Last modified: 04 April 2014
Image: Niall Benvie
Now spring is here and the weather is warming up, most hedgehogs will have woken from their winter hibernation.
However, with fat reserves running low and having lost a third of their body weight, they’ll be on a desperate hunt for food in our gardens to fatten themselves up before the breeding season begins.
Hedgehogs feed mainly on invertebrates and need to find vast quantities of insects and other small creatures to sustain them. Sometimes natural food isn’t readily available in the quantities required, so the RSPB is urging people to give hedgehogs a helping hand by providing some extra nourishment.
Richard James, one of the RSPB’s wildlife advisors, said: 'As temperatures gradually rise, and nature begins to unfurl, our garden friends, the hedgehogs, also stir from their spiky-ball hibernation. Sadly, it’s estimated that UK hedgehogs have declined by a third in the last 10 years, so it's vital that we do our bit to give them a home in our own gardens this year.'
To help complement the hedgehogs' natural diet, the RSPB has launched a new food specifically designed to be a nutritious treat. Cranberry Crunch is made from top-quality ingredients, including premium suet pellets, sunflower hearts, peanut nibs, dried mealworms and dried cranberries.
Richard continues: 'This food provides a healthier alternative to the old wives’ tale of bread and milk, which must always be avoided as it causes the hedgehogs stomach upset. Small amounts of cake, biscuits and pastry as well as fresh and dried fruits and cooked vegetables can also be used as a tempting and wholesome hedgehog treat.
'A fresh supply of water will also be gratefully received and used by other garden wildlife, like birds as well.'
As well as providing extra food, the RSPB suggests making your garden as wildlife-friendly as possible to make life easy for our threatened garden inhabitants.
Many modern gardens have less ‘wild’ space than they used to due to decking and paving, meaning Mr and Mrs Tiggywinkle struggle to find natural shelter in hedges and leaf piles. Fences can also block hedgehog highways by preventing them moving from garden to garden.
Planting a garden hedge helps enormously – the clue is in the hogs’ name. And they’re not only good for hedgehogs, they also provide habitat for nesting birds and a host of insects and small mammals.
You can also help these prickly critters by setting up a permanent hedgehog shelter in your garden. Hogitats, as they’re known, are available from a range of outlets, including the RSPB.
As well as being cute, hedgehogs bring their benefits.
'Don’t forget having a hedgehog move in can be a great advantage to any keen gardener, as they just love to munch their way through all of your pesky slugs and snails,' adds Richard.
The RSPB warns against using chemicals in the garden, and slug pellets can be particularly detrimental. The charity also recommends using non-toxic brands when putting preservative on garden sheds, fences and other wood furniture around the garden as hedgehogs often lick new smells and surfaces.
Cranberry Crunch is available at RSPB shops as well as online. All the profits go to helping save nature.
This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch was a bit different. For the first time ever, we asked people to tell us about other wildlife that visits their garden. These results will be released on Thursday 17 April.
Giving Nature a Home is the RSPB’s biggest-ever campaign, aimed at inspiring everyone to do their bit for nature, wherever they live and however big their outside space.
Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by giving nature a home where we live.
Create a home for nature