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Helping hedgehogs

The UK's hedgehogs are in decline – but gardeners can help them with a few quick and easy actions

As winter approaches, many animals will be making preparations for the cold months ahead. Squirrels, badgers and foxes become much less active at this time of year, sleeping for long periods and only emerging occasionally to forage for food.


Hedgehogs, meanwhile, are one of just three British mammals that truly hibernate. Like dormice and bats, they will tuck up for the whole winter.


The insects and beetles which form a large part of the hedgehog's diet die out during cold weather, so hedgehogs need to eat their fill while they can. A sleeping hedgehog uses very little energy, making hibernation a good survival strategy.

A key thing to think about if we want to give hedgehogs a helping hand, is to take care if building a bonfire. That pile of sticks and leaves piled up in the centre of the lawn may just look like garden debris to us, but to a hedgehog it's five-star accommodation!

  

To ensure that you don't harm hedgehogs when you have a bonfire, it's best to leave the bonfire-building until the last minute – or, if you have to build it in advance, relocate it before lighting.

But an even better idea is to give the bonfire a miss altogether. Instead, why not find a quiet corner of the garden to create a pile of brashings? These heaps of branches, twigs and other plant material provide a fantastic habitat for toads and invertebrates, as well as hedgehogs.


A pile of leaves raked up and ready for composting will also be an appealing pad for a hedgehog – and hibernating amphibians are keen on this type of habitat too. Compost heaps can also have all sorts of wildlife in residence, including slow worms.


Leaving piles of leaves alone until spring – and taking great care when turning over compost heaps – means animals can remain undisturbed.

Or you could go one step further and build a hedgehog house.


The simplest home can be made from a sturdy cardboard box, with air vents and an entrance hole cut in the sides. Put some shredded newspaper or clean, dry straw inside, then position the box under a fence with some plastic sheeting over the top to make it more weather-resistant. Finally, pile twigs, leaves and dry grass cuttings over the house, so it blends in with its surroundings.


You can also make a more complex structure from wood: for instructions visit the British Hedgehog Preservation Society's website.


Gardens are vital habitats for hedgehogs – but these animals need to get into your garden if they are to reap the benefits of all the hedgehog-friendly features you've created.


Hedgehogs have huge territories and can roam up to a mile each night, in search of food or love – not bad for tiny legs!

Little Green Space October 2017

This is just one of the great tips offered

by Hedgehog Street – a nationwide

campaign to encourage communities

to help hedgehogs. The website

includes inspiring stories about

some of the 30,000 'Hedgehog

Champions' who have signed

up to the campaign in the

past three years, and are

helping to halt the decline

of this species.


And gardeners who have created hedgehog havens

will be reaping the benefits. Known as “the gardener's friend”, a

hedgehog will eat all sorts of pests that damage plants – including slugs, snails and caterpillars. So if you're lucky enough to have a hedgehog on your patch, do all you can to encourage it to stay!

Leaving a hole at the base of fences is one way to ensure hedgehogs can get from A to B. And if you encourage your neighbours to do the same (and turn their own gardens into hedgehog havens) you could create a network of habitats for these endearing creatures.

Helping hedgehogs survive is something that we should all be doing. The UK has lost around a third of its hedgehog population over the last decade – due to habitat loss, dwindling food sources and climate change.


As winters become milder, the hibernation habits of hedgehogs, dormice and bats are disturbed, causing them to use up valuable energy reserves at a time of year when food sources are scarce. Warmer temperatures also cause animals to emerge from hibernation earlier, disrupting breeding and feeding cycles.

Create a 'hedgehog highway' by leaving a gap under fences © Sue Myers, Hedgehog Street