In 2020, hedgehogs were officially classified as vulnerable to extinction in the UK [i], since numbers have been falling drastically since 2000. This is because the urbanisation of our countryside and the increase in intensive farming has led to the loss of essential habitats, food sources and nesting areas for one of our favourite wildlife mammals. Luckily, our gardens can play a massive part in turning this decline around. So, to get you started, these are the best tips on how to help hedgehogs in your garden. In addition, find out what to feed hedgehogs and the best ways to optimise your property to encourage them to make your garden their home this nesting season.
How To Help Hedgehogs
1) Give Them Access To Your Garden
One of the easiest ways to help hedgehogs is to make sure they can get into your garden. Hedgehogs travel, on average, around 2km each night[i] looking for food, shelter and a mate. But, in our increasingly urban world, their passage isn’t always safe. By joining the ‘hedgehog highway’ and allowing hedgehogs easy access to your garden, you can help them travel around easily and give them a place to, hopefully, stay and hibernate or nest.
Simply cut a hole of about 12 x 12cm in the bottom of your fence, or remove a brick from the bottom of your garden wall. This will allow enough room for hedgehogs without encouraging predators in or pets to go exploring.
Then, add a hedgehog crossing tunnel to stop people from blocking the opening and strengthen access. Alternatively, you could replace your fences or walls with hedges to allow full access to your garden and provide shelter.
2) Plant Indigenous Hedges
The clue’s in the name – hedgehogs love hedges! Compact shrubs are the perfect hedgehog habitat since they provide cover from predators, easy access to nesting materials and a secluded, safe place to rest. Plus, native hedges will attract plenty of other wildlife to your garden, particularly if your hedging is edible. Some good hedges to plant for hedgehogs are:
- Goat willow
- Dog rose
- Elder hedging[iii]
3) Grow Native Plants
Although hedgehogs are unlikely to eat plants, they provide shelter and the insects they hunt love them. So, to attract more hedgehogs to your garden, you should grow the plants that their prey like to feast upon. Native British wildflowers are the best food source to attract the right creatures and insects, and these are easy to grow all around the garden, including in patches on the lawn. However, there are plenty of other plants that will help attract hedgehog food too. Some of the best plants for hedgehogs include:
- Marsh marigolds[iv]
4) Leave Out Supplementary Food
Hedgehogs eat insects and similar invertebrates in the wild, including beetles, earwigs, caterpillars, and earthworms. These creatures provide over 70% of their essential nutrients[v] and are a crucial part of their diet. Although foraging naturally for these sources is best for a hedgehog, they often need a helping hand, particularly just before and after hibernation.
What To Feed Hedgehogs?
Ideally, you should feed hedgehogs with a shallow bowl filled with specially made hedgehog food. Place this in a sheltered area of your garden just after dusk. On the other hand, you can feed hedgehogs a combination of wet dog or cat foods or dry kitten food, too, as these will provide their much-needed nutrients.
What Do Hedgehogs Drink?
Like most mammals, hedgehogs need to drink water for survival. Usually, they can consume enough water from their prey and other natural sources, such as puddles and dew. So alongside some supplementary food, it’s within the hedgehogs’ best interests to leave out a bowl of water too. Also, garden ponds are an important water source for hedgehogs, so make sure to optimise your pond for hogs by giving it sloping sides and an exit ramp.
5) Start A Compost Heap
A compost heap makes the perfect shelter for passing hedgehogs. It provides a secluded, warm, and dry spot for them to hibernate and nest in. Also, this environment will be rich with slugs, centipedes and beetles to keep a hedgehog full throughout its nesting season. However, be careful when turning your compost heap as you don’t want to harm any hedgehogs or disturb their nests. To best avoid this, try to clear any overflowing compost containers and turn your compost heap more often in mid Spring or late Autumn when they aren’t in hibernation, and their babies aren’t at risk.
Alternatively, you could set up a small pile of logs, fallen leaves, twigs, and similar garden debris. This can attract hibernating hedgehogs, the creatures they eat, and much more wildlife besides. Build your log shelter in a secluded corner of the garden with just enough space for a hedgehog to wiggle in to keep them safe from predators.
6) Make A Hedgehog House
Although natural cover is what hedgehogs prefer in the wild, they are becoming increasingly dependent on suburban gardens’ shelter. Urban hedgehog populations have increased by up to a third in recent years, while rural numbers have halved[vi], and artificial hedgehog homes are an excellent solution. Artificial hedgehog homes provide a safe, dry place for hedgehogs to hibernate and breed, and they’re super easy to make yourself!
nd artificial hedgehog homes are an incredible solution. Artificial hedgehog homes provide a safe, dry place for hedgehogs to hibernate and breed, and they’re super easy to make yourself!
DIY Hedgehog House
- Overturn a plastic storage box or similar crate, and cut out an entrance that’s about 13 x 13cm
- Add some dry leaves or straw inside for bedding
- Place your hedgehog house in a shaded, quiet area of your garden
- Cover the top with leaves, soil and grass cuttings to help it blend in well[ii].
Usually, hedgehogs don’t eat or sleep in the same place, so you should leave food out of the house. You can leave food by the entrance to tempt hedgehogs initially, but you should move it away as soon as your hedgehog house has a resident to keep them safe[iii].
7) Be Wary of What You Use In Your Garden
When it comes to how to help hedgehogs, there’s increasing evidence that pesticides and other chemical-based gardening products negatively affect the environment and wildlife, including hedgehogs. The chemicals found in commonly used gardening products, including weed killers, slug pellets and pesticide sprays, kill the invertebrates that hedgehogs eat, depleting their already low food sources. Plus, if ingested, these chemicals can cause a build-up of harmful toxins that could be fatal to a hedgehog[ix]. So, go for more organic options in your garden instead. There are plenty of non-chemical deterrents that will work just as well and even add a bit of fun to your garden.
Implementing ways to help hedgehogs in your garden is vital to their survival. Nevertheless, there are several things that you may like to know to better understand when you should be most prepared for some new visitors and how you can look after them further.
Where Do Hedgehogs Live In The Garden? – Hedgehogs aren’t particularly fussy and will happily live in many spots around the garden as long as they aren’t extremely wet. However, some of the most common places that hedgehogs inhabit in the garden include hedges, overgrown areas, under garden sheds and in and around compost heaps[x].
What Time Do Hedgehogs Come Out? – Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, meaning they only come out at night. Usually, hedgehogs will wake up around 6 or 7 pm when the sun goes down, although some can sleep as late as 9 pm[xi]. Therefore, the best time to spot hedgehogs is late evening, between 7 and 8 pm.
When Do Hedgehogs Hibernate? – The hedgehog hibernation period can vary depending on the weather and the individual hedgehog. Some will hibernate early, others late, and some not at all. However, hedgehogs usually hibernate from late December or early January until late March[xii].
When Do Hedgehogs Have Babies? – The usual breeding period for hedgehogs is between April and September, and a female will be pregnant for around four weeks[xiii]. However, the most common time for hedgehogs to have babies in the UK is during June and July[xiv].
How Long Do Hedgehogs Live? – The average life expectancy of a wild hedgehog in the UK is 2 – 3 years. This is mainly because of the threats presented by their habitat loss and depleting food sources. That being said, hedgehogs aren’t deemed old until they are around five, and 4 out of a 1000 hedgehogs will make it past the age of seven[xv].
Make Your Garden Hedgehog Friendly
The decline of hedgehog populations is alarming, as these spiny mammals are vital to our ecosystem and maintaining a healthy garden. But, by making your garden hedgehog friendly, you can play a part in their conservation and help maintain their population for good!
Do you have any questions about hedgehogs in your garden? Let us know, and we’ll see what we can do to help!
Gemma Sharp is the resident writer for Garden Wildlife Direct, a supplier of premium bird food and accessories. She has had a genuine love for our feathered friends from a young age, and has dedicated a lot of her time to learning all there is to know about them. If you’re struggling to pick the right bird feed for your garden, need help identifying a type of wild bird, or can’t decide where to put a nesting box, Gemma is the person to go to! She is passionate about sharing her years of learnt knowledge with the public. In her free time, she can be found feeding birds at home with her three young boys.