Hedgehogs are in decline in the UK and as an essential part of our ecosystem both wild and suburban, it’s important that gardeners make efforts to welcome their presence in the garden. I’ve gathered up a few of the best ways to encourage these charismatic creatures to your garden - and make them happy enough to stick around.
1: Roll out the welcome mat.
Hedgehogs thrive in conditions that replicate their natural habitat, so there are a few things you can do to develop these conditions in your garden. Firstly, let’s look at living conditions. Hedgehogs love dried leaves, compost, piles of wood, scrunched up newspapers - all brilliant material for making nests and snuffling through to root out the invertebrates that form the bulk of their diet. If you leave an area of your garden to go wild, avoid sweeping up fallen leaves in autumn, deliberately prop up some old logs - the hedgehogs will love it. You can also build or buy a hedgehog house - a safe, cosy space for them to nest and hibernate. They’ll happily take all those twigs and dried leaves and create themselves the perfect hideaway to snooze away the winter months. If your garden is fenced on all sides, making a small, low hole between neighbouring gardens will enable hedgehogs to access a wider area.
2: Offer an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The enemies of your garden plants are the dreams of a hedgehog - invertebrates make up the majority of the hedgehog diet. By allowing these “pests” to thrive, you’re encouraging hedgehogs - and frogs too - the presence of both are evidence of a healthy garden. You can also leave out cat or hedgehog food around dusk, too - they might be attracted by the smell and then stick around for the bug pudding. Leaving out fresh water will help, too - just make sure it’s in a flat enough container that they can’t get in and get stuck.
Another way of providing food for them is to build a bug “hotel” or stack of logs - the inhabitant beetles will be the perfect snack for your spiny visitors.
Mealworms aren’t considered to be a great food for hedgehogs in large numbers, but calciworms are an ideal, high-fat alternative.
3: Provide a safe environment.
Hedgehogs can get into peril quite easily, but that peril is usually inflicted upon them by humans - usually unwittingly. It’s worth assessing your garden and minimising the risk of them coming to harm. There are so many elements that can hurt a hedgehog - from loose garden netting, ponds without sloped exits, chemicals such as slug pellets, or wood preservatives on fences. By avoiding the use of any pesticides or toxic preservatives in your garden, you’ll be offering a safe space for hedgehogs to live and eat. Plenty of wooden fence preservatives are toxic so read labels carefully and avoid any that aren’t safe for animals.
There are many ways to control slugs and snails without destroying them with slug pellets; try an old-fashioned (yet still effective) beer trap, wool pellets around the base of plants, or go out at night and conduct a snail raid - re-homing the prisoners in your “hedgehog area” amidst the leaves in a quieter area of the garden…far away from your veg beds.
If you have a pond, it can provide essential drinking water for hedgehogs and many other creatures - just be sure they can get out again. Hedgehogs can swim well but they aren’t the best at climbing steep slippery slopes, so they need a nice, gently sloped exit route. Wildlife ponds with sloped pebble “beach” entrances are ideal.
If you do all of these things, it won’t be long before you’ll be welcoming the pitter patter of tiny little hedgehog feet - particularly as it’s breeding season right now!
Find more information on how to care for visiting hedgehogs, including what to do if you disturb a hibernating hedgehog or find a sick hedgehog, here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/what-do-if-you-find-wild-animal/help-hedgehog