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28 November 2012

Hedgehogs - The Gardener's Friend

Hedgehogs are regarded as a gardener’s friend and you should make them welcome in your garden by offering them a safe habitat where they can thrive. We have quite a few Hostas in our garden and they generally survive unscathed thanks to regularly-visiting hedgehogs which happily munch away on slugs, beetles and caterpillars.

The following points are ways in which you can help hedgehogs:-

1) Ensure there are lots of entrance and exit points so they can roam about between gardens freely.

2) Hedges provide good cover for hedgehogs and are better than fences for them.

3) Attract them to your garden by leaving an area uncultivated. They will be happy with a pile of leaves or logs as long as they are in a quiet area of the garden where they won't be disturbed. If you wish you can make a shelter for them - the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website has a couple of designs to copy, or buy a ready - made one from the RSPB for example.

4) Compost heaps can provide a good food source for hedgehogs but be careful when forking it over as wildlife may have burrowed into it.

5) Evergreen shrubs provide good protection all year round.

6) Ponds are good for thirsty hedgehogs, but always make sure that they can get out again by having a gentle slope at one end.

Hedgehogs generally hibernate between November and mid March but if the weather is the mild they may be seen during this time, and may wake several times during their period of hibernation. Hedgehogs will hibernate when it gets very cold because their natural food sources disappear in cold weather, but larger hedgehogs may hibernate as early as September. If you see one, offer it a little food and water and let it go on its way.

Hedgehogs are mainly insect eaters and will eat beetles, caterpillars, slugs and earthworms. However if you would like to provide additional food, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society recommend the following foods - a meat-based pet food is fine, the plainer the better, also a little dried hedgehog or cat food is good as it keeps the teeth sharp and clean. However, they can be very fussy and very cheap foods are not always acceptable. If you have a problem with cats stealing the food, try offering some unsweetened museli or weetabix and a handful of raisins. Offer fresh water to drink but not milk, as this gives them diarrhoea.

If you decide to put food out it is a good idea to provide a feeding station for visiting hedgehogs so that cats and other animals don’t steal the food. Again the BHPS gives a suitable design on it's website.

There are various hazards for a hedgehog to survive in a domestic garden, some of which are listed below:-

1) Slug pellets are poisonous and should not be used. Alternative methods of trapping slugs should be used, such as beer traps or non chemical control such as parasitic worms, or they can be deterred by the use of organic methods such as broken up egg shells around plants.

2) Ensure all rubbish, such as jam jars, tins, yoghurt containers, etc, are disposed of safely. Don't leave bags of household rubbish on the ground as hedgehogs may tear the bag open and get stuck inside the rubbish. Worse still, they could get carried away to the refuse dump with the rest of the rubbish.

3) Before lighting a bonfire, ensure there are no hedgehogs sheltering in the pile. Better not to assemble the bonfire until you are ready to light it.

4) Ensure ponds have an easy escape route so that hedgehogs can climb out if they accidentally fall in whilst having a drink.

5) Netting, such as fruit nets or pea netting, should be rolled up to about 6” above ground level when not in use.

6) Take care when strimming as hedgehogs could be resting in the undergrowth or under hedges during the day.

7) Examine compost heaps before thrusting in with your fork.

8) Keep drains covered so that hedgehogs do not become stuck down them.

9) Keep shed and garage doors closed at night so hedgehogs are not tempted to make a nest in them. If the doors get closed for a long period of time, then they would become trapped.

10) Dogs can be a problem for hedgehogs. They are unlikely to move into your garden if there is an aggressive dog in residence or if there are neighbours with such dogs, as hedgehogs are likely to travel around your area, not just your garden.

11) Predators that are capable of killing a hedgehog, like badgers, can cause problems with populations locally, though this would be less of a problem in built-up areas.

I hope you manage to attract a hedgehog to your garden, though ‘your hedgehog’ may actually be a number of different hedgehogs who visit your garden at different times.
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