It's a pleasure to introduce hedgehog enthusiast Duncan Richardson of The Lilac Grove, to share his tips on hedgehogs and gardens
How to tell if you have hedgehogs
One of the problems with finding hedgehogs is that they are nocturnal. So, how do you know if you have hedgehogs in your garden? The signs are quite subtle, but once you have your ‘eye in’ they are quite easy to see.
The most obvious are footprints. Although hedgehogs are quite heavy (about 1kg) they don’t leave many footprints unless the ground is really soft. A small mud or wet sand trap is easily set up to see if you get some. The prints are about 2.5cm long and 2.8cm wide. The front toes are quite widely splayed, but the back toes are quite long and slender.
If you see poo around, that is a good indicator! The poo is 1.5-5cm long and 1cm in diameter. They are normally quite dark coloured due to being full of beetles.
Hedgehog signs - tunnel
Hedgehogs tend to leave slight tracks through the grass of a lawn or small tunnels through undergrowth as they go about their foraging. A good time to see these is in the morning through the dew on the lawn.
Go into your garden at night and listen. Hedgehogs are noisier than you think, and you may hear them snuffling and huffing around as they search for food. In the spring they can get very noisy, as they fight over females.
Gardening For Hedgehogs
If you already have hedgehogs, or want to encourage them into your garden, what can you do?
The first and most important thing is access! A lot of gardens are fenced and there is no way a hedgehog can get in. A small hole under or in the fence will do, about 3 inches is usually sufficient. If you have the option, a native hedge is fantastic, hawthorn etc, make a very good hog friendly border. Hedging provides easy access and shelter for them and other wildlife
Leaving a hedgehog-sized gap under a gate
Keep parts of the garden a little untidy. Try leaving an area of long grass and some shrubs for hogs to root around in. Piles of leaves, logs or a compost heap can also provide them with a place to nest and rear their young, or to hibernate.
Water is a very important commodity for hogs. The best way to provide it is a pond, but make sure the pond is either shallow, or has shallow parts, so that if a hog does fall in it can easily get back out again. If that can’t be done, leave out a water bowl!
Put out food for them. Dog/Cat food and shop bought hedgehog foods are great. Dry food is also good, if it is small, such as puppy food, this will last and is good to leave out in the winter in case they wake up from hibernation. They also love mealworms. Don’t feed milk or bread as this will make them ill. Set up some feeding stations for them tucked out of the way or under hedges.
Provide some shelter, hedgehog boxes, compost heaps, piles of twigs, logs or leaves will always be welcome.
Encourage your neighbours to do the same. Gardens are a vital resource for hedgehogs. Consider joining and become a Hedgehog Champion.
Dangers to Hedgehogs
- Don’t feed milk or bread, this will make them ill.
- Don’t use plastic netting as this can entangle the hedgehogs and cause serious injuries.
- Slug pellets are very dangerous. Hedgehogs enjoy the odd slug, and any poison they ingest can kill.
- Check compost heaps before turning. Hogs may use them to nest and hibernate.
- Check under hedges and bushes before strimming. Strimmers can cause very nasty injuries to hogs.
- Check bonfires carefully for hedgehogs. Better still rebuild them before lighting.
- If you disturb a nest please replace it and leave well alone.
- If shed doors are left open overnight, don’t suddenly shut them, a hog may have made it it’s home and this will trap them. Check first.
- If a hog is seen out in the day it usually means it’s in trouble. Please contact your local hedgehog society for advice. More information can be found here- http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk
Here's Duncan on Autumnwatch 2012
Martin Hughes-Games finds some prickly secrets with hedgehog enthusiast Duncan Richardson
You can follow the Duncan's garden's hedgehog activity on The Lilac Grove.