NATURE NOTES - Hedgehogs are a gardener’s best friend

I HEARD the snufflings of one of our nocturnal visitors the other night when out in the garden seeing (well, listening with the bat detector actually) if any bats were out and about.

The snufflings were from a pretty well grown hoglet (what? I hear you muse – hoglet is the technical term for a baby hedgehog) and they don’t come much cuter despite their coat of sharp spines.

I got him right in the middle of the torch beam and to be honest he wasn’t bothered at all. His little black button eyes just stared right back!

In Great Britain hedgehogs are considered the ‘Gardener’s Friend’ as their diet consists mainly of slugs, snails, insects, insect larvae, beetles, earthworms and fallen fruit.

They will also attack and eat mice, rats, lizards, frogs and snakes. They are immune to Adder venom and will provoke adders by biting them, then rolling themselves up into a ball while the Adder attacks repeatedly until it’s venom is exhausted, the hedgehog then kills the Adder and eats it.

Their enemies are badgers and foxes; and these days, ‘us’ with our cars, slug pellets, pesticides and dumped rubbish. Slug pellets, pesticides and other poisons are passed on to hedgehogs through the food chain - if it survives these perils it can live up to six years.

Their natural home is hedgerows, fields, open woods and gardens. They can be encouraged to visit your garden by regularly placing food out for them, a small amount of cat or dog food is gobbled up with relish, there are also canned and dried hedgehog foods available now.

A supply of fresh water should always be available and contrary to popular belief milk is not good for hedgehogs, it gives them stomach problems, which can lead to death.

Given the right conditions some hedgehogs might even take up residency in your garden.

A pile of logs or leaves left undisturbed in a quiet corner, or a compost heap are a favourite place especially for hibernation as are bonfire piles - so take care when turning a compost pile and check before lighting a bonfire for sleeping/hibernating hedgehogs.

You can easily make your own hedgehog house - a box approx 12” long x 8” high for the sides and top, 8” long x 8” high for the back and front, the front having a 4” diameter hole with a pipe (could be drainage pipe off cut) approx 12” long inserted for the entrance tunnel.

Waterproof the box by covering with thick polythene or something similar and place under a shrub or in a suitable quiet place. Nests consist of leaves and grass; hibernation nests are larger than their summer nests, using leaves and moss to keep the rain out and maintain an even temperature.

If you have a man made hedgehog house you could put dried leaves and grass close by to encourage them to occupy it.

Natural nests may be built in a disused rabbit hole, under a hedge, under a tree root or even under your garden shed.