Hooray for Hedgehogs by Catriona Hall
To save our hedgehogs is so important, as their numbers have dropped by a third in urban areas, and by half in rural areas, mostly due to people closing off garden boundaries. This shy snuffling creatures is England’s favourite mammals, so let’s see how to help. Hedgehogs are not related to porcupines (their closest relatives are moonrats). They are found nationwide (there are blonde hedgehogs in the Channel Islands) and they are nocturnal and mostly eat beetles, worms, millipedes and slugs. The ‘spines’ are quills (hair) and most have 5000 that grow again, after falling out.
Hedgehogs don’t see well so roll into a ball if scared, but can run fast if need be. They can swim (but can’t climb out of ponds with vertical sides). They sleep a lot and hibernate in winter, before giving birth to little hogs in spring. Males have no part after breeding (sounds like some men!) They are great for nature as they happily munch through all a farmer’s or gardener’s unwelcome visitors.
Hedgehogs are our favourite and most endangered mammal. They have been around for eons, yet massive numbers have dropped due to lack of habitat (they travel a couple of miles between gardens each night, so fences have not been good for them), predators (including cats and dogs), falling down drains and into vertical-sided ponds, chemicals, getting trapped in bin bags and tin cans, along with less natural food available.
Obviously if you have canine or feline friends, it’s best not to attract hedgehogs to your garden (their spikes also means it could be dangerous for pets that attack them). But there are lots of things you can do to help our spiky prehistoric friends, mostly involving what you don’t do, rather than what you do or buy.
How to Help Our Hedgehog Friends
- Use gull-proof rubbish bags so hogs can’ get into them and choke. Crush and flatten cans (remove tops to avoid jagged edges) and report abandoned trolleys to the supermarket, as hogs sometimes get stuck in them.
- Cover drains securely. Tiggywinkles says if you find a hog that has fallen into a drain, use two pairs of pliers to gently wrench them out (take to vet/wildlife rescue, to check for injuries/burns).
- Drive carefully. See making roads safer for wildlife.
- Hedgehogs fleas do not transfer to other species. So never use flea powder. If they have lots of tiny lumps, this is likely ticks and they likely need to see a vet or wildlife rescuer.
- Don’t use rat poison. Use humane methods to deter rodents including Mouse Mesh (which fixes to the side of buildings, don’t cover gas vents and clean regularly: the thick version deters rats).
- Keep dogs on a lead if out in gardens at night, as dogs (and badgers) are natural enemies, and your canine friend could get injured if he or she attacked. Although it’s good to leave a little ‘hedgehog highway’ hole in the fence for hogs to travel between gardens, it’s best to avoid this if you have dogs like terriers. Ensure rabbits, hens etc can’t escape through holes (they are likely secured at night). Hedgehog Street shows how to make a hedgehog highway. You can install a hedgehog highway sign (recycled plastic).
The Hedgehog Handbook is a book about England’s favourite mammal. This prehistoric hibernating creature has a quiet determination and bristling, bumbling ways – one of the most enduring symbols of the countryside and town gardens. This book explores everything about hedgehogs – from how they eat and sleep, to how we can preserve this icon of rural life.
Packed with inspirational quotes, entertaining facts, folklore and literary references, this is the perfect gift, for anyone with a penchant for prickles!
Creating a Hedgehog-Friendly Garden
- Garden organically. Secure and bin all your garden chemicals and pesticides and take them to the tip as toxic waste. This is beneficial to all domestic and wild creatures, including you!
- Cover your drains, as this is a common hazard for nosy hedgehogs. If you find a hog that has fallen in, Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital says the only way to get them out is to gently use two pairs of pliers to grab the spikes and lift. Then take the hog to your local wildlife rescue, to ensure it is not injured or burned from chemicals. Likewise, ensure all garden rubbish like bin bans, barbed wire and netting are safely packed away, to avoid harm to wildlife.
- Avoid using slug pellets in your garden. Although hogs eat other creatures over slugs, they do eat them and this can kill them. See safe humane methods instead to deter slugs and snails (these methods are also safer around pets).
- If you don’t use a manual mower, then at least avoid strimmers, as hedgehogs get trapped in the long grass and often get injured or killed. A team of researchers that researched robotic mowers found that no robotic mower could detect a hedgehog (they used dead ones) until they bumped into them, to change direction. British Hedgehog Society asks that if you do use them, do not use them at dusk to dawn, when hogs are out and about.
- Never use creosote, this harms all types of wildlife. If you are painting a fence, use a biodegradable nontoxic wood treatment.
- If you have a garden pond, ensure it has sloping sides for all wildlife to easily enter and exit. British Hedgehog Welfare Society are not fond of those plastic discs to deter herons, as they could get trapped in the holes. See the post above, on better ways to deter herons from your garden, if worried about them eating fish. If you already have a pond, avoid netting but you could place a log at one end, to act as a platform for easy escape
- Unless you have pets that could escape, make a little hole in your fence, to allow hogs to travel between gardens at night. This is not a good idea if the gardens are full of predators (cats and dogs) but if not, this enables them to travel a couple of miles each night to feed and breed. You can always cover the hole up during the day to keep pets safe, when hogs are not active.
- If you are demolishing an old shed etc, check first for hogs, as many make their nests in such places. They stay with babies for around 8 weeks, so check before you knock it down. Just wait a few weeks, until baby hogs have left home to enjoy the nightlife!
Provide Natural Habitats for Hedgehogs
- Hedgehog are called so, because they used to live in hedges! So if you can, plant hedges locally with native hawthorn and hazel and this will attract moths that lay eggs, a favourite food for hogs. Other foods that attract caterpillars are honeysuckle, dog rose and hawthorn. Leaving out logs and twigs also attract beetles and centipedes, two more favourite foods for hedgehogs.
- Provide natural habitats. Leaving your garden a little messy is far more helpful to hogs than buying expensive hedgehog houses. Leave log piles and shady areas, for them to hibernate and make nests, which can be quite extensive.
Don’t Light Bonfires (or check before lighting
Don’t light bonfires, these are a common cause of hog injuries, as they like to hibernate in the piles. If you do light one, then move the pile just beforehand, or gently use a fork to prod the pile before igniting, to allow hogs to escape. Likewise, don’t fork compost piles, just move gently with a stick to avoid injury.
How to Help an Injured Hedgehog
If you find a hog in the daytime, it’s likely injured (unless quickly out for a meal). Observe carefully then if you are concerned, call British Hedgehog Preservation Society, who can advise and direct you to their nearest helper. Although in emergencies you can give hedgehogs water and meaty dog food, never give them milk, as it can harm them. It’s also not good to give them fish, as they don’t like it!
- British Hedgehog Preservation Society has lots of info to help colleges and football pitches, and info if you find a sick/injured hedgehog: 01584 890801. Click the Information tab to find leaflets for farmers/vets, and order envelope reuse stickers from them.
- Tiggywinkles is the world’s busiest wildlife hospital and has heaps of info on how to help hedgehogs. You can also call on the phone. If you find hogs seeking heat in the sun, wrap the hog in a towel with a (warm) water bottle if they are hypothermic. Keep safe until help arrives and offer dog/cat food (ideally not fish-based as they don’t like it) and never give them bread or milk (can kill them) nor peanuts or sunflower hearts (nor mealworms in large amounts). Never sweet foods (like digestives).
Do You Need a Hedgehog House?
In mild winters hedgehogs may not hibernate. Hedgehog houses are good for rehabilitators and some gardens. But just like bee houses can sometimes kill bees by attracting predators, it’s always a better idea to simply create natural habitats. Having said that, sometimes a house is good to offer shelter for hibernation. If you do choose one, do so carefully.
In nature, hedgehogs build their own nests in hedgerows or under fallen logs, by collecting leaves, grass, bracken, straw and reeds. These offer natural insulation and waterproofing, without any help from us. So the most effective hedgehog house is to supply these material in nature (like planting more hedgerows) so they can build their own shelters. If you do build or buy a hedgehog house, then ensure it has a flat bottom and is only treated with water-based preservative, with straw and leaves nearby for bedding. The best hedgehog houses have a tunnel or internal baffle, to keep safe from predators. If you use a hedgehog house, brush out only after you are sure hogs are gone (a disturbed mother may abandon or eat her babies).
Place a hedgehog house in a quiet and sheltered dry spot against a wall or fence, avoid it facing north or north east, as this will be too cold and damp. Only clean when the box is empty (put a small light obstruction overnight to see if it’s pushed away the next morning) and clean only with hot water and a biodegradable scrubbing brush, or just leave clean bedding outside the door, for them to clean the home themselves. Do not use dog or cat flea powders inside as these could harm (if using, just use an organic pyrethrum powder that is used on birds. Fleas on hedgehogs are species-specific, so cannot transfer to dogs, cats or you.
Wildlife World have a series of hedgehog houses that have been designed in consultation with British Hedgehot Preservation Society. The Hedgehog Barn has an extending porch to keep hogs safe and make it easier to clean, and The Hogilo is the charity’s choice for people looking to help recovering hedgehogs.
If you accidentally disturb a hog, cover the area with dry leaves and leave out a little dog food and water, he will likely then move and rebuild his nest. If you are demolishing a shed, greenhouse or outbuilding, check for nesting hogs. Some may find their way into your garage to hibernate. For babies, delay until you are sure they have gone (up to 8 weeks).
Ask Royal Mail to Stop Using Rubber Bands
Ask Royal Mail to stop using rubber bands, at the Change petition. Add your voice. Rubber bands are dropped in their millions each year by posties (not their fault, it’s the policy to use them). But rubber bands are choking hazards. Hedgehogs get trapped in them, and ducks eat them, thinking they are worms (gulls often eat them and then regurgitate them for their chicks).
One man who found a rubber band in his cat’s litter tray wants Royal Mail fined £80 each time, for littering. We would rightly get fined if we dropped litter, so why not Royal Mail? Royal Mail uses around 2 million rubber bands each year. Like balloons, they do not biodegrade fast enough, to avoid harm to wildlife. And when they fall down storm drains and go into the sea, they harm whales, dolphins and endangered sea turtles.
Royal Mail’s response is to report a postie who drops a rubber band. This is unfair. No postie is deliberately dropping them, the onus is on Royal Mail to come up with a wildlife-friendly alternative and take responsibility. There are plenty of eco alternatives out there, that Royal Mail could talk to like paper belly bands or biodegradable fabric wrap.
One hedgehog brought to a Hampshire wildlife hospital by a mother and daughter, had to be put to sleep 2 days later. After they found it stumbling around, it was found to have an elastic dropped rubber band that had been tightening around its body for all its life, gradually cutting off circulation, and causing an infection.