How to Make Your Garden Safe for Hedgehogs

hedgehog face

1. Autumn Gardening

Here are some top tips for Autumn gardening keeping your garden hedgehog friendly during these golden months ahead.

It’s really temping to be tidy and remove all the leaves but you’ll be robbing a hedgehog of a cosy Winter nest. Hedgehogs prefer to use dry, medium sized deciduous leaves for their nests. Oak, hazel beech are fantastic along with leaves from fruit trees like apple and cherry. Rake the leaves into piles and leave some underneath something to keep them dry, like a piece of wood propped up against a fence. 

Recent research suggests that hedgehogs will make use of artificial hedgehog boxes. Now is a great time to be putting one out, filled with fresh dry hay. A sturdy wooden one provides the best protection against the elements and predators. Where you position it is also very important so please watch this video on how to do this. Don’t be tempted to check any hedgehog boxes that you may already have out unless you are absolutely sure they are empty – many hedgehogs have a second litter of babies around this time.

A good wildlife garden should still be providing plenty of wild food for hedgehogs well into the Autumn but continuing to provide supplementary food and water is still vital. Hedgehogs need to build up their reserves for the long Winter hibernation. Although some larger male hedgehogs may start to hibernate as early as September if the weather is cooler, many females have second litters around this time. They won’t hibernate until the babies have left home and the babies face a battle to get up to weight before Winter.

Hedgehog nest in pile of leaves Hedgehog house under wood store

2. Autumn for insects

Hopefully you’ve already planted your wildlife garden with the aim of providing food for wildlife all year round and you can relax and admire the beauty and feast provided by your Autumn garden. If not, there is still time to plant now for this year and next. Sedums, Wallflowers, Dahlias, and Echinacea are great in providing Autumn nectar and ground cover. You can read more here about why insects are so important for healthy hedgehogs.

3. Check Long Grass before Strimming/Shearing

Please check long grass before you strim or cut it with shears. Hedgehogs will sleep out in long grass during the day in good weather. Ground nesting birds, rabbits, foxes all do the same. Some animals will run away when they hear you but a hedgehog employs its usual form of defence and curls up. Sadly the spines are no protection against a flailing wire or sharp blades. Many hedgehogs continue to be maimed and killed by these awful contraptions by people tidying up their gardens for Winter. If you absolutely must use one, check carefully for hedgehogs and other wildlife first. The animals that are killed are probably the lucky ones as the injuries can be horrific.

There has been a campaign underway for some time to get strimmer manufacturers to label their products with a warning but it seems they are reluctant to do so. Apparently, the possibility of shredding a hedgehog doesn’t make for good sales, so what you don’t know won’t stop you lining their pockets.

So it’s up to you – please remember to check grass so you don’t strim a hedgehog.

4. Prevent Hedgehogs from hiding in Bonfires

Hedgehogs are often burnt to death under bonfires. If you’re going to have a bonfire stack everything up out of the way then build it on the day you want to light it. If you can’t do that then put fencing or some other protection, at least 2 feet high, all the way round it. Don’t be tempted to later burn the beautiful piles of leaves you create in the Autumn. They are much better left as homes for wildlife and insects. But, if you really must have a bonfire, here is how to do it safely for wildlife.

5. Reduce need for Rat Poison

ratbaitbox

How many of these mysterious black boxes have you seen lying around? They are rat bait boxes which are meant to be designed so that only rats can get in them but any small creature can get in them. In fact, being dark, hidden away in corners of the garden and dry inside, it’s an ideal hidey hole for juvenile hedgehogs when they first leave the nest. Recent research has show that vast numbers of dead hogs taken for Post Mortem have rat poison in their stomach.

Reduce the need for rat poison by making your garden unattractive to rats. eg keep any feed properly covered, minimise hidey holes for rats to live eg under sheds

6. Don’t use Slug Pellets

Please stop using slug pellets. The manufacturers only tell half the story and most of the products available on the market are not safe for wildlife or any animals for that matter. Are you aware that if your dog or cat eats them, they too will become extremely ill or die?

Slug pellets contain the toxic chemical pesticide metaldehyde (usually dyed blue). It kills slugs, snails and anything that eats them, including frogs, toads, hedgehogs and birds. The toxins ‘bioaccummulate’, intensifying up the food chain. It’s one of the biggest threats to hedgehogs and song thrushes because even if you place the pellets where only slugs can get at them how are you going to stop a hedgehog or a bird from eating the poisoned slug?

Frogs, toads, blackbirds, thrushes and hedgehogs actually eat slugs and snails for you so if you protect your local wildlife you will have fewer slugs!

Click here for some other ways to combat slugs without using slug pellets.

7. Weedkillers

If you feel you must use weedkiller such as Round Up please use it first thing in the morning so it has time to dry before the hedgehogs come into your garden at night. Alternatively pouring boiling water on weeds is the least toxic way to kill them.

8. Drinking Water

When there is little rainfall, young hedgehogs become dehydrated and can be found wandering around, disoriented in daylight hours.  You can take them to Gill if she has room but it takes her months to restore them to health.  If you have hedgehogs that live in, or visit your garden, then please put some water out for them and keep the bowls topped up until we have some more rain.  This simple act could save lives and prevent a lot of suffering.

9. Water in Ponds, Buckets, Drains, Holes

Any hole filled with water or capable of filling with water is dangerous. Yes, hedgehogs can swim, no they can’t swim forever. If there is nothing for them to climb onto to get out of the water, they will tire and drown.

If you have a pond with straight sides and no planting baskets near to the edge then please come up with some method of allowing animals to get out of the water. Stacks of bricks, a ramp, anything will do.

When building a new pond, consider going for a wildlife pond rather than an ornamental one. Wildlife ponds have sloping edges and allow anything that falls in to escape, it also provides a much needed source of water for birds and animals in the summer when rain is in short supply.

Cover any holes, ALWAYS cover open drains, the sides are too slippery for animals to climb out, you’re also risking a visit from Mr Rat.

Buckets and other receptacles left in the garden should be turned upside down so that they don’t fill with water. A thirsty hedgehog will climb utilising the bucket handle as a step.

10. Don’t drop Litter and Garden rubbish

hedgehog stuck in litter

Litter is a killer and not just of hedgehogs. Hedgehogs can get into things with no problem, it’s when they try to back out the trouble starts. Their spines lock into place and they can’t move, any hog in this situation will starve to death if it’s not found.

Don’t drop litter. If you put litter into bins it can sometimes escape. Always explode a crisp packet before throwing it, cut through plastic can rings, squash polystyrene cups and rip them in half.

11. Netting

hedgehog trapped in netting

Please make sure all garden netting is stretched tight and properly anchored into place. If possible leave an 8 inch gap between the bottom and the ground but if for some reason you can’t do that, consider attaching the netting to metal bars and anchoring those into the ground.

Consider replacing netting with animal friendly wire mesh. It’s a heck of a lot easier to handle and it doesn’t trap birds either.

If you do find a wild animal trapped in netting, do not try to release it by cutting it free. The netting can cut off the blood supply and releasing it can cause further complications. Please take the hog and the netting to an expert who can check for injuries, starvation and dehydration.

12. Fencing

If you install fencing with concrete footings no hedgehog can get in or out of your garden unless they use the gate, a parachute, or some tunnelling equipment. Not only have you stopped them getting in to your garden but you’ve also blocked their normal foraging route. If your neighbours have installed similar fencing then the hogs are either trapped in one of the gardens or they’ve cleared off elsewhere.

Try making a tunnel underneath the concrete on each of your boundaries. It needs to be around 10cm (4 inches) square and lined so it doesn’t collapse.

If there are any fencing contractors reading this, please put your brains in gear. Leave gaps so that any trapped wildlife can get out. Hedgehogs are now a protected species and you are really not helping matters.

13. Install a Hedgehog House

Recent research suggests that hedgehogs will make use of artificial hedgehog boxes. Now is a great time to be putting one out, filled with fresh dry hay. A sturdy wooden one provides the best protection against the elements and predators. 

Where you position it is also very important so please watch this video on how to do this. Don’t be tempted to check any hedgehog boxes that you may already have out unless you are absolutely sure they are empty – many hedgehogs have a second litter of babies around the Autumn time.

14. Dog Attacks

Dog attacks are now becoming commonplace and of course it’s never the owner’s fault. Rescue charities get hogs in all year round that have been found by dogs that “wouldn’t hurt a fly”, “have a soft mouth” etc etc. These hogs usually come with deep tooth marks, broken legs, ribs, skull fractures and eyes missing. Please excuse us if we don’t offer any sympathy about your vet bills for your dog’s bloody mouth. Our vet bills are much higher and many of the hogs pay the ultimate price.

If you know your dog is likely to chase small animals in your garden please put a muzzle on it before letting it out to play. The Safety Muzzle for Dogs by Pets at Home is dog trainer approved and was designed by George Grayson – Chairman of the Dog Training Industry Association, UK. Muzzles are not cruel – your dog is highly unlikely to need to defend itself in your garden. Your dog learned that LEAD! meant walkies and gets excited, he can also learn that MUZZLE! means play time.

 

Thanks to the following for this information:

Gill from Hedgehog Bottom charity in Thatcham shares her important tips on keeping your garden safe for hedgehogs who are now a protected species due to their declining numbers. Gill and her team rescue 700 hedgehogs every year.

Little Silver Hedgehog, York. Click here for more information and to check out their collection of wildlife jewellery. 

For more information about Hedgehogs visit Hedgehog Bottom’s facebook page or their website www.hedgehog-rescue.org.uk

You can also donate to them by clicking here.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale