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Tips on how gardeners can help hedgehogs in the garden. Includes ideas for creating shelter, creating access, and avoiding metaldehyde slug pellets
Hedgehogs are adorable creatures that make us smile with their bumbling natures. They’re also very welcome in our gardens since they emerge at night to tuck into slugs, snails, and other invertebrates. Even though they’re one of Britain’s most beloved wild creatures, hedgehogs are under threat and it’s our back gardens that are the front line.
Most of the challenges that hedgehogs face are man-made. Fences blocking access to forage, roads, and vehicles, gardens that are too clean and tidy, and most dangerous of all, slug pellets. They kill hedgehogs in great numbers and even eating a slug that’s touched one can be certain doom. I spoke with Sandy Huyton of the Manx Hedgehog Conservation Society to find out more and what gardeners can do to help hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs in Daylight Hours
Oftentimes, hedgehogs live in the garden but you never know that they’re there. That’s because they’re nocturnal and come out at night to feast on garden pests. If you do spot one in daylight hours then there’s something wrong. Unlike other wild animals, it’s actually recommended to bring them in if you find them outside looking miserable. They’re easy to pick up but make sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from their spines and potential parasites. Poorly hedgehogs are often covered in ticks so be careful. Here’s what you should do:
- Place the hedgehog in a box it can’t climb out of
- Situate the box in a warm but quiet part of the house or garage
- Give it water, tinned cat food (not fish), and straw or dried leaves to nestle into
- If it’s poorly, take it to the nearest vet immediately. There should be no charge to you for bringing it in.
- If it’s small but otherwise looks healthy, ring your local hedgehog or wildlife rescue for advice. You will also be able to bring it to them.
Dangers to Hedgehogs
Even if you don’t see them, hedgehogs could still be in your garden. If they’re not, creating holes in fences for them to come through, and making your garden more attractive to them will encourage them to move in. I interviewed Sandy Huyton to learn more about the dangers to hedgehogs and what we can do to help them. Watch the interview above but also keep in mind these points:
- Slug pellets can kill. If a hedgehog eats a slug or snail that is dying from slug pellets, the hedgehog will also die. The effects are painful and gruesome since the poor hedgehog will die from its internal organs being chemically burned. Conventional Metaldehyde based slug pellets also kill birds and can harm pets and children.
- Safer Slug Pellets. If you feel that you need to use slug pellets, choose a more wildlife-friendly type that does not include Metaldehyde as an ingredient. Up to 70%* of all hedgehog deaths are not from cars but from slug pellets. These Organic Slug Pellets are a good choice.
Further threats to Hedgehogs
- New Zealand Flatworm. This pest is a nightmare for gardeners in the north as it decimates earthworm populations. It also kills off one of the hedgehogs’ natural food sources. If you find them under rocks or elsewhere in the garden, destroy New Zealand Flatworms immediately.
- Garden netting can be dangerous for hedgehogs. They get caught up in it very easily so the safest way to install it is very tight — no loose ends — and keep it six inches up from the ground. Having raised beds makes this part much easier.
- Bonfire Night precautions. Hedgehogs hibernate over the winter and will happily crawl in a pile of wood and waste destined to be set alight. Move all the material that you’re planning on burning to a new location just before lighting it up. You’ll save hedgehog lives.
Ways to help Hedgehogs
- Install a Hedgehog House. If you put a suitable shelter in your garden with a little food inside, it’s an open invitation for hedgehogs to settle. You can DIY a hedgehog house or buy a lovely one like this one. Place the shelter in a quiet and inconspicuous place with a lot of cover. In the bushes is perfect.
- Feed Hedgehogs. If at all possible, ensure that hedgehogs have a natural source of food in your garden — slugs, snails, and worms. To supplement this diet you can also leave food for them out at night.
- Choose the correct food. Hedgehogs are protein eaters — carnivores. Though they might eat traditional bread and milk it’s actually not good for them since they’re lactose intolerant and can’t digest the bread. Instead, feed them mealworms or cat food (dry and/or wet). Fish is toxic to them so choose chicken, beef, lamb, or another meat variety.
- Create Access. Hedgehogs can’t get into your garden if there aren’t any openings in the fence or space under the gate.
Hedgehog Conservation on the Isle of Man
The Manx Hedgehog Conservation Society is a charity based in St Marks on the Isle of Man. The purpose of the charity is to encourage and give advice to the public on how to help sick, injured, or orphaned hedgehogs. The center at the time of the above video had seven resident ‘Hoggies’ including a few that can never be released into the wild. Their role with the charity is to be spokes-hogs for the rest of their kind and they make regular appearances with Sandy at local events, schools, and presentations.
If you’d like to be in touch with Sandy to learn more or to donate, please head over to their Facebook page. The farm will also be offering nighttime viewings beginning this year and news of those events will be shared on Facebook.
* Statistic from Sandy Huyton of the Manx Hedgehog Conservation Society.