Autumn is now upon us, meaning it's time to make sure hedgehogs are well fed and have a safe place to shelter ready for the colder winter months. Sadly, our beautiful spiky friends need all the support we can give them as they are now an endangered species. There were 30 million hedgehogs in the UK in the 1950’s but there are now only a million left. Conservationists feel this is largely due to the loss of their natural habitat, such as hedgerows and wild grassland, more intensive agriculture, the use of poisonous pesticides (which are poisonous to hedgehogs and their preferred food sources) and more badgers.
Hedgehogs can still be found in woodlands, hedgerows, fields and parks. They are less common in gardens as many are a little too “preened” for their liking, have no hedgerows to settle in and have perimeter fencing and gates, which means they can’t move around easily. Being nocturnal, you need to keep a keen eye out for identifiable signs that they have visited your garden; such as their droppings (their poo is 1.5-5 cm long and 1 cm in diameter) and footprints. It is a good idea to create a doorway at the bottom of your fence (about 3 inches), to make sure that hedgehogs can wander freely at night, between you and your neighbour’s gardens, in search of food. Being nomadic they like to move around from place to place with ease; walking up to 2 km’s a night in their natural habitat. Males are known to walk up to 3 km’s a night in breeding season in search of a suitable mate. That’s commitment for you!
Having a designated wilder area (ideally including native vegetation if possible) and planting bushes, shrubs, hedgerows, visually attractive plants and having log piles can help to entice hedgehogs and the creepy-crawlies they like to feed on. Creating a more wildlife-friendly garden contributes to the preservation of local wildlife because it offers a retreat to species who have lost their natural environment. Apple trees are a good option to consider planting, not only are they great at attracting insects, birds and hedgehogs but you’ll also enjoy beautiful blossom in spring and delicious apples in autumn. You can help attract hedgehogs further by putting out food in an accessible place and providing a safe shelter for them in a nice cosy quiet spot so they can rest for the coming months.
People often assume that when animals hibernate that they literally go to sleep for a few months; curled up tight, in a dark, peaceful place and sleep until spring arrives. This isn’t really the case. Their bodies enter a state of inactivity, which lowers their breathing rate and body temperature. Their heart rate reduces from around 190 beats per minute, to just 20! They also lower their metabolism, so that they can survive for long periods without food and conserve energy. Amazing, really!
The exact time they decide to take shelter will depend on how mild the temperature is. Hibernation can take place any time from October/ November to March / April. However, this is dependent on the weather and the individual hedgehog; some will hibernate earlier, some later and some not at all! Usually around October, hedgehogs snuffle from place to place throughout the night, building their nests (a hibernaculum) from leaf litter, compost and grass. They usually choose to build their nests in piles of dead leaves, stacks of logs, compost heaps or under garden sheds.
Hedgehogs will still get up from time-to-time to look for food and go to the toilet though. Their bodies are so intelligent that if it becomes especially cold and they are in danger of freezing, they have an inbuilt mechanism that wakes them up!
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD…
September is a crucial month for hedgehog survival rates. They have come to the end of their breeding season and now need to ensure they gain enough weight to feed their young hoglets and build up their own strength. To survive the cold weather and lack of food in winter, hedgehogs need to weigh at least 600 grams and build up a good fat reserve. Hedgehogs are insectivores, so their natural diet is one rich in snails, millipedes, insects, frogs, worms, slugs, beetles, caterpillars and worms. The best way to feed hedgehogs would be to encourage more insects into your garden. Bug hotels can be an easy way to action this. We have a few different options available: http://184.108.40.206/~soarmillseedsco/garden/insects-and-bees . Hedgehogs also like having fresh water available (ideally a wildlife pond with a ramp because even though they can swim, they can drown if they can’t easily climb out).
A mature hedgehog can eat about 20g each night! Help keep hedgehogs happy and healthy when insects are scarce by leaving food and water out in shallow dishes each evening at dusk. One of the very best ways to encourage hedgehogs into to your garden is to leave food out regularly. Ensure you use a feeder that is durable enough for the winter months, such as our hi-fired frost-resistant ceramic bowl, complete with an integral drainage hole: http://soarmillseedsco/garden/hedgehogs/square-hedgehog-feeder
It is good practice to feed hedgehogs regularly every evening and remove uneaten food each morning. Feed them using a specially formulated hedgehog food which tends to be low odour (as to not attract other animals) such as the Spikes range, which is specifically formulated by the expert rehabilitators at Hedgehog Care. We have a range of wet and dry food, which is full of the nutrients they need:
You can also use meat flavoured cat or dog food, meat flavoured cat biscuits but these also tend to attract the neighbourhood’s dogs and cats too! Please don’t put out bread, as it is bad for them and they are lactose intolerant so don’t leave them cow’s milk. Remember to also leave out a dish of fresh water each night. The best time to put out food for hedgehogs is just after dusk, when they start to search for food. The Autumn and Winter months are the most important for them to find food to ensure they put on enough weight to survive hibernation, so always make sure you put out food at this time of year.
HOME SWEET HOME…
A cosy, safe, secure and warm hibernating shelter will attract hedgehogs (and their families!) to your garden. Our wicker Igloo House http://soarmillseedsco/garden/hedgehogs/igloo-hedgehog-home offers hedgehogs a safe-haven from the many hazards of modern life such as garden trimmers, forks and tools, pets and other predators such as badgers and foxes. They are a much safer habitat than a compost heap or bonfire where hedgehogs are in danger from garden tools or being burnt. Place the hedgehog house under a hedge or other cover and let them find it for themselves. They will take in some dry leaves and other bedding and use it for night / day protection in warm weather and settle down for hibernation when the cold weather sets in.
If the temperature drops to -1°C then the hedgehogs will want to get up from their slumber and find a new bed with more insulation. As there is unlikely to be any food around in the frozen or snow covered ground, they need to be fit, healthy and fat enough before they hibernate, to survive a harsh winter. This is the reason why it is so important to give them a helping hand now.
Never use slug pellets or pesticides in your garden. The poison they contain almost always kills hedgehogs, who will eat them or the poisoned slugs (as will birds). Try to use chemical free alternative methods. Many wood preservers are also poisonous and will harm hedgehogs as they frequently lick freshly treated fences. Ask for an environmentally safe water-based product from your local garden centre.
Hedgehogs are strictly nocturnal, so any hedgehog out during the day time needs help. Please take them to your nearest wildlife hospital. You can pick them up using gardening gloves and put them into a cardboard box, although they are good climbers when well, so you would need to ensure it cannot escape.