The Baby Routes house has gone a bit bonkers over hedgehogs this year. These curious little creatures are a British countryside favourite and yet when was the last time you saw one? Increasing amounts of roads to cross, reduced vegetation, more fences and boundaries and the use of pesticides and slug pellets have all made life hard for the humble little hedgehog. This year the RHS Gardening for Wildlife initiative is focussing on helping our hedgehogs before it is too late and they are not the only ones calling on us all to do our bit to make life easier for our prickly friends. With Autumn upon us, right now is when the hedgehogs need our help more than ever – you can find some tips on how you can help at the bottom of this post.
We first discovered we had a hedgehog in the garden last summer. We found two more when camping out in the garden again this year and we have been keeping a close eye on the hog situation ever since. Since then it’s been a non-stop hedgehog drama here with the wildlife camera catching a whole other world that we had failed to realise existed in our garden after nightfall. We have witnessed fights happening right under the study window, plump mamma hedgehogs coming by to snack on the cat biscuits and gone through worrying times when one of the garden hedgehogs and a litter of baby hoglets got into trouble during a heatwave. We have even had a visiting fox!
As we grew used to our prickly visitors’ routines, we became in turn more observant. I guess the hedgehogs had always been there but it was only now that I would creep out and listen by the back door for the familiar sound of a hedgehog crashing through the undergrowth. I find myself wondering how on earth we had never noticed such a racket before. Hedgehogs are neither subtle nor quiet. The ‘ack ack’ racket they make when shouting at each other during their frequent skirmishes and encounters of mating season is astonishing. I have never known any animal make quite so much noise or mess crunching up cat biscuits! We do not have a lot of badgers in the local area but I’m not remotely surprised that so many hedgehogs end up as badger snacks elsewhere. They must be able to hear them for miles around!
It has also become apparent that we have a lot more than just three hedgehogs out in the garden. After I nearly trod on one whilst nipping to the compost heap one summer evening, I contacted St. Tiggywinkles to find out about an odd white marking I had spotted on it. Tiggywinkles wanted a closer look and I spent the next week armed with a torch poking about in the garden bushes after dark. If the neighbours didn’t already think I was dotty they definitely did after that! I never found ‘Whitey’ as we imaginatively named her, but over the couse of that week I did track down ‘One Eye’, ‘Stripey’, ‘Fatty’ and at least another 3 or so prickly little (or not so little in the case of Fatty) bundles. It turns out we have at least 6 hedgehogs visiting the garden and counting… Roo and Beth have been thrilled with all the visitors. So much so that as some readers may remember, ‘hedgehog’ was one of Beth’s first words (video below still one of my favourites – the ”poopay’/puppy is the visiting fox making its appearance, just in case you’re wondering!) and Roo has requested post-bedtime trips outside to watch for the hedgehogs with me.
Out at our hedgehog feeding station we have noticed activity levels changing with the weather. During the peak of the summer heat we had several hedgehogs visiting the feed station each night, knocking the water bowl over every time without fail. After periods of rain we wouldn’t see much activity – I guess the hedgehogs preferred foraging for slugs and other damp loving creatures that were easier to find then.
Right now we are keeping our feeders topped up fully and have our house-sitter primed ready to keep up the feeds over any times when we are away from home. With autumn upon us, it is hibernation preparation time for hedgehogs and it is essential they reach a good weight before they snuggle down for the cold season. This is particularly important for the juvenile hedgehogs and those who may have been born late in the summer. Those wee ones are at risk of being abandoned by their mothers who will be looking to hibernate themselves, leaving their tiny offspring to fend for themselves as best they can in increasingly harsh conditions. Believe it or not, it takes a lot of energy to snooze away the winter. If the young hedgehogs do not reach a good weight they cannot survive and some will roam about the garden well into the worst weather in a futile attempt to fatten themselves up enough. For these hedgehogs the next few weeks are critical – a last chance to put on some serious weight.
It’s for this reason that recently I’m to be found heading out into the night armed with a set of kitchen scales and a pair of old oven gloves. Don’t worry – it’s not as bad as you think, the gloves are merely a good way of picking up any prickly visitors and plonking them on the scales. Hedgehogs can hibernate from around 450g but their odds of surviving hibernation under around the 600g mark are fairly low. Those who are failing to put on sufficient weight by the end of October will most likely need help over winter – either feeding up or being cared for indoors over winter, depending on each hedgehog’s weight. Luckily all the hedgehogs weighed here so far are good weights, most of them over 800g. I am still watching out carefully for younger visitors. I know that there was a litter of hedgehogs somewhere at the back of our garden back in the first week of September. Having heard them before, I was quick to recognise their tiny little shrill chirps coming from somewhere near our compost heap one evening. I am yet to catch them out on our wildlife camera though.
As for what you can do to help the hedgehogs now? Well, there are plenty of things that will go a long way towards improving their lot, both immediately and in the future. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
How to Help Your Hedgehogs This Autumn
- Put out food and water for hedgehogs, preferably in a covered box with a hole in it to discourage other night-time visitors. We use an old plastic storage crate, the type you can get in large supermarkets or DIY stores, with a square carved out one end as an entrance hole. You can give the hedgehogs dried cat biscuits (not fish flavours) or cat or dog meat. They are also partial to things like sunflower seeds or you can buy specialist hedgehog food from some garden centres. Don’t give them milk though – it will give them an upset stomach. Don’t stop feeding them as soon as it gets really cold – keep an eye on the food levels to see when they stop going down completely. Before then, you may still have the odd hedgehog still out and more in need of your extra snacks than ever.
- If you have regular hedgehog visitors then consider weighing them this month. Hedgehogs are pretty docile and can be easily picked up with a pair of gardening (or oven) gloves without any worries from their prickles. They don’t mind being handled briefly too much. If you find a juvenile that is well below the recommended 600g as we go through towards the end of October then contact your nearest wildlife centre for advice. If you aren’t sure where it is, call a local vet who ought to be able to advise you.
- Make or buy a hedgehog box or two and leave them in a quiet part of the garden. Hedgehogs may use these to hibernate now and will also use them for nurseries next summer.
- If you don’t have hedgehogs in the garden but would like them to visit then the most important thing you can do it to make sure they can get in and out of it easily. Cut a small hole in the fence, make sure there is room under a back gate etc. – most hedgehogs roam large areas every night, so opening up safe ways for them to explore more freely is really important.
- If you find any hedgehogs out during the daytime then pick them up and put them in a high sided cardboard box with ventilation, covering to make it dark. In the summer they may be dehydrated and in the winter they could have hypothermia. At any time of year they may be sick and are definitely in some kind of trouble. Call your local wildlife centre for more advice once they are safely in a box.
- Make the garden hedgehog friendly: make sure ponds have stones or a ramp out in case hedgehogs tumble in, keep netting up above the ground so they don’t get caught in it and switch slug pellets for natural methods such as beer traps, foil or wool pellets (we had great success with the latter this year).
- Take great care when tidying up the garden, particularly if strimming long grass, turning over a compost heap or making bonfires. All these places are favourite hidy-holes of hedgehogs so consider leaving some of that long grass or making a log pile too. In the case of bonfires, particularly with Bonfire Night coming up, it is best if you wait to build the bonfire until the day itself. That way no hedgehogs or other little creatures can hide away in it ahead of time.
- Learn more about hedgehogs! There are loads of resources online (I’ve listed some below) or you can attend an event to find out more. Knoll Gardens near Wimborne, Dorset, for example are running a special event, in collaboration with the RHS Wildlife Gardening scheme and the Dorset Wildlife Trust on the 30th October, ocussing specifically on how to make your garden hedgehog friendly. There are similar events running nationwide – try contacting your local wildlife trust for more information.
- St. Tiggywinkles has great information on everything you need to know about your garden hedgehogs, including what to feed them and when to be worried.
- Hedgehog Bottom is a rescue centre based in Thatcham with a really informative website and a useful search and map that helps find your local rescue centre. It doesn’t cover everywhere though so use Google too or call your local vet or another rescue center in the wider area, both of whom may be able to help provide details of your closest one.
- Hedgehog Street is a brilliant website providing both loads of information on hedgehogs and a community within which to share hedgehog sightings, advice and news.