How to help our hedgehogs as they awaken from their winter slumber
Time was when hedgehogs were regular visitors to our gardens in the UK. Not any longer. According to The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 Report, Britain has lost half its hedgehogs since the millennium.
March is when the prickly creatures start to re-emerge again, following their winter hibernation. But it seems we’re less likely than ever before to catch a glimpse of them.
It’s a huge loss. In 2013, the much-loved hedgehog topped a vote to find a national species for Britain – but now, we’re in danger of losing them. Latest estimates put their numbers at around a million. In the 1950s, there were 30 million.
Habitat destruction caused by land development, and a lack of landscape-scale connectivity are among the main reasons. The use of pesticides on farmland and in gardens is another factor, greatly reducing their food supply. In towns and cities, fences they can’t navigate through, and the loss of compost heaps are all hitting hedgehogs hard.
The Woodland Trust is doing what it can by creating and restoring woodland, planting hedgerows, and working with landowners to manage their land in hedgehog-friendly ways.
But there are things homeowners and communities can do, too. Trees, hedges and wildflower patches help hedgehogs as well as other wildlife. Make hedgehog corridors by having a small hole in your fence to allow hedgehogs into your gardens or have a tunnel at the bottom of the fence.
Hedgehogs are big eaters – they can eat their own bodyweight in food every night! They eat beetles, larvae, caterpillars, worms, slugs, snails, eggs, berries and frogs. Creating a herb garden with mint, dill and fennel attracts some of the insects hedgehogs love and a compost heap will provide earthworms as well as a cosy home.
We can also do our bit by putting down food that’s good for them – hedgehog food, tinned dog or cat food – but not fish-based – crushed cat biscuits, cooked mincemeat, and chopped boiled eggs. A good tip is to put food into a plastic box with a lid, measuring at least 30x40cm. Cut a hedgehog-sixed hole into one end and place the food at the other end, so they don’t tread in the food. Place a heavy stone on top of the box. This will ensure other animals such as cats and foxes can’t get to the food.
Always put some fresh water down in a shallow dish if you do feed them. Never give hedgehogs milk, as this upsets their stomachs and can make then very ill. And bread is no use for them either.
You can make your garden even more of a home from home for hedgehogs by having log piles, leaf piles and ponds – but only if the ponds have gentle slopes for them to get out safely.
Hedgehog hazards include slug pellets, as they are poisonous for them, and garden clear-outs can prove dangerous, too. If you’re about to clear your garden of leaves, make sure you don’t accidentally throw a hedgehog out with them.
If you do see manage to spot hedgehogs in your gardens this spring and summer, you can count yourself very fortunate. Tell-tale signs are small paw marks or dark droppings.
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society have joined forces to launch a campaign, Hedgehog Street, to help us to help our hedgehogs. www.hedgehogstreet.org