The UK’s hedgehog population is in serious decline, with numbers plummeting by half since 2000. However, there are ways you can help hedgehogs.
Here is our guide on British hedgehogs, including where to see and how to help hedgehogs in your garden
Where to see hedgehogs
The best chance of seeing a hedgehog is on a summer night, as they are nocturnal and hibernate from November to March. Hedgehogs like dry spaces such as under garden sheds, near compost heaps, hedges or even just an untidy bit of your garden. Therefore, be careful when moving or disturbing such spaces. Take special care during the winter months, as the hedgehog will be hibernating. If you make your garden more hedgehog friendly, then you may be able to see them go for food and drink.
Their spines are flexible and can cushion the hedgehog from heavy blows or falls
Like humans, hedgehogs have baby teeth that fall out about three weeks after they’re born
A baby hedgehog is called a hoglet
Hedgehogs are usually silent but will emit snorts while courting. Occasionally, the animal will emit what hedgehog expert Pat Morris calls “the most awful noise – like a very loud pig squeal.”
During hibernation, a hedgehog’s body temperature can fall to less than 10°C, its heart slows to fewer than 20 beats a minute and it virtually stops breathing
A hedgehog has two large muscles on either side of its back to raise and lower its quills and curl into a ball.
How to help hedgehogs in your garden
With autumn here, and the breeding season for hedgehogs coming to an end, the young leave their mothers in search of independence. Their first time alone in the wild can be challenging as the autumn and winter months see their food supply (insects, worms, slugs and other garden creatures) beginning to dwindle. If they lack this food they can die during hibernation, so as the weather turns colder it’s good for them to have a comfy garden spot to nest in. In addition, being a key predator of garden pests such as caterpillars, snails and slugs, hedgehogs really are a gardener’s best friends so it’s worth making your garden a habitat they can explore with ease.
Make your garden a hedgehog highway
Make sure hedgehogs can get in and out of your garden. Hedgehogs will need a 10cm square space to move through.
Build a pond ladder
If you have a pond in your garden, make sure there is an easy way for hedgehogs to get in and out. Try building a ramp or ladder. A simpler alternative is to wrap a plank in chicken wire to create a ramp that the hedgehog can grip to escape from water.
Find a natural alternative to slug pellets
Laying down slug pellets in your garden not only removes potential food for hedgehogs, but can also kill them. Instead of using toxic pellets, try making a beer trap. Place a container in the ground, making sure to leave it poking out of the ground by a couple of inches to stop other insects falling in, then half-fill the container with beer. A quick internet search will also conjure up plenty of ideas.
Watch out for water
Put rocks near the edge of a pond to allow a hedgehog to crawl out; alternatively, introduce a shallow pebbled area which will encourage other wildlife to take a dip too. Make sure to cover up swimming pools when not in use.
Check long grass before mowing or strimming
We all know to check for hedgehogs before lighting bonfires or plunging a shovel into the compost heap, but it’s also well worth checking for hedgehog nests before chopping down any long grass.
Keep netting off the ground
If you’ve got netting dangling in your garden or garage, make sure you keep it above hedgehog height (about 30cm) to stop the creatures curling up and getting stuck.
Avoid giving them milk
Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so ignore the old wives tale and don’t leave out a saucer of milk for your prickly pals. Provide fresh, plain water instead.
Keep your garden a bit untidy
Too much neatness (such as decking and neat and smooth fencing) won’t help them. Talk to your neighbours and, if they agree, cut 13cmx13cm holes in your fences or dig a channel beneath garden boundaries to connect your gardens.
Check your recycling
Crush tin cans and cut the plastic rings that connect cans as both can be hazards for small mammals.
Create a hedgehog haven
Leave piles of logs and fallen leaves for hedgehogs to nest in – and, in autumn, prepare for hibernation. Don’t forget to check these for any hedgehogs if pulling them apart.
Every autumn, many hedgehogs perish when they take shelter in piles of wood – only to find themselves later trapped inside freshly lit bonfires. The problem is that hedgehogs love to take shelter beneath loose piles of wood. When you come to light your wood pile, the panicked hedgehog remains inside the bonfire, and is soon overcome by smoke.
But if you are planning a blaze for Halloween or Guy Fawkes Night, don’t worry, there’s a simple solution.
Before lighting your bonfire follow these easy steps to avoid hedgehog horror this Bonfire season.
If collecting wood beforehand, make sure to keep it under tarpaulin or in a shed
Don’t construct the bonfire until the actual day of your festivities, then move it to a different spot if kept there for a while.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) say there’s a simple solution: build your bonfire on the day you use it.That may mean piling up wood temporarily in one place, and moving it to the site of the bonfire on the day of the blaze.Fay Vass, chief executive of BHPS, said that if you store wood on open ground before having a bonfire, “it’s crucial to dismantle it and move it to another spot just before lighting.”
If you’re having a large bonfire that needs to be built in advance, place chicken wire one metre high around the area, held in place with stakes and angled outwards, so that the hedgehogs cannot climb it
Build your fire on open ground – not on piles of leaves which are also a favourite place for hedgehogs.
Light the fire from one side only – and keep people away from the unlit side, so any hedgehogs have an escape route.
Avoid setting bonfires near pampas grass – another favourite spot for hedgehogs to hide under. Pampas grass can ignite very easily from bonfire sparks.
If a large bonfire must be built in advance, build a hedgehog-proof fence around it using chicken wire. Hedgehogs are good climbers – so your fence should be at least 1m high, firmly staked, and sloping outwards at an angle to make it hard to climb.
If a bonfire is left unattended for even a short time, check for hedgehogs before lighting. Hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of the bonfire, so check by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can stab them. Use a torch to help see into the shadows. Listen for a hissing sound – this is the noise they make when disturbed.
What to do if you do find a hedgehog in a bonfire
1. Wear gardening gloves, which stops human scent getting on them, minimises stress to them and saves your hands from spines
2. If you spot a hedgehog in your bonfire, use a pole or broom handle to lift the pile
3. Take as much of the nest as you can and place into a high-sided cardboard box with holes in the top, lined with newspaper and old towelling
4. Make sure the lid is firmly secured, or the hedgehogs may climb out and injure themselves
5. Place the box in a shed or garage away from the bonfire and noise of fireworks, which will scare them
6. Give them food and fresh water
7. Once the bonfire has completely dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs, leaving out more food and water
8. Try and release them the same night if possible, to reduce stress