10 Great Ways to Create a Hedgehog Friendly Garden
Hedgehogs are the UK’s favourite animal, topping the leader board in a 2013 survey (well ahead of the badger, the red squirrel and the otter).
Many of us grew up with the excitement of regular hedgehog sightings both in our gardens and scuttling across the road as we willed them to get to the other side before they met an untimely end.
Some of us were lucky enough to enjoy the snuffles and rustles as a hedgehog, unseen, worked its way along the back of a flowerbed, crunching on the occasional snack as it went.
Hedgehogs in Trouble
It is still possible to enjoy this simple pleasure but, for many, it is a distant memory. Hedgehog populations have suffered a dramatic decline since the turn of the century, a process that probably started twenty or so years earlier. The causes are not fully understood.
Surveys suggest that the decline has been most dramatic in rural areas, suffering a 50% reduction between 2002 and 2017. The intensification of agriculture leading to habitat fragmentation and a reduction in food availability are likely to have contributed to the decline. Badgers are known to eat hedgehogs, so an increase in the badger population in some parts of the country may be a contributing factor in those areas. However, it is important to remember that hedgehogs have also declined in areas where badgers are absent.
The decline of hedgehogs in urban environments has been less so, nearer to 25%. Fortunately, the latest research hints that urban populations are beginning to stabilise and, possibly, increase slightly.
Our roads take a heavy toll on our hedgehogs, an estimated 100,000 hedgehogs being run over annually. With an estimated GB population of 1.55 million hedgehogs, it is unknown if such losses are sustainable.
Significantly more are lost on urban roads than are lost in the countryside. In a 12-year “citizen science” study that I conducted on a 10 mile stretch of road near my home in Mid Devon, I recorded 116 hedgehogs (sadly, the vast majority were dead). For every hedgehog recorded on the rural sections of the road, 3 were recorded in the villages/towns. This fits with the picture nationally.
It’s not all doom and gloom
With the urban population of hedgehogs thought to have levelled off and more research being conducted to understand the plight of the hedgehog, there is a hint of optimism for the future.
Have a garden? If so, there is more good news. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Ten Top Tips to Create a Hedgehog Friendly Garden
1. Link your garden
Hedgehogs need to be able to roam over a wide area to find enough food and a mate. Males wander further than the females, sometimes travelling over a mile in a single night.
Garden fences and walls can severely restrict their movement. All it takes is one, or more, 13cm holes cut into in your fence or wall. Connecting your garden with your neighbours’ gardens, is probably the single most important thing that you can do to help hedgehogs. Read about how one village came together to create a hedgehog “superhighway”.
Ponds are a wonderful addition to a wildlife garden, benefitting a wide variety of animals. Hedgehogs are good swimmers but, should they fall into a pond, they need to be able to get out. A ramp, some stones or a piece of wire mesh draped over the side can all be used to give the floundering hedgehog an exit route from a steep-sided pond.
3. Create a wild corner
Manicured lawns and neat vegetable patches are of little benefit to wildlife, hedgehogs included. Even the smallest of gardens will benefit from having a wild corner. It is in these wild areas that all manner of wildlife can thrive and, in doing so, provide a natural food source for hedgehogs. How about letting part of your lawn grow long or turning some of it over to a wildflower meadow? Hedgehogs are omnivores but rely heavily on invertebrates such as slugs, worms, beetles, earwigs and caterpillars which will thrive in less heavily managed parts of a garden.
4. Deal with litter and netting
Amongst other litter, discarded polystyrene cups can get stuck on the head of an inquisitive hedgehog and garden netting will soon ensnare them.
5. Food and water
The best food for hedgehogs is natural food but meaty dog or cat food (dry or wet) can be fed as a supplement. Dry cat food or specialist hedgehog foods is ideal. Do not put a lot out. It is far better that they “top up” on supplementary food but rely largely on the natural food found in a “wildlife-friendly” garden. A word of warning: feed very, very few (if any) mealworms. Hedgehogs crave mealworms but eating too many causes brittle bones, especially in young, rapidly growing hoglets.
6. Stop using chemicals in your garden
How about making your garden organic? No more slug bait. For too long the default has been to use chemicals to “control” unwanted visitors to our gardens. There is now a wealth of advice as to how to garden in a wildlife and environmentally friendly way. If slugs and snails are eating your flowers, consider instead growing something that they will not eat. Information on gardening without pesticides can be found here.
7. Check before strimming
It is all too common for a hedgehog to sustain a life-threatening injury from a strimmer. Strim high and strim carefully. Think about strimming less and leave those areas previously strimmed to go wild. This is a win-win along the base of walls – less work for you and more habitat for wildlife.
8. Be careful with bonfires
Hedgehogs often use bonfires both to rest in and hibernate. It is better to either build the bonfire and burn it straight away or relocate it to a nearby site before lighting it (being very careful with your garden fork in the process).
9. Build a log pile or install a hedgehog house
A log pile, covered in twigs and leaves, will not only give a hedgehog somewhere to rest up or hibernate, it will also provide a source of numerous invertebrates to feed a resident hedgehog. It could also double up as a reptile hibernaculum (see below), providing shelter and a food source for slow worms as well as, if you are very lucky, slow worms and grass snakes.
10. Register to become a Hedgehog Champion
Register with 'Hedgehog Street' to learn more about what you can do to help hedgehogs. Don’t own a garden? No problem, you can still register with this organisation and spread the word to those that have.
Not sure if a hedgehog is visiting your garden?
Given their nocturnal habits, you may well be unaware of a night-time spikey visitor to your garden. Look out for hedgehog droppings. These are about the thickness of your little finger, can have a pointed end and may contain crunched up beetle wing cases (appearing rather like glitter).
How about getting (or making) a hedgehog footprint tunnel or purchasing a camera trap?
Making a difference
With UK gardens estimated to cover over 4,000 square kilometres (an area about a fifth the size of Wales), there is a lot that garden owners can do to help much of our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular. If you haven’t already, are you going to make your garden more wildlife-friendly and are you going to allow your local hedgehogs to get better connected? I hope so.
Formerly a vet, Stephen changed career to pursue a lifelong passion for wildlife, wildlife photography, filming and conservation. Stephen’s material has made a number of TV appearances, featured in the national press and won major awards. His photography concentrates on interesting and challenging wildlife subjects, many of which are in and close to his home.
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