Bumbling about in the dark, hedgehogs hold a special place in British affections. They pop up in our literature from Shakespeare’s Tempest to Beatrix Potter’s busy laundress Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. Once a common sight across the country, they are in trouble.
Research suggests we have lost over a third of our hedgehogs in the last twenty years. One rather gruesome way we know this is that scientists have recorded fewer hedgehogs being run over. We can help reverse the population decline. As the name suggests, the natural habitat of the hedgehog is the hedgerow and woodland edge, but they are much loved residents of town gardens, and we can take easy steps to make our gardens hedgehog friendly.
Hedgehogs roam up to 2-3 km during a night seeking their natural food, mainly insects and worms. If they can get into your garden and there is food there, they will probably visit from time to time. They have surprisingly long legs and can run fast and climb over small obstacles, but they can’t climb a garden fence. If your garden has a solid fence all around, you can welcome hedgehogs in by creating a few small gaps in the fence or clear a space under the fence, 15cm is big enough. If you can join with a few neighbours, you could create a hedgehog highway allowing them to hunt from garden to garden.
Once hedgehogs find a way into your garden, they need to find food if they are to return. Let a corner go wild, leaf and log piles will be a hedgehog larder. Ponds are really important, every garden needs a small pond, but one side needs to have a gentle escape slope in case they fall in. You can put out food, especially in autumn when they are fattening up for hibernation. Meat based cat or dog food is best, but please do not put out bread and milk, it is very bad for them.
You can find out much more about these fascinating creatures if you look up the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the engaging Hedgehog Street.