My neighbours tell me they’ve seen a hedgehog wandering about on our driveway lately. This is great to hear, because I’ve been putting hedgehog food out for a while now, but had concluded the local cats must be snaffling it, because I’ve not seen so much as a prickle myself. I promptly refilled the dish with Spike’s hedgehog food, and await further sightings.
There are lots more things we can do to help hogs - and boy, do they need our help. In the 1950s there were around 36 million of them, down to less than a million today. Something like 10 million have vanished since 2003. Public surveys reveal horribly alarming stats: almost half of Brits have never seen a live wild hedgehog, although they were a common sight in gardens half a century ago. Each year, less and less garden sightings are reported.
So, what can we all do to help protect our prickly pals from possible extinction?
1 Help them get around
Safe passage between gardens is crucial to hedgehogs’ survival, helping them avoid roads. Photo: Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)
Fifty years ago there were fewer houses, and fewer people had fully fenced gardens - and of course, there weren’t nearly as many cars. Hedgehogs and roads make a disastrous combination, and as shy little snufflers, they would very much rather not have to use open tarmac to get around.
We can easily ease their path by creating routes between our gardens. If you have solid fencing, cut a small, 10cm doorway at ground level so hogs can pass through. If you have brick walls, perhaps you can create a space under the gate? Have a word with your neighbours and see if they can do anything with shared boundaries - perhaps you could all align a hedgehog superhighway across your back gardens? Or consider replacing fences with hedging? Also think about creating little ramps up any steps or obstacles.
2 Banish the slug pellets
A hedgehog is an asset to any garden, hoovering up slugs, snails and other unwanted pests. If slugs emerge from the darkness to devour your seedlings and destroy your vegetable beds overnight, I feel your pain… I sometimes feel I’m fighting a losing battle. Slug pellets are probably the easiest way to control slugs, but they will also poison the hedgehogs that eat them. I deploy an arsenal of alternatives: Loathe as I am to waste good beer, beer traps are a sure-fire slug dispatcher, and then there are physical barriers such as eggshells, used coffee grounds, squashed garlic. I have been known to relocate slugs (often via trowel catapult) to the wildflower borders around the pond, where hopefully lurking frogs can make use of them.
3 Reduce hog hazards
Bonfires, ponds and strimmers represent just three of the horrors awaiting hedgehogs in gardens. We’ve built a bonfire circle in our garden, with log seating around it, for the purpose of burning garden cuttings while enjoying a cold beer and warm toes. But we always pile the firewood next to it, and move it into the fire piece by piece, just in case there might be a hedgehog lurking underneath. Garden ponds should always have a ‘way out’ for anything that falls in - mine has a large half-submerged rock near the edge. And always check long grass before strimming (or mowing) - hedgehogs won’t necessarily flee when they hear it coming.
Treat your garden to a hedgehog hotel and you might attract your own resident slug-muncher! This one’s available from the RSPB shop for £29.99.
4 Provide shelter
All sorts of wildlife, not just the cute and prickly sort, will benefit if you can leave a corner of your garden to nature - leaving the grass long, letting weeds become wildflowers, and ideally creating a large pile of twigs, dead wood and dried fallen leaves in a secluded corner, away from too much wind or sun. Hedgehogs need to snuggle away during the day. The long grass will also attract insects for them to feed on, give you somewhere to relocate unwanted slugs, and help hedgehogs hide - they’re very shy creatures. As well as hiding during the day, this time of year, they will be nesting and raising their young, and come winter they’ll need somewhere to hibernate. Even better than a log pile, why not build or buy them a weatherproof hog house, where they can do all of these things safely?
5 Open a hedgehog cafe
Hedgehogs will often come up close to humans if there’s a meal in it for them. Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Hedgehogs are also prone to starvation, and if they don’t find enough food throughout the summer and autumn they will not survive their winter hibernation. Whatever you do, don’t give them bread and milk - there are plenty of much safer food options. Try wet or dry cat or dog food, sunflower hearts, mealworms, minced meat or even cooked potatoes… and don’t forget to put out a dish of water on the ground. Here’s all you need to know to create an easy hedgehog banquet.
Well, I will let you know if I do manage to catch a glimse of our elusive prickly visitor, and meanwhile (especially in this weird cold snap) I shall ramp up my efforts to make their lives a little easier, so that hopefully my children can be among those lucky enough to see one alive and hopefully thriving. If you have catered for hedgehogs in your garden - and maybe bucked the downward population trend - let us know! Email the magazine or log in to comment below.