A home for hedgehogs
These spiky mammals are a common visitor to UK gardens. Whether they're living in our undergrowth or just passing through, they're a wonderful animal to share our homes with.
Hedgehogs in the garden
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.
There are a number of ways you can give hedgehogs a home in your garden.
Making sure they have lots of thick dense undergrowth and a variety of lengths of grass to hide and nest in is always good. You can also make your garden a hot spot for the slugs, snails and bugs that hedgehogs like to munch on.
You can also try to provide hedgehogs with supplementary food and water. 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 all kinds of foods we have around the home!
Never feed hedgehogs milk or bread. They can't digest them - it upsets their stomachs. A particular favourite is hedgehog food, complete cat biscuits or meaty cat or dog food.
Hedgehogs like to move from garden to garden and it’s useful to help give them openings between boundaries. If your garden is contained by a fence or wall, try to make them a small opening on either side, so that they can easily wander from neighbour to neighbour.
Build a hedgehog home
Another way to give hedgehogs a home in our gardens is by putting out a hedgehog box.
You can build your own by following the Give A Hog A Home link, or you can buy from a whole range of different hog houses on the RSPB Shop.
Whichever path you choose to take, you'll be giving a safe place to nest and shelter to the hedgehogs that share our gardens!
Once you've got your box and you're ready to find a place for it in your garden, here are a few things to think about:
- Place the box out of direct sunlight, with the entrance facing away from prevailing winds.
- Put it in cover, under thick vegetation for example, or under the garden shed.
- If you know where a hedgehog has built it's own nest in the past, consider putting your new one there, or in a similar environment.
- Resist the temptation to keep removing the lid to check if the box is being used. It's always best not to disturb any potential hedgehog residents.
It may take a year for a hedgehog to take up home in your box, or it may not happen at all. This is nothing to worry about, as it could mean that they've found suitable natural nesting sites in your or the surrounding gardens.
Hedgehog numbers are in decline, and it’s important that we do everything we can to help give them a safe home to thrive again.
Building boxes, growing wildlife friendly gardens and providing food goes a long way towards that, but there are other ways that we can help to protect these amazing prickly mammals.
- Avoid using chemicals. Not only do they have the potential to reduce the amount of insect food for the hedgehogs, they can be directly harmful to them too. Slug pellets especially, can be very detrimental and it’s best to use alternative methods such as beer or obstacles around the plants you’re trying to protect. Besides, if you have a hedgehog as a neighbour, it should be a hungry and dedicated pest controller itself.
- Use natural non-toxic preservatives too, as hedgehogs often lick new smells and surfaces.
- Always check bonfires, piles of leaves, grass cutting, compost heaps and bags of rubbish before burning, mowing, forking or disposing of any of them.
- Keep an eye on rubbish in the garden. Many plastic items can trap or cut hedgehogs, so remove any netting, plastic cups, large necked bottles, pots and barbed wire from the garden is possible.
- If you have a pond, make sure you provide platforms and sloped routes out of the water. Hedgehogs like to drink from ponds and can sometimes fall in. Although they’re good swimmers, it can be dangerous not to have a quick exit.
- Keep an eye on curious dogs in the garden late at night. Neither dog nor hedgehog will come off well from an encounter with each other!
- If you accidently disturb an active hedgehog nest, carefully replace the material. The hedgehog will soon move the nest elsewhere. If the there are young still in the nest, avoid touching them.
- If you come across a hibernating adult, try not to wake it. If you do, leave some food and water nearby until it hibernates again.