Hedgehogs are extraordinary nocturnal animals that make excellent friends for keen gardeners. Not only do they eat pesky plant eaters like snails, slugs and worms, but their timid nature means they prefer to make their nests beneath hedges or piles of leaves. As many as ten different wild hedgehogs may pass through a garden over several nights, so it’s important to know which areas they prefer to call home and the best nutrition they need to thrive.
This handy guide looks at the best way to care for a wild hedgehog to make sure they live a long, happy and healthy life in the great outdoors.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and come to life at night. Their average lifespan is two to three years in the wild and they usually hibernate from November to mid-March, depending on the weather. They are known to wake up several times over the winter to build a new nest and forage for food.
Hedgehogs often choose to hibernate beneath bonfires, so it’s important to always turn timber over and check for guests before setting it alight.
Hedgehogs construct their winter nests from leaves and like to place them beneath a bush, log pile or garden shed for protection. They can travel up to 2km each night, with males generally being more active than females. They typically return to the same daytime nest for a few days at a time before moving on to another.
If you want to promote hedgehog visits to your garden, you can build a home for them to occupy over the colder months. Leave piles of leaves and logs in your garden for them to hide beneath and to encourage the slugs and beetles they eat. Making an artificial hedgehog home can be as simple as placing wood against a wall, or purchasing a purpose-built hedgehog house.
To make your garden as hedgehog-friendly as possible, make sure to cover any drains and holes, check for nests before doing any gardening and refrain from using slug pellets on plants, as these are toxic. Hedgehogs generally swim well but can lose their footing on smooth-sided garden pools and drown. To prevent this, place some chicken wire or timber by the pond's edge to help them climb out.
Hedgehogs are considered insectivores and like to eat things that creep and crawl, including beetles, worms, caterpillars and slugs. If you want to lay out some food for the hedgehogs that live in your garden, you should provide a shallow dish of clean water and specially formulated hedgehog food to meet their nutritional needs. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so you shouldn’t give them any milk.
It is important to remember that any food you give garden guests is supplementary to their natural diet, so you should only provide food that gives them all the nutrients they need to thrive. Place food in a sheltered area of your garden no earlier than the evening, to prevent any unwanted visitors like foxes from helping themselves before the hedgehogs can.
Hedgehogs have spines which can be very sharp, particularly when they are rolled into a ball in fright. If you need to handle a hedgehog, perhaps to move it from an unsafe place or transport it to a vet, you should wear thick gardening gloves to avoid getting spiked. Some hedgehogs may carry fleas or ticks, which are easier to spot than cat or dog parasites due to their larger size. Wearing gloves when handling hedgehogs will prevent contact with fleas and can stop them from entering your home.
When transporting a hedgehog to a vet, it’s best to use a plastic box with air holes so that it can’t chew itself out. Line the bottom of the container with thick layers of newspaper to soak up spills, but don’t use sawdust as it is indigestible if accidentally eaten.
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