, covered area.
Visiting hedgehogs may move into your garden for a short period of time, they may hibernate with you or if you are very privileged, a mother may choose to give birth and raise her babies in your garden. When gardening or moving garden furniture, please be careful not to disturb any nesting hedgehogs. This is especially important during breeding season (May-September) as mothers may abandon their babies if they are frightened.
Food and water
Hedgehogs often struggle to find enough natural food so providing them with a regular food source is important to keep them healthy.
Do not give hedgehogs bread or milk! For many years, it was believed that bread and milk were appropriate for hedgehogs, but we now know this not to be the case as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. Instead, please provide the following:
- Shallow bowls of water (a life saver, especially in hot, dry weather)
- Meat based cat/dog food in jelly (fish and gravy varieties can upset their stomachs)
- Meat based cat/kitten/hedgehog biscuits
A diet of mealworms, peanuts and seeds are great for birds, but can cause metabolic bone disease in hedgehogs due to an imbalance of calcium / phosphorus. This is of particular concern in younger hedgehogs with developing bones. You should not feed any of these foods to hedgehogs.
If you are worried about local cats or foxes stealing the food that is placed out for the hedgehogs, a feeding station can be used. This could be an empty hedgehog house where the food is placed inside, or you can use a plastic box with a hedgehog sized hole cut into one end. Place bricks on the top to weight it down and only the hedgehog will be able to reach the food inside.
Dangers to hedgehogs
It can be very tricky to see a hedgehog at night when driving or cycling, but injuries sustained on the road are often fatal. Drive within the speed limit and be particularly vigilant in early summer when hedgehogs and their young may be out and about before dusk. You can read more about the new road traffic sign here.
Ponds can be hazardous for hedgehogs because although they can swim, they cannot sustain it for very long and if they are not rescued, they will drown. If you have a pond in your garden, ensure that at least one side slopes gently and there is a ramp so that hedgehogs can get out.
If you have a swimming pool, ensure that it either stays covered or that there is an escape ramp.
Strimmers and garden tools
Strimmers and garden tools can kill and injure hedgehogs who choose to make their nests in long grass, hedges and compost heaps. Please check all areas before strimming, forking over or cutting down foliage to prevent injuries from occurring.
Dogs can cause a range of injuries including broken legs, puncture wounds, neurological damage and blindness. In some cases, the hedgehog is killed or needs to be euthanised because their injuries are so severe. Please keep your dog on a lead after dark and supervise them closely. If you have hedgehogs visiting your garden, try to keep an eye on their routine and take your dog out at a time when they are less likely to be in the garden.
Cats are unlikely to cause damage to a juvenile or adult hedgehog but could attack an infant if they got hold of one.
Piles of logs, sticks, twigs and leaves make the perfect nest for a hedgehog so please only build the bonfire on the day it will be lit to prevent hedgehogs (and in some cases, their babies) making their nest in it and being injured or killed.
It is very easy for a hedgehog to become tangled in netting so please ensure that unused sports netting is stored off the ground and out of reach and garden netting has a gap so that hedgehogs can pass safely underneath it. Covering the bottom 30cm of netting with a double layer of horticultural fleece tied on can keep birds off vegetable plots and stop small mammals becoming entangled.
Pesticides and chemicals
Slug pellets can be detrimental to hedgehogs who eat the infected slugs, herbicides reduce the number of earthworms in lawns and insecticides reduce the number of other insects available for hedgehogs to eat. Glue traps are horrifically cruel and we would support a nationwide ban on their sale.
Please research non-chemical methods of protecting plants from harm which will not affect hedgehogs, birds and other wildlife which visit the garden and look for humane methods of managing problems with vermin.
Other chemicals, if not stored correctly, can cause burns to the skin if they come into contact with hedgehogs. Ensure that all chemicals are properly sealed and stored out of reach. Check the impact that paint, preservatives, plant feed and fertilisers can have on hedgehogs and other species of birds and animals before using them.