Hedgehogs are wonderful visitors to UK gardens year-round. At this time of the year, they are preparing to hibernate through the winter.
Find out some simple ways that you can help hedgehogs to thrive through the colder months and beyond!
Why do hedgehogs need support in winter?
Hedgehog numbers have been in steady decline for a few years in the wild. Charities such as the British Hedgehog Preservation Society have been hard at work to reverse that decline.
Their falling numbers have been credited to loss of nesting and foraging habitats. Without these natural spaces, they struggle to find somewhere to breed and hibernate safely. Plus, this gives them less options for finding food to survive hibernation.
How can I give hedgehogs easier access to my garden?
There are a few easy ways to give hedgehogs easy access to your garden, and the neighbouring gardens too.
You can establish something called a 'Hedgehog Highway'. To do this, you just need to create a small gap in the bottom of your fence, the size of a small side plate. This is about 6-7 inches (approximately).
These small gaps allow hedgehogs to move freely between gardens in search of food and shelter.
You can also ask your neighbours to participate too! Then your local hedgehogs will have even more room to roam around in search of food and shelter.
What can I feed hedgehogs?
It is important to leave food out for any visiting hedgehogs if you can. At this time of year, hibernation season is fast approaching. Hedgehogs need to put on a considerable amount of weight to make it through the winter. They need to weigh anywhere between 600 g and over 1 kg, so really need to bulk up!
There are a few delicious meals you can leave in your garden for hedgehogs to enjoy.
Leave some hedgehog-friendly food outside to enjoy at their leisure. Wet cat food is ideal, and affordable too. Aim for foods containing white meat, such as chicken or turkey, preferably in jelly rather than gravy. This is because the gravy is too salty. Just make sure to check the food regularly, to see whether it needs topping up, and leave some water available too. There are also hedgehog foods you can buy especially made for them.
If you can, set up a few different feeding stations throughout your garden, particularly if hedgehogs visit regularly. This gives hedgehogs a higher chance of finding the food. Also, this reduces the likelihood of confrontations between these hungry hedgehogs.
How can I offer hedgehogs shelter?
As hedgehogs are starting to hibernate, they need to find somewhere safe and warm to settle down. There are several materials you can use that you already have to make some safe spots for hibernation.
If you have a woodburning fire and have a large stock of logs to keep you toasty through the winter, consider setting a few aside. Then, stack them up into a secure log pile, in a sheltered spot in your garden. If you want to do this and don't already have a log supply, consider collecting dead wood from a nature walk. Or ask at local parks or wildlife reserves if they have any they can spare. Not only are these log piles safe and secure, they also attract insects. This makes a great additional food supply for hedgehogs!
Leaf piles are also a great option. Most gardens have leaves readily available in October and November, and if yours doesn't, head to your local park and collect! Set up a spot in your garden that you don't mind having a leaf pile in, and then leave it alone over winter. Avoid putting it on a patch of lawn if you can, as this will likely kill the grass underneath, as it won't have easy access to water or sunlight.
You can also either buy or make your own, hedgehog hotel. there are plenty of highly suitable options available online. To ensure you're buying the right ones, head to the Hedgehog Preservation Society's website or online shop, where they have several listed.
You can make your own a few ways. Use some old scrap wood, bricks, a plastic tub, or some other alternative which is suitable. As long as it has a slight tunnelled entryway to protect it from predators, something to help waterproof it, and some leaves and garden materials to disguise it, your hedgehogs should feel right at home.
With a few easy, and affordable steps, you can do your local hedgehog community the world of good. Consider putting a couple of these suggestions into practice, and help out your local wildlife.