Hedgehogs are a useful ally to gardeners in that they eat snails slugs and other pests which can cause damage to plants. Their numbers are in decline which is partially due to environmental pollution and the steadily increasing loss of their own natural habitat.
How We Can Help Hedgehogs
In order to help hedgehogs, gardeners should avoid using slug pellets because, as well as hedgehogs helping you get rid of a slug problem naturally, the pellets can also kill hedgehogs and even if they don’t eat the pellets directly, if the slugs they eat have been poisoned, this will also be absorbed into the hedgehogs’ body tissue too. You can supplement a hedgehog’s natural diet especially in autumn when they need to accumulate fat before they go into hibernation for the winter.
What to Feed Hedgehogs
Tinned cat or dog food and even dry dog food is a useful addition to a hedgehog’s diet. They’ll also eat things like bacon rind. You should also ensure that you put out fresh water with any food you leave but you shouldn’t feed a hedgehog milk or bread in large amounts as they can cause diarrhoea.
Providing Nesting Sites
Although some gardeners choose to build hedgehog houses, they are very resourceful creatures and will make nest sites under sheds, amongst piles of wood and under mounds of leaves so it’s useful to keep a part of your garden a little bit ‘wild’ if you want to attract hedgehogs to it.
Beware Of Holes and Ponds
Hedgehogs seem to have little fear of danger when it comes to locations into which they might fall, so you should keep ponds covered along with any steep-sided holes you might have in your garden. Falling into drains is another problem which hedgehogs can encounter. If it’s not possible to cover holes entirely, you should create some small makeshift ramps out of small planks near to any dangerous holes so that if a hedgehog should suffer a misfortunate fall, it can climb out again with relative ease. Some people with ponds, for example, will often place chunks of polystyrene in the pond which can act as a makeshift float until a hedgehog can be safely rescued.
Making a Careful Check
Always check carefully before carrying out any routine gardening duties. If you’ve been gathering wood and other material which you intend burning on a bonfire, for example, check underneath it first before lighting as this is an obvious place for a hedgehog to build its nest. Likewise, when using spades, forks, mowers and strimmers etc., be sure that you are not operating your equipment in a location where a hedgehog might be seeking refuge or hibernating. Netting can also cause problems with hedgehogs getting trapped within it. You should keep an eye on any netting which you are using to cover plants off the ground – the same goes for similar material such as barbed wire.
Contact With Hedgehogs
Whilst having a hedgehog in your garden can seem very similar to keeping a pet (especially to children), it’s important to remember that these are wild animals and their spines are also sharp, so you should avoid picking one up unless you suspect that it’s injured. They can also harbour hedgehog fleas so personal contact should be avoided where possible. If you do have to pick up a hedgehog, make sure you wear suitable gardening gloves.
Hedgehogs are generally nocturnal creatures so if you do see one in the daytime, it’s possible that it’s injured or sick. New borns found wandering around in a disoriented fashion in early autumn are possibly not going to be able to survive the winter without human intervention but they are extraordinarily capable of adapting to being brought indoors. A large box or cage with straw at the bottom in a ventilated room is perfect, but once again remember that they carry with them a whole armada of fleas and ticks so if you have other pets be wary and try to handle them as little as possible as hedgehogs are not pets after all. Your pet might not take too kindly to this extra presence either. However, if things seem to be working out OK, a hedgehog can survive on a diet of dog and cat food along with regular drinking water until it’s safe to release it in the springtime. If you require more help because of a sick or injured hedgehog in your garden, call your local RSPCA or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for more advice.