June 2020

Hosting Hedgehogs

 Jenny Dixon

 (Ilkley U3A Environment Forum)

First the good news: hedgehogs are flourishing in Ben Rhydding!  We watched 5 together on the evening of May 10th - feeding on snacks of peanuts, peanut butter sandwiches and special hedgehog food (my current extravagance). There was a little barging and butting - just to establish pecking order, I guess, but mostly they tolerated each other well. Since hedgehogs are not gregarious by nature, this was interesting in itself. Our night trail camera has picked up lots of visits between 10.00 pm and about 4.00 am, often of two or three animals together.

The food is dry and they seem grateful for water, often pausing for a drink from our little pond. One individual prefers the - rather dirty - water in the bird bath on the patio and, on three occasions, has perched on the rim having a hearty quaff within a yard or two of my feet. Then it wades through the bath and disappears, dripping slightly, behind the flower pots.

Hedgehog drinking from the bird bath on the patio

Hedgehog numbers have declined catastrophically over the last two decades. Their natural farmland habitat has been destroyed - hedges removed, field borders cut back and pesticides destroying their natural prey. They have taken refuge in gardens and, with a little care, we can aid their recovery.

Here are my tips for establishing a hedgehog friendly garden.

  • 1.    Don’t be too tidy. Hedgehogs need bushes and shrubs for cover and piles of dead leaves etc. to make nests in which to breed, rest up during daylight and for hibernation.
  • 2.    Try to avoid pesticides particularly slug pellets. Hedgehogs are the gardener’s friends – a natural pest-control.
  • 3.    Provide water. Ponds are fine as long as they are not too deep and steeply sided. Hedgehogs can and do swim but, if they topple into a pond, they need to be able to scramble out - either at the shallow end or up a ramp of stones.
  • 4.    Hedgehogs are not territorial, but each animal has a home range. They can travel – with that stop-start, wambling gait - for one or two kilometres per night so the run of one garden is not enough. Make sure that there is a way in and out – quite a small gap in the bottom of a fence will do. Hedgehogs can elongate themselves in a surprising manner.
  • 5.    If you do provide snacks, make sure they are suitable. When I was young, bread and milk was the prescribed fare. THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. It gives them diarrhoea. They are insectivores and naturally eat beetles, worms, slugs, snails etc. However, they do seem to love peanuts!

You will soon know if you are host to any hedgehogs. They leave easily recognised dropping around the garden. These are about an inch long, cigar-shaped and usually quite dark in colour.

If you want to watch out for your visitors, just after sunset is a good time.

If you would like more information about hedgehogs, 'The New Hedgehog Book' by Pat Morris is an authoritative place to look.

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