NATURE NOTES - Helping hedgehogs

I FOUND a nice little black and soggy ‘package’ in the garden that had obviously been left by a nocturnal visitor last night – a hedgehog.

It’s really nice having ‘hogs’ visit to help in keeping down the pests in the garden and to be honest it is quite easy to encourage hogs in if they are around.

Hedgehogs are a really useful ally in that they eat snails, slugs and other pests which can cause damage to plants. Unfortunately they are in decline, which is partially due to environmental pollution and the steadily increasing loss of their own natural habitat.

An easy and effective way to help hedgehogs is to avoid using slug pellets in your garden. The pellets can also kill hedgehogs and even if they don’t eat the pellets directly, if the slugs they eat have been poisoned, the hedgehogs’ will then absorb this.

Now is a really good time to think about how you can easily help some of the younger hedgeurchins through the winter. You can supplement a hedgehog’s natural diet especially now in autumn when they need to ‘get fat’ before they go into hibernation for the winter.

Tinned cat or dog food and even dry dog food is a useful addition to a hedgehog’s diet. They’ll also eat things like bacon rind. You should also ensure that you put out fresh water with any food you leave but you shouldn’t feed a hedgehog milk or bread in large amounts as they can cause diarrhoea.

They are very resourceful creatures and will make nest sites under sheds, amongst piles of wood and under mounds of leaves so it’s useful to keep a part of your garden a little bit ‘wild’ if you want to attract hedgehogs to it. Hedgehogs seem to have little fear of danger when it comes to locations into which they might fall, so you should keep ponds covered along with any steep-sided holes you might have in your garden. Falling into drains is another problem which hedgehogs can encounter. If it’s not possible to cover holes entirely, you should create some small makeshift ramps out of small planks near to any dangerous holes so that it can climb out again. Some people with ponds, for example, will often place chunks of polystyrene in the pond which can act as a makeshift float until a hedgehog can be safely rescued.

Whilst having a hedgehog in your garden can seem very similar to keeping a pet (especially to children), it’s important to remember that these are wild animals and their spines are very sharp, so you should avoid picking one up unless you suspect that it’s injured. They can also harbour hedgehog fleas so personal contact should be avoided where possible.

Hedgehogs are now looking for their winter lodgings and to them the start of a bonfire stack is perfect – I have no idea how many die this way on November 5 but I’ll bet it’s thousands! Stacking the timber just before lighting keeps hedgehogs safe.