How to help Hedgehogs

I love hedgehogs!  Hedgehogs are so endearing and entertaining.  Every time I have encountered a hedgehog has been such a special and uplifting moment; each hedgehog I have seen shuffling along or snuffling about has touched my heart, lifted my spirits and brightened my day.

Sadly, nowadays there are many threats to hedgehogs – hedgehogs are in danger as they try to cross our busy roads, but even away from the roads, hedgehogs face many dangers in our own gardens, because of these dangers, hedgehogs are becoming more scarce.  Sadly, these delightful, charming, and loveable creatures are now endangered.  Many children growing up today haven’t experienced the joy of seeing a hedgehog snuffling through the leaves in their garden.  If you’re interested in hedgehogs, here are some ways in which you can help them:

  • Please take care when strimming.  Many hedgehogs are seriously and so terribly wounded, and often killed by folks strimming their grass or meadows each year.  Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so they sleep during the day.  A hedgehog nest, or a sleeping hedgehog is not something you’d spot easily, even if you were concentrating all your energy in looking for hedgehog nests, and were directly in front of a nest with a sleeping hedgehog inside!  Please check each area of long grass over thoroughly before starting up your strimmer.  When using a strimmer to trim long grass, make your cuts in stages – trimming the grass shorter each week until you reach your desired height – this will give hedgehogs a chance to move on to another area.  Similarly, if you’re cutting long grass with your lawn mower, or cutting up fallen leaves with your mower, please take care to check the areas over thoroughly for hedgehogs before you start up your lawn mower.
  • Why not leave an area of long grass for insects and wildlife?  Leaving wild areas and undergrowth, along with long grasses and caterpillar food plants will help hedgehogs.  Why not take part in No Mow May?
  • Grow caterpillar food plants to help butterflies and moths, and hedgehogs.  Hedgehogs predate on caterpillars, as we grow less of our native plants it becomes harder for moths and butterflies to find plants to lay their eggs.  Caterpillar food plants include: ivy (Hedera helix), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Jack-by-the-Hedge (Alliaria petiolata), Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare), Silver Birch (Betula pendula), Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), brambles, Nasturtiums, Verbascums, grasses, and nettles.
  • Please don’t use any pesticides or insecticides in your garden.  Leave insects alone – they’re a vital part of the food chain.
Every year many hedgehogs are killed by gardeners using slug pellets to control slugs and snails in their gardens. There are many natural, effective alternatives to slug pellets that won't harm hedgehogs and other wildlife, you can find more information here.
Every year many hedgehogs are killed by gardeners using slug pellets to control slugs and snails in their gardens. There are many natural, effective alternatives to slug pellets that won’t harm hedgehogs and other wildlife, you can find more information here.
  • Avoid using any slug pellets in your garden or greenhouse.  Slug pellets will  sometimes kill slugs, but they also kill hedgehogs and birds too, giving them a long, painful and drawn out death.  There are many effective natural alternatives to slug pellets – you’ll find the results of my Slug and Snail Trial, here.  Hedgehogs eat caterpillars, beetles, earwigs, millipedes, worms, and other insects, before they’ll eat slugs and snails.  Slugs and snails carry lungworm, a parasite that can kill hedgehogs, hedgehogs will only eat slugs and snails if they’re starving hungry.  Caterpillars and beetles make up the majority of a hedgehog’s diet.
  • I’ve just discovered that mealworms can make hedgehogs unwell.  Please don’t feed mealworms to hedgehogs; sunflower seeds are also best avoided.  Please note that hedgehogs enjoy eating mealworms and sunflower hearts, if they can access these foods, they will eat them – therefore please don’t leave mealworms or sunflower hearts out on the ground where hedgehogs can reach them.
  • All bird food is harmful to hedgehogs.  Please don’t leave bird food on the ground where hedgehogs can eat it – use hanging bird feeders, instead.
  • Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant.  Please don’t ever give hedgehogs bread or milk – hedgehogs are unable to digest this type of food, and it will make them ill.  Instead, if you’d like to feed hedgehogs, you can leave out cat or dog food or complete cat biscuits.
  • The best food to give hedgehogs is kitten food, with meat listed as the first ingredient.
  • Hedgehogs like to visit garden ponds, sometimes hedgehogs will visit a pond to take a drink, and sometimes hedgehogs will enter the pond to go for a swim!  Sadly though, if the pond has steep sides, the hedgehog won’t be able to get out of the pond, and the hedgehog will drown.  By ensuring your pond has a shallow, gradually sloping entrance into the water, you’ll be helping hedgehogs, frogs, toads, and other creatures access the water they need, and easily exit the water when they wish to.
  • Please leave a shallow bowl of fresh water out for hedgehogs, birds, and wildlife.  This is especially important in times of drought.
  • It’s a common misunderstanding that a hedgehog will live in one particular garden – this is not the case – hedgehogs have large territories and need to be able to roam freely to find sufficient food and mate.  Hedgehogs need to be able to travel a few miles each evening.  You can help any hedgehogs visiting your garden by ensuring they have access into, and out of your garden.  You could clear away a space under your fence into your neighbours garden – so that a hedgehog can pass under the fence – do make sure that there is sufficient space for a large, fully grown hedgehog to travel under the fence.  Or you could cut out an opening at the base of your fence.  If you’re getting a new fence installed, it’s easy to cut out a hedgehog doorway before you put the fence up.  Encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same, as every hedgehog will need access to a large number of connected gardens to be able to survive.
Hedges withstand strong winds better than fences and make a beautiful addition to the garden. If you are thinking of planting a hedge in your garden, ensure that your hedge grows right down to the soil level, so that it will allow hedgehogs a safe place to pass from one garden to another, to nest safely, take shelter and find refuge.
Hedges withstand strong winds better than fences and make a beautiful addition to the garden. If you are thinking of planting a hedge in your garden, ensure that your hedge grows right down to the soil level, so that it will allow hedgehogs a safe place to pass from one garden to another, to nest safely, take shelter and find refuge.
  • Hedges are a beautiful feature that compliment every style of garden.  After storms have battered our gardens, and fences are blown sideways, hedges remain, resplendent in their beauty and resilience.  As well as withstanding bad weather, hedges are a place of refuge and shelter for wildlife.  Hedges provide a place for hedgehogs, birds, and other creatures to nest, hedges allow wildlife into your garden.  Ensure that your hedge is encouraged to grow right down to the ground to provide the maximum benefit to hedgehogs, who will often nest under a hedge.
Leaving an area of fallen autumn leaves in a quiet, undisturbed area of the garden for hedgehogs will provide a perfect place for hedgehogs to nest, hibernate and sleep safely. Hedgehogs are able to use their spines to collect leaves as they can roll over and cover themselves in leaves.
Leaving an area of fallen autumn leaves in a quiet, undisturbed area of the garden for hedgehogs will provide a perfect place for hedgehogs to nest, hibernate and sleep safely. Hedgehogs are able to use their spines to collect leaves as they can roll over and cover themselves in leaves.
  • Leaving piles of autumn leaves undisturbed in a quiet corner of your garden will help hedgehogs find a place to nest safely.  Hedgehogs hibernate through the winter in nests made from fallen autumn leaves.  Similarly, hedgehogs also nest in wood piles, so leaving a wood pile in a quiet area of the garden for hedgehogs, insects, and wildlife will be very beneficial to many creatures.  Take care around these areas, so as to avoid disturbing hibernating hedgehogs in wintertime, or sleeping hedgehogs during the daytime in spring and summer.
Leaving a log pile in a quiet area of your garden, will create a habitat for many invertebrates, insects, frogs, toads, hedgehogs and other creatures. Many of us have small areas to garden in, but it's easy to create a woodpile in a quiet corner and leave a pile of autumn leaves for hedgehogs to safely nest in.
Leaving a log pile in a quiet area of your garden, will create a habitat for many invertebrates, insects, frogs, toads, hedgehogs and other creatures. Many of us have small areas to garden in, but it’s easy to create a woodpile in a quiet corner and leave a pile of autumn leaves for hedgehogs to safely nest in.
  • If you’re planning to have a bonfire, it’s best to collect up the materials you want to burn and burn them immediately after collection – this method ensures that hedgehogs and other creatures haven’t had time to curl up and nest inside your bonfire pile – which will look like the perfect nest site to a hedgehog.  If you don’t have time to burn your bonfire pile immediately after collection, then you’ll need to carefully re-site your bonfire before burning – moving the materials you want to burn carefully and checking for hedgehogs and other creatures as you go.  This way you can thoroughly check for sleeping hedgehogs, to ensure you don’t burn any hedgehogs alive.
  • Hedgehogs can sometimes be found nesting in compost heaps.  It’s best to avoid turning your compost heap during the wintertime when hedgehogs are hibernating.  When you turn your compost heap, take care and be gentle – don’t just stab into the heap with a fork, as you don’t want to hurt hedgehogs, or any other creatures that might be nesting inside.
  • Litter can injure hedgehogs – sometimes hedgehogs can be injured eating cat or dog food from discarded cans with sharp edges, hedgehogs can get stuck in cans, yogurt pots, and other rubbish as they forage for food.  Hedgehogs can suffocate in plastic bags, which they sometimes nest or hibernate in.  Broken glass will injure hedgehogs.  Take care to recycle your rubbish, and collect up and properly dispose of any litter you find.
This hedgehog found some fleece on the floor of a greenhouse and made itself a cosy nest inside the greenhouse, under the benching.
This hedgehog found some fleece on the floor of a greenhouse and made itself a cosy nest inside the greenhouse, under the benching.
  • Hedgehogs can be injured by barbed wire and other sharp objects lying around the garden, they can also become entangled in netting or plastic.  To avoid injury, don’t leave these items lying around.  If you’re using barbed wire or netting, ensure the barbed wire or netting is 30cm (12 inches) off the ground, to allow safe passage for hedgehogs and other wildlife.
  • Hedgehogs sometimes have fleas, because of this some people discourage hedgehogs away from their gardens, mistakenly believing that the fleas will spread to their pets or themselves.  Hedgehog fleas are host specific – they won’t spread to dogs, cats, other animals, or people.  Hedgehog fleas can only live and survive on hedgehogs; if the hedgehog flea becomes separated from the hedgehog it will die.
  • Use only environmentally friendly, water based products on your fences – many preservatives contain ingredients detrimental to hedgehogs and other wildlife.
  • By avoiding using slug pellets, pesticides, and insecticides, you’ll encourage more wildlife into your garden.  Over time a natural balance will be created by nature, with frogs, toads, beetles, newts, and birds eating your slugs and snails.  Why not turn your garden into a place of refuge for our wonderful British wildlife?

Hedgehogs are such interesting and endearing mammals to observe.  If you’re lucky to have a hedgehog visiting, or if you’d like to encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden, please ensure that you take these precautionary measures which I have listed above, to avoid injuring any hedgehogs.  Please provide hedgehogs with a safe place, so they can pass through your garden on their night time adventures, and find a place to nest safely in the daytime.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal mammals. Hedgehogs don't want to be confined to a single garden, they have wide territories and need to travel long distances each evening as they look for food. If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog that visits your garden there are lots of things you can do to both encourage and help hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal mammals. Hedgehogs don’t want to be confined to a single garden, they have wide territories and need to travel long distances each evening as they look for food. If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog that visits your garden there are lots of things you can do to both encourage and help hedgehogs.

To find out how autumn leaves help hedgehogs, wildlife, plants, and soils, and discover what to do with all the beautiful leaves that fall in autumn, please click here.

To visit The British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s website, please click here.

To see the results of my Slug and Snail Trial and discover the most effective methods to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.

For articles about caterpillar food plants, please click here.

To read the results of my Peat Free Compost Trials, please click here.

For information on beautiful, important and historic gardens to visit in Surrey, Hampshire and West Sussex, please click here.

For ideas of long flowering container plants that will attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects to your garden, please click here.

For details of places where you can see beautiful carpets of bluebells, please click here.

To read about carnivorous plants, please click here.

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