Friday 27 July 2012

Learning about hedgehogs - a basic care guide

We appear to have a new regular visitor to my parents garden - a hedgehog who we have named Harry. Every day for the past week, he's emerged from "somewhere" (worried it's the bonfire !), and taken a wander around the large garden. Amazing that a creature with such small legs can travel so far and so fast !

Realising we didn't know much about hedgehogs and how we can best care for Dad's new "pet", I set myself the task of doing a bit of research - hence this blog post, figured I may as well share my new found knowledge.  If anyone has any tips on looking after Harry, or any other useful information, I'd be very happy to hear from you.  In the meantime, I don't think that bonfire will be getting lit anytime soon !!

Introducing Harry the Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are welcome visitors to the garden and are regarded as a gardener’s friend as they happily munch away on slugs, beetles, caterpillars.  They do no harm to the garden so should be encouraged by providing safe habitats for them to thrive in and raise their young.

Creating a hedgehog friendly garden


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

Attract them to your garden by leaving an area wild and uncultivated.  They appreciate a pile of leaves or logs, or make a shelter for them by building a hedgehog home.  Doesn’t have to be anything too fancy - even a piece of board propped up against a fence/wall will suffice.  Hedgehog comes are best sited in a quiet spot in the garden which is nested under growing plants.

Leave out food and water – see section further down for further information on what to feed hedgehogs.

Plant hedges rather than erecting fences.  Hedges provide good cover for hedgehogs. 

Evergreen shrubs provide good protection all year round.

Compost heaps can provide a good food source for hedgehogs.  Just be careful when you push your fork in – check the heap first to make sure no wildlife has burrowed into it.

Ponds are good for thirsty hedgehogs, but always ensure the side is gradually slopped to allow an easy exit route for

What do hedgehogs eat?

Naturally, they are mainly insect eaters.  They eat beetles, caterpillars and earthworms.

To supplement their natural diet, a saucer of dog/cat food (but not fish based) can be supplied (they can be fussy though and don’t like cheap foods).  Other foods that they enjoy include minced meat, fresh liver and chopped boiled eggs.

Of course, placing fresh food out like this can make that other animals, ie cats, steal it !!  To avoid this happening, provide a feeding station – something that the hedgehogs can get under, but that cats can’t, such as an upturned box with an entrance hole cut into it or a paving slab on bricks.

Special dried hedgehog food can also be purchased.

Always ensure a bowl of water is provided for them during the summer months, and refresh this daily.

Avoid giving hedgehogs milk.  They love it, but it can cause diarrhoea.  

When do hedgehogs hibernate?

As a general guide, this is normally between November and mid March but can sometimes be seen during this time if the weather has been mild.   Though this can depend on many factors such as climate, how fit and how fat the hedgehog is !  Hedgehogs will hibernate when it gets very cold because their natural food sources disappear in cold weather.  Larger hedgehogs may hibernate as early as September.  Hedgehogs may wake up several times during hibernation.  If you see one, offer it a little food and water and let it go on its way (unless it needs any other care of course).

Hazards to hedgehogs in the Garden
  • Slug pellets are poisonous and should not be used. Far better to use other methods of trapping slugs, such as beer traps (buried dishes of beers into which slugs fall and drown), non chemical control such as parasitic worms or other organic methods such as broken up egg shells around plants. If you must use slug pellets, then place them in a pipe or under slate which is inaccessible for the hedgehogs. Dead slugs daily should be removed daily.
  • Ensure all rubbish, such as jam jars, tins, yoghurt containers, etc, are disposed of safely. Bags of household rubbish should be raised off the ground to prevent hedgehogs tearing the bag open and getting stuck inside the rubbish. Worse still, they could get carried away to the refuse dump with the rest of the rubbish.
  • Before lighting a bonfire, ensure there are no hedgehogs sheltering in the pile. Better still, re-site the whole bonfire before lighting.
  • Ensure ponds have an easy escape route so that hedgehogs can climb out if they accidentally fall in whilst having a drink.
  • Netting, such as fruit nets or pea netting, should be rolled up to about 6” above ground level when not in use or on an evening.
  • Take care when strimming – hedgehogs could be resting in the undergrowth or under hedges during the day.
  • Examine compost heaps before thrusting in with your fork.
  • Keep drains covered so that hedgehogs do not become stuck down them.
  • 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.
  • Store chemicals safely.
Interesting Hedgehog Facts

‘Your hedgehog’ may actually be a number of different hedgehogs who visit your garden at different times.  10 or more different hedgehogs may be visiting your garden over several nights !

Hedgehogs are noisy eaters (bit like my other half but he’s not as spikey).

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