As hedgehog numbers are rapidly declining, it is up to us as gardeners to try and do what we can to encourage these wonderful spiky mammals back into our gardens. In a hope to try and increase numbers, we’ve contacted some of the UK’s hedgehog wildlife rescues and charities in order to find out the ways in which we can help at home.
What’s happening to our hedgehogs?
Gill Lucraft from Hedgehog Bottom has suggested that the decline in hedgehogs can be put down to people.
“Hogs used to be everywhere. The hedgerows in the countryside they were named after, have been grubbed up to make bigger fields to provide more and more food for us. Also, they haven’t been properly managed so the evergreens are thin and are no use as a shelter.
“Fields are covered with insecticides to maintain human food but killing hedgehog food in the process. Now hogs tend to be in our gardens and here they come up against us.’’
“If you couple that with hog populations having their range continuously curtailed by new housing and retails parks, flood defences now needed due to floodplains being built on. Impenetrable walls, busy roads, over fussy gardeners blocking every possible ingress and the hog’s path to more space. All of this means they are unable to find sufficient mates to sustain the population and inbreeding can soon wipe out a group.”
As depressing as this may seem, Gill does offer some easy and useful suggestions for how us everyday gardeners can help tackle these hog problems;
- Make a CD sized hole in your boundaries so hogs can get in and out
- Don’t spray pesticides everywhere
- Leave a few fallen leaves in late Autumn for hogs to make their winter nest
- Keep a corner of your garden for beetles and caterpillars. You’ll not just be helping hedgehogs, but butterflies and bees too!
- Put in a wildlife pond with sloping sides so that if they do fall in they won’t drown
- No milk. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant
It’s not all bad news, however. Data collected over several years at Help A Hedgehog Hospital actually suggests some extremely encouraging news for getting new populations back on track and maintaining them. With help from passionate charities, an ordinary gardener can make simple changes to strengthen hog numbers.
Annie Parfitt from Help A Hedgehog Hospital explains,
“Hedgehogs eat slugs (20% of their diet), so this is can be helpful to the gardener in keeping slug numbers down. However, slugs carry lungworm which can make hedgehogs ill if they eat too many. So, it’s important to encourage insects and earthworms into your garden also. You can do this by leaving leaves on the lawn and have an area in your garden left wild.”
Here are some more helpful tips Annie has for gardeners;
- Hedgehogs need a supply of clean water – a heavy dog bowl is best
- Compost heaps or sheds make a great hiding place
- Use beer traps when dealing with slugs, rather than slug pellets as these are poisonous to hedgehogs
Why hedgehogs are good for our gardens
Nikki Babb from Twiggywinkles, a wildlife hospital trust which cares for over five million wild and injured animals as a direct result of encounters with humans, points out one of the main benefits of hedgehogs in our gardens. This is their natural ‘pest control’ capabilities.
“Hedgehogs are much-loved animals in the UK, often praised for eating all manner of insects which may otherwise take to eating our plants and vegetables!
“As the hedgehog population is sadly in decline, gardens can become important nature reserves for local hedgehog populations. Why not speak to your neighbours to try and create a whole row of hedgehog friendly gardeners?”
Plus, seeing these cute creatures in your garden means you are likely to have a very healthy ecosystem going on, which encourages bees and butterflies to pollinate your plants. If we stop interfering, nature balances everything, it all works in harmony.
Marc Baldwin from Wildlife Online comments on the misinterpretation of hedgehogs in our gardens.
“Something shouldn’t have to be useful to us in order to be granted an existence. Hedgehogs are an iconic species, frequently voted into the top three of Britain’s favourite mammal surveys, and you have to wonder, if we can’t prevent the extinction of a charismatic species such as the hedgehog, what species we can save?!’’
“Remember, also, that improving our gardens and wider countryside for hedgehogs also benefits other species – lots of species utilize hedges and benefit from being able to move between gardens.”
How to help an injured hedgehog
Hedgehogs are generally nocturnal animals, which means if you see one in the daytime it’s possibly injured or sick. As they are very susceptible to hypothermia, especially in winter, some hedgehogs may spread themselves out in the sun in an attempt to get some heat into their bodies. If you see a hedgehog in this state, Hedgehog Street explains what you should do;
- Take them inside and place them in a large box with an old towel or torn up newspaper
- Place a well wrapped hot water bottle underneath the hedgehog leaving room for it to get off
- Keep away from pets and handle as little as possible
- Once you have the hedgehog settled you should contact your nearest rescue or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS)
Fay Vass, chief executive at BHPS adds,
“Hedgehogs have declined by a third in urban areas and a half if rural ones since the turn of the century. This rate of loss is dramatic and unsustainable. Hedgehogs are a good ‘indicator’ species. They’re generalists and feed on soil invertebrates, their habitat requirements are minimal, if hedgehogs are in trouble it raises concerns about the environment in general.”
Hedgehogs are crucial to our eco-systems and by applying a few simple changes to gardens, we can work towards saving the hedgehog population in the UK!