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A prickly subject

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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 09:18 UK time, Saturday, 9 October 2010

hedgehog

The days are drawing in, there's a definite autumn chill on the air – and I'm starting to worry about my creepy-crawly friends, to say nothing of the feathery and prickly ones, and how they're going to get through the winter.

Gardening with wildlife in mind pays huge dividends – and not just if you like looking at butterflies. Frogs and toads work their way through their own bodyweight in slugs, hedgehogs make short work of caterpillars, and finches and bluetits effortlessly strip rose stems bare of aphids. Even the littlies like ground beetles play their part: slug eggs and insect larvae like leatherjackets and cutworms are all on their menu.

 

This has not been a vintage year for wildlife. The latest worrying news is that greenfinches have been struggling to cope with an outbreak of a particularly nasty disease – contaminated birdfeeders and birdbaths spread the infection so keep yours spotless. Breathing Places has plenty of useful information on how to keep the birds in your garden happy – and healthy - over winter.

 

It's not all gloom, though. Results are in for the RSPB's garden wildlife survey – and it turns out that one in four of us have hedgehogs in our gardens. Populations are particularly on the rise in city gardens, where about one in three of us have prickly visitors, second only to foxes (and cats – though I'm not sure they count as wildlife. Before you get hot under the collar about cats in your garden – last week's More or Less on BBC Radio 4 debated whether cats are to blame for falling numbers of garden birds (start listening at 13'30 in). It's not as open-and-shut as you'd think).

 

Hedgehogs are making themselves at home in gardens all over the country. Shirl in Scotland has one called Hamish, a family has taken up residence under a tarpaulin at Court Lane Allotments in Birmingham; and earlier this year they were even making friends with foxcubs in WildlifeKate's Staffordshire garden.

 

So – how can you encourage Mrs (and Mr) Tiggywinkle to visit your garden too?

 

  • Provide feed in warm spells through winter, when they sometimes emerge from hibernation for a short while: meaty pet food, mealworms or sunflower hearts with a bowl of water keep them going.
  • A hedgehog house will provide some shelter, and somewhere to hibernate over winter. Tuck it under your hedge to keep it snug and protect it from predators.
  • An undisturbed corner set aside for wildlife, with a logpile and a healthy patch of weeds provides a home not just for hedgehogs but other creatures too.
  • Avoid potentially fatal hazards such as steep-sided ponds, metaldehyde-based slug pellets, and bonfire heaps – favourite hiding places for hedgehogs but lethal when you come to set fire to them.
  • Consider adopting a hedgehog: sanctuaries need safe, caring homes in enclosed gardens for hedgehogs disabled in accidents who wouldn't otherwise be able to fend for themselves.

Sally Nex is a garden writer and blogger and part of the BBC Gardening team.

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