How long is it since you last saw a hedgehog? The UK has lost a third of its population since 2000, and their numbers are declining as fast as tigers in the wild. They are now officially classed as vulnerable to extinction in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List for British Mammals. There are many reasons and it’s sad to think that, for future generations, such a fate would make this lovely little mammal only a creature in storybooks. Gardeners, however, can do lots to help. Here are 10 things you can do to help:
1. Link your garden with a Hedgehog Highway. Hedgehogs travel between 1-2 km a night searching for food and a mate. Leaving a small gap in your fence the size of a CD case will let hedgehogs through but be too small for pets. BHPT/PTES sell snazzy little recyclable Hedgehog Highway signs for a few pounds. Ask your neighbours to do the same!
2 Create a wild corner in your garden so they can snuffle around for insects.
3. Tidy up netting and litter which can trap hedgehogs due to their spines. Even rubber bands dropped by the postie can become embedded in their skin, causing a slow, painful death.
4. Put out food and water. You can supplement their diet with wet dog or cat food (preferably not fish based). No bread, milk, or mealworms as they cannot digest them. For those who are into joinery, you can make a feeding station to stop other animals having a free supper – details on the BHPS website/YouTube.
5. Stop using chemicals, especially slug pellets. Hedgehogs are a gardener’s best friend as they eat slugs as well as many other beasties which would otherwise be devouring your prize flowers and vegetables.
6. Check before mowing or strimming. Hedgehogs often sleep in long grass or hedges during daytime and won’t run away if they hear a mower, resulting in horrific injuries or death. Use gloves to move a single hog to safety. If there’s a family, call the BHPS for advice on 01584 890801, the SSPCA on 0300 999 999, or Google to find your local Hedgehog Rescue. There is The Hedgie Centre in Wormit, Fife.
7. Be careful with bonfires or simply burning leaves. Piles of debris are irresistible to a hedgehog looking for somewhere to hibernate or nest – build it on the day of burning to avoid a tragic end, or if you have to build it before then check carefully with a pole or broom, not a spade or fork. They are usually in the centre.
8. Make a home for hedgehogs. A log pile is one of the best features for encouraging all kinds of wildlife, and easy to make. It will encourage insects and provide nesting opportunities all year around. Alternatively, you can make your own DIY hedgehog house – you can download instructions from the BHPS website.
9. Keep an eye out for hedgehogs when driving at night and let it get over the road safely if you see one. If you see it too late try to steer so it will pass under the middle of the car where it is least likely to be harmed.
10. Record hedgehog sightings, including dead ones, on The Big Hedgehog Map website. This is important in building up a picture of where they are most active and how we can encourage local populations. If you would like to do more to help, you can also become a Hedgehog Champion by registering on the ‘Hedgehog Street’ website, where you can find lots of resources to make your garden and neighbourhood a hedgehog-friendly zone.
Moira Grant is a Hedgehog Champion with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society/Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species (BHPS/PTES). She lives in Falkirk, Central Scotland and volunteers 2 days a week at Forth Hedgehog Hospital in Rosyth.