Homes for hedgehogs
27 June 2007
The hedgehog is one of our most familiar garden mammals. Seldom seen during the day, their nocturnal wanderings take them through several gardens in the evening, where they feed on a variety of invertebrates such as snails and slugs, beetles, caterpillars and worms.
They are very good at running, climbing and swimming. In cold winter weather they will go into hibernation, only emerging when conditions are warmer.
Their nests may be quite large, usually made of mosses, grass, leaves and other garden debris. They can be found at the base of thick hedges, under thick bramble bushes, garden sheds or piles of rubbish.
You can encourage hedgehogs by providing them with suitable habitats. They like thick dense undergrowth and a variety of lengths of grass.
You may also be able to provide hedgehogs with supplementary food. This is particularly useful during periods of drought when natural insect foods may be harder to come by. Their varied diet allows them to eat many kinds of foods we have around the home.
With the exception of milk and bread, which should be avoided, you can put out almost anything. A particular favourite is dog or cat food, but you can also try small amounts of cake, biscuits and pastry as well as fresh and dried fruits and cooked vegetables.
Building a hedgehog box
Another way to encourage hedgehogs to spend more time in your garden is to provide them with a home.
A basic wooden box design can be constructed from 12mm (0.5ins) plywood. It should aim to be around 600mm x 400mm x 300mm deep (2ft x 1.5ft x 1ft). There should be an entrance chamber of 220mm x 400mm (9ins x 1.5ft) with entrance holes of 120mm x 120mm (5ins x 5ins) into the chamber and from the chamber into the main nestbox. The lid should be removable and overlap the sides of the box by 120mm (5ins).
You can purchase a ready-made box from our online shop by clicking on the link below.
The box should be sited out of direct sunlight with the entrance facing away from prevailing winds, in or under thick vegetation or behind or under a shed. It may help with locating the box if you know where a hedgehog has built a nest in the past. Resist the temptation to keep removing the lid to see if the box is being used.
It may take a year or more for the intended occupant to take up residence, or it may not happen at all. This could indicate that local conditions are ideal and animals are finding adequate natural sites in which to nest.
- Avoid using chemicals. Slug pellets can be particularly detrimental. When putting preservative on garden sheds, fences and other wood furniture around the garden use non-toxic brands. Hedgehogs often lick new smells and surfaces.
- Hedghogs habitually hide themselves in piles of leaves, grass cuttings, pampas grass, compost heaps and bags of rubbish. Always check these before burning, cutting, strimming, mowing, putting a fork into or disposing of them.
- Many plastic items can trap, ensnare or cut a hedgehog. These include netting, plastic can holders, large necked bottles, plastic pots and barbed wire.
- Hedgehogs can also easily fall down holes, into water troughs, ponds, swimming pools and other types of water vessel. If you cannot prevent them from falling in, then make sure there is always a way for them to get out.
- Dogs can injure hedgehogs, so make sure you know what your dog is doing when in the garden late at night.
- If you accidentally disturb an active hedgehog nest, carefully replace the material. The hedgehog will soon repair or move the nest elsewhere. If there are young in the nest, avoid touching them. Similarly, if it is a hibernating adult, avoid waking it. Should it wake, you may want to leave it some food nearby until it hibernates again.