Help a hedgehog
With hedgehogs disappearing from our countryside as fast as tigers are worldwide, here are some top tips for how you can help the humble hedgehog.
Regularly voted the nation's favourite animal, hedgehogs are also a gardener's best friend - eating up to 60–80g of invertebrates nightly. Despite this, hedgehogs are in trouble. Surveys reveal that there has been a decline in urban hedgehogs of about a third since the turn of the century and by up to three-quarters in the countryside. There are now thought to be fewer than one million hedgehogs left in the UK. In the 1950s, the number was estimated at 36.5 million.
Humans have caused this decline, from the development of green spaces, fragmentation of habitat, and traffic - an estimated 100,000 hedgehogs are killed on the roads each year. There is also less food for them. A study found that between 1989 and 2013 the biomass of invertebrates – a vital component of the hedgehog diet – had fallen by nearly 80%. In the countryside the loss of hedgerows has been a major cause of decline.
Gardens, hedgerows, woodlands, grasslands, parkland and cemeteries are all important hedgehog habitats. Adult hedgehogs travel between 1-2km per night over home ranges between 10-20 hectares in size. In suburban areas, this means they range over entire housing estates and neighbourhoods. Combined, our gardens provide a space for wildlife larger than all our National Nature Reserves, so by gardening in a wildlife-friendly way, we can help our spiny companions to find a home and move safely between habitats to find mates and food.
In Peterborough, as part of the Council's green infrastructure plan we are planning to identify important corridors for wildlife and aim to improve habitat connectivity, benefiting hedgehogs as part of this. We also consider hedgehogs in planning applications by advising that gaps are left in any new fences to allow them to move through the area and encourage wildlife friendly gardens/ landscaping wherever possible.
We've put together a list of ways you can help make an environment suitable for hedgehogs in your garden, neighbourhood or community, with information from The Wildlife Trust and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
How can you help a hedgehog?
1) Create hedgehog highways
Hedgehogs need to be able to roam far and wide in search of food, mates and nesting sites. Make sure hedgehogs have easy access to your garden. Ensure boundary fences or walls have a 13cm x 13cm gap in the bottom to allow hedgehogs to pass through. Get together with your neighbours to cut a hole in your fence or dig a channel beneath garden boundaries to connect your gardens. You can download advice about how to do this and record your hedgehog hole at hedgehogstreet.org.
Keep an eye out for neighbours doing work on their gardens, or using fencing contractors - this is the perfect opportunity to get a hedgehog hole put in and influence connectivity.
2) Hedgehog hideaways
Provide a nesting site - Log and leaf piles, wilderness areas and purpose-built hedgehog homes make great places for hedgehogs to nest and hibernate. Fallen leaves also make the perfect nesting material, so make sure you don’t clear all of these away! Try to pile these in quiet, undisturbed corners of your garden to allow hedgehogs a safe, secure area to breed and hibernate.
Build a hedgehog home - Offer your local hedgehog a safe place in your garden by building or buying them a home. This offers a hibernation site safe from predators in the winter. It may also be used as a nesting box for a mother and her hoglets in the warmer months. They are simple and cheap to make! Have a look at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's sheet to create your own.
3) Wild gardens
Grow a wide variety of plants - Attract plenty of natural hedgehog food by keeping your garden diverse with a wide variety of habitats. Hedgehogs particularly like big, crunchy beetles, earthworms and slugs. Mulch beds with garden compost will encourage plenty of earthworms, woodlice and beetles as it begins to rot down while wood piles encourage a rich feast of earwigs, centipedes and woodlice! Don’t be afraid to let your grass grow a little wild and leave some leaf litter – as both are important homes for the hedgehog’s prey including ground beatles and leatherjackets! Or you could keep a corner of your garden wild to offer shelter, protection and natural food for hedgehogs and other wildlife.
4) Set up a feeding station
Provide a shallow dish of fresh water for all wildlife, and food such as hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food, cat biscuits, CHOPPED UNSALTED peanuts and sunflower hearts (not seeds) for hedgehogs, especially during long dry spells.
Set up a feeding station by cutting a clear hole in a plastic storage box and weighing down the lid with bricks: this will stop cats and foxes taking the food. If you are worried about attracting rats, don't put out grain-based foods on the floor and take in any excess food when your hedgehog has been for a visit.
5) Safe strimming
Check areas thoroughly for hedgehogs and other wildlife before strimming or mowing.
6) Say no to slug pellets
Hedgehogs hoover up over 100 invertebrates, such as snails, slugs and worms every night, so no need to use poisonous slug pellets! As well as damaging their food chain, these can also harm hedgehogs so avoid using pesticides and slug pellets in your garden. Use organic methods instead.
7) Litter free = happy hedgehog
Dispose of litter responsibly. Every year hedgehogs are injured by litter and starve to death by getting trapped in discarded rubbish.
8) Hedgehog hazards - how to stop them getting trapped
Hedgehogs have poor eyesight but are quite curious, meaning they fall into holes and get stuck, so make sure you cover up any open drains and gullies. Hedgehogs are good swimmers but can become trapped in ponds or pools with sheer sides. Provide a gently sloping edge or ramp if possible or place half submerged rocks or stones in the water as an escape for them.
Keep pea netting 22-30cms (9 - 12”) off the ground so hedgehogs can pass under and plants will grow to the netting.
Cattle grids can be a problem, hedgehogs fall in and become trapped, a simple ramp placed in the grid will save lives. The surface should be rough to enable the escapee to gain a foothold.
9) Take care on the roads
Hedgehogs are nocturnal so are often seen out at night. A hedgehog’s natural defence mechanism is to roll into a ball - this is no match for a motor vehicle.
10) Last but not least! This November, think about hedgehogs around bonfire time.
Bonfires offer a tempting home for a hedgehog. Every year numbers of hedgehogs die or suffer injuries due to bonfire piles not being not checked before being lit. To help prevent hedgehogs and other wildlife from suffering, it is advised by The British Hedgehog Preservation Society to avoid building your bonfire until the day it is going to be lit - this will reduce the chances of hedgehogs taking up residence in the bonfire pile for hiberation. Always make sure you build your bonfire on clearground (not on top of leaf litter). Ideally, collected materials should be re-sited just before the fire is to be lit. If this is not possible, the base should be lifted up with poles or broom handles (not a fork!) and a torch shone in to look for any wildlife or pets in need of rescue before lighting.
Encourage hedgehogs into your garden, but you should never just move one in from another area, as it may well have a nest of dependent young that you would be condemning to death.
What do I do if I find a sick or injured hedgehog
If you’re concerned about underweight hedgehogs or hedgehogs active in winter, provide tinned cat or dog meat and fresh water. Contact your local rescue centre for advice before intervening. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society can offer advice and help you find a rescue centre near you. Visit their website here or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can I help to involve others?
Do you want to get others excited about hedgehogs? That's great news! Why not post some leaflets around your neighbours to make them aware of the Hedgehog Street campaign (www.hedgehogstreet.org/).
If you live in a flat, try to influence the management of local green space by attending management meetings or joining the 'friends of' group.
There is also a local environmental records centre website for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough: www.cperc-record.org.uk where you can report any hedgehog sightings to enable us to build up a clearer understanding of where they are.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society - A guide to helping hedgehogs: www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/leaflets/A-guide-to-helping-hedgehogs.pdf