Last week I blogged about the little hedgehog I found in serious trouble in our cul-de-sac. Two days later a neighbour’s children announced they had a little hedgehog on their front lawn. “He was alive yesterday. But now he’s dead,” they said matter-of-factly. I felt a stab of pain in my heart.
The hoglets were probably siblings, and possibly the babies of the adult hedgehog we found killed by a car in a nearby street a week or two previously. Was this normal, I wondered, that so many were dying? And why had the mother hedgehog had her young only eight weeks previously – the end of August, just as the weather was turning cold? Googling on the web, I discovered a few sobering facts.
What’s happening to our hedgehogs?
In the last 10 years hedgehog numbers in the UK have declined by 25%. In a report titled The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2011, experts say there seems to be several reasons they are in such drastic decline:
- more intensive agriculture, meaning hedgerows and permanent grassland have been lost
- use of pesticides, which reduces the amount of prey available to hedgehogs
- smaller, tidier gardens with fencing that prevents hedgehogs from moving between gardens
- new buildings and roads carving up suitable habitat (so small populations become isolated and more vulnerable to local extinction)
- road traffic which kills tens of thousands of hedgehogs each year
- badgers, which are a natural predator of hedgehogs and compete with hedgehogs for scarce prey.
The website of the Ark Wildlife Hospital says that Britain’s changing climate has resulted in hedgehogs giving birth to two sets of babies a year. Naturally those born in autumn cannot survive unless they are rescued and over-wintered at a centre. The European hedgehog appears to be facing a bleak future.
What can we do to help?
Leave a mess: hedgehogs need a safe, warm place to nest, to hide from predators, and to feed on slugs and snails. Create a leaf pile behind your shed or greenhouse and leave a wild or scrubby corner of your garden un-mown or not formally planted.
Link your garden: in the suburbs hedgehogs need to travel about a mile each night to find food and to mate, and barriers such as solid fences and walls often prevent their movement (hedges and natural boundaries are better). If you have a wall or fence, try creating a small hole (about 15cm in height and width) to enable hedgehogs to move between yours and neighbours’ gardens.
Food: putting out dog food or special hedgehog food provides energy for hedgehogs. Ensuring your garden is a good habitat with natural foods such as slugs, snails, earthworms, caterpillars and beetles is equally important. Plant flowers and shrubs that will encourage insects. Provide several sources of water at different points around your garden.
Don’t use slug pellets: hedgehogs may unwittingly eat slug pellets or poisoned slugs. Try alternatives such as beer-baited slug traps.
Garden chemicals: use chemicals sparingly in your garden, or not at all. Insecticides kill insects which hedgehogs feed on and this may harm them. Also use environmentally-safe wood preservatives on sheds and fences as hedgehogs often lick new smells or substances.
Make a log pile: log piles may be used for hibernation and nesting and they will also attract insects, snails and caterpillars for the hedgehogs to eat. Pile the dead wood up in a quiet, undisturbed corner of your garden.
Make ponds safe: if you have a pond or pool, ensure there are escape routes should a hedgehog fall in. You could position a plank of wood at the pond edge or pile some rocks at one end so that it can climb out.
Check before mowing: look for hedgehogs in long patches of grass, along rough edges and under hedges. If you do discover a hedgehog, postpone your mowing or carefully move the hedgehog (using thick gloves) to a safer place in the garden or place in a cardboard box temporarily until you have finished cutting.
Babies: it is unusual to see baby hedgehogs moving about without their mothers, unless they are in trouble. This could be because their mother has not returned home or they are ill. If you see any hoglets make sure there are no adult hedgehogs anywhere close by before you potentially separate them from their mother. Once you are sure they have been abandoned contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society as the hoglets may be too small to survive the winter hibernation alone. It is important not to disturb them too much as they can be very easily stressed.
Hibernation: if you accidentally disturb a nest with an adult hedgehog in it, replace the nesting material. The hedgehog can then either repair the nest or build another elsewhere. If the disturbed hedgehog is hibernating and wakes up, put out a dish of dog food and some water each night until it starts hibernating again.
Bonfire night: before burning any piles of wood or garden refuse, check for hibernating hedgehogs (usually November to April). Where possible re-site the pile on the day it is to be lit.
Here’s to increased numbers of hedgehogs in your garden! (Thanks to http://www.hedgehogstreet.org for the tips and advice.)
Do you have any hedgehog stories to share? We’d love to hear them.