GARDENS FOR HEDGEHOGS
Accessible Gardens are so important. Without these gardens there won’t be Hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are opportunistic, every night they will travel up to a mile, visiting many gardens, searching for food and in breeding season, a mate. This is why access to adjacent gardens is so important to hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are inquisitive and if the routes are there, inviting them into many gardens, they will happily pay a visit. Such routes are often called Hedgehog Highways (see details below).
A hedgehog paradise garden is only of use if a hedgehog can gain access and move freely elsewhere.
1. Hedgehog Highways:
What is a Hedgehog Highway?
These are holes in or under garden fences and walls, just large enough for hedgehogs to pass through. They are 13cm diameter holes (the size of a CD), most commonly in gravel boards. To make your own in a wooden gravel board, you only need a CD to draw around, a drill and a jigsaw. The holes are inconspicuous, don’t wreck the fence and really do work. The pictures are from a garden with 4 holes in the gravel boards, all regularly used by hedgehogs. The hole in gate is a bit more obvious but good for hedgehogs - who prefer to enter the garden via this route!
Images: Examples of Hedgehog Highways – signs can be purchased from Hedgehog Street of British Hedgehog Preservation Society
Hedgehog Street was formed by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. They actively campaign for Hedgehog Highways and their website is a mine of useful information on how to make your own highway hole as well as other ideas for holes and companies which supply gravel boards (wood or concrete) with ready-made holes. If you don’t have gravel boards, please look at Hedgehog Street for other practical access suggestions.
2. Feeding Hedgehogs:
If you are lucky enough to get (and want to feed) hedgehogs in your garden, put out suitable food and water. Use a specialist hedgehog food if your budget allows, complete dry cat food is an alternative. When you put out food, always provide a supply of fresh water, hedgehogs who eat dried or semi-dried food get very thirsty. DO NOT PUT OUT MILK, this is very bad for hedgehogs. Avoid fish flavoured cat meat.
Putting out food is best done via a suitable feeding station. This doesn’t need to be fancy, nor do you need to buy an expensive commercial design. You can make your own “Food Hotel” quite cheaply. A small covered plastic box with an entrance (CD size hole) will do. If you can, position the box so the entrance is a few inches in front of a wall of fence, this prevents domestic pets from pinching the food!
Note: Hedgehogs are not the tidiest of eaters; as well as checking and topping up water and food daily, a bit of cleaning in the food house might be needed. Use a cloth/rag and water, don’t use household cleaners.
Images: A simple feeding station – food and water; shelter & restricted access. Put a weight on top of the box so strong winds or other animals can’t move the box. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning and putting food in the bowl/house.
3. Wildflower Meadow Areas:
A small area of lawn kept as a wildflower meadow is very attractive to hedgehogs, the long grass retains moisture, where there’s moisture there’s often hedgehog food! Only mow once a year – in late August – and when you do, take care, avoid using a strimmer. Hedgehogs sometimes sleep in these spots, strimmer injuries are more common than you might think.
Images: Garden wildflower meadow – this small one is a triangle shape – 6x5x4 feet. Make sure your wildflower meadow gets some sunshine. A full shade area is no use.
4. Undisturbed Quiet Spots:
Leaving small areas of your garden undisturbed allows hedgehogs to find shelter in dark areas, amongst leaves, twigs and roots. They will often use these areas for summer day “sleepovers”. If they really like the spot they may even use it for a winter residency.
Images: Summer Sleepovers: This quiet spot on a southern facing garage wall is an occasional sleepover spot in summer months, hedgehogs sleep in the warm straw (in the corner is an entrance to a Hedgehog Highway, probably why the hedgehogs found and use this spot).
Images: Quiet Spot: Left undisturbed – a hedgehog might sleep here, or, it may not. The corner has cut up old shrub branches, twigs, leaves and old wildflower meadow cuttings. In the 1st picture the bare ground is where the hedgehog(s) travel in/out – there’s also a Hedgehog Highway in the corner.
5. Avoid using Slug Pellets:
Put simply, Slug pellets are dangerous to hedgehogs and should not be used where there is a likelihood of hedgehogs and other wildlife eating them. Slug Pellets will kill hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs eat a variety of invertebrates – beetles, grubs and slugs for example. This is why they are a favourite friend of gardeners. Unfortunately they will also eat poisoned slugs and these make hedgehogs ill. If the poison doesn’t kill them outright, they will become weaker and then susceptible to other diseases which in turn can kill them.
6. A Pond with a Beach:
Ponds in gardens attract wildlife. All manner of birds and animals will come for a drink, a bath or insects to eat. Hedgehogs don’t have great eyesight (they rely on smell and hearing), if a pond has steep sides, they can easily fall in. Hedgehogs can swim but in a steep sided pond they may be unable to get out and will drown. One or two beaches in a pond will allow hedgehogs to easily reach the waters’ edge – or climb out if they have fallen in.
Image: A small wildlife pond with a stone beach and shallow ends.
7. Hedgehog Nests, Houses and Hibernation Areas:
Nests: Compost piles are another ideal place for a hedgehog to make a nest and rear its young. They will also nest in other places such as under sheds, decking and in Hedgehog Houses. Anywhere that’s warm, safe and undisturbed.
Hedgehogs hibernate from December onwards until about March, how long they hibernate for depends upon how much weight they have put on and the weather conditions.
Houses: Hedgehog houses are good hibernation spots. There are lots of Hedgehog Houses available commercially. Before buying one, please do some research, there are a few so called Hedgehog Houses which are dangerous and unsuitable. Greening Wymondham do not make personal endorsements. Hedgehog Street or ask the Wymondham: A Hedgehog Haven Facebook group are good places to seek advice/recommendations.
Hedgehog houses need to be in located in a quiet and dark shady area of the garden.
The house should have an entrance tunnel or interior dividing walls to deter predators.
The house should be built from untreated wood (pre-treated woods may contain chemical compounds hazardous to Hedgehogs). Untreated Larch, Douglas Fir or Red Cedar wood make excellent durable houses.
You can also use a plastic storage box, with a lid, and cut an entrance hole.
Image: Compost bin with an adjacent pile of twigs, leaves and green matter, ideal for invertebrates and Hedgehog nests (entrance behind the nettles)
Not all the seven ways to garden for hedgehogs will be practical for one reason or another but remember, without Hedgehog Highways, they won’t be able to access you or your neighbour’s garden.
Click the links below for a few more tips:
DO'S, DON'TS AND DOGS - general gardening tips to make gardens safe for hedgehogs.