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Are you helping hedgehogs in your garden?

Did you know that it’s Hedgehog Street’s 10th birthday this year? Our guest explains how its campaign has progressed, and what you can do in your garden to help.

Back in 2018 we had an interesting discussion around the lack of Hedgehog sightings in our gardens. Three years on, we thought we’d check in with the Hedgehog Street campaign to see what progress has been made, and help them celebrate their 10th birthday!

This is a guest post by Grace Johnson. All views expressed are Grace’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Hedgehog Street began 10 years ago with just 15 volunteer Hedgehog Champions, who all pledged to make small hedgehog-friendly changes to their gardens. Now, I’m thrilled to say we have more than 90,000 Hedgehog Champions up and down the country who have made their gardens hedgehog havens!

We’d love to reach the magic 100,000 mark in our birthday year this year, and hope people continue to be inspired by the natural world and want to help the amazing species we have on doorsteps.

We aim to encourage people to become ‘Hedgehog Champions’ (volunteers who pledge to make their gardens more hedgehog friendly) in order to help stop the ongoing decline of Britain’s favourite mammal. 

10 ways you can help hedgehogs

To celebrate our 10th birthday this year, Hedgehog Street is asking members of the public to do 10 things to help hedgehogs throughout 2021:

To add to the celebrations, a brand-new garden challenge is being launched this March, aiming to find out if the UK’s gardens are hedgehog havens, or if they’re in need of more hedgehog-friendly features to encourage prickly nighttime visitors.

Results from the quiz will offer tailored advice to those who take part and suggest simple improvements people can make.

Take a look at all the Which? gardening news, reviews and advice

Positive steps forward

The latest State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report, published in 2018 by BHPS and PTES and discussed here on Which? Conversation at the time, revealed that 50% of rural hedgehog populations and 30% of urban hedgehog populations have been lost since 2000.

Most recently, hedgehogs were listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ on the Red List for Britain’s Mammals, published in 2020.

However, there is some good news: the report indicated that the rate of decline in our towns and cities appears to be stabilising. That’s why we’re really pushing for everyone to do 10 things for hedgehogs during our birthday year, to build on this positive step forward and to help save this beautiful and iconic species from further decline.

If you are lucky enough to have a garden, do you do anything extra to help hedgehogs? Would you be able to take any of our 10 steps to help out? And when was the last time you saw one in your garden?

Let us know in the comments.

This was a guest post by Grace Johnson. All views expressed were Grace’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Comments

I left gaps underneath my fences to encourage hedgehogs to visit, but instead I have had rabbits visiting. A neighbour and her teenage daughter came to the door one day to say they though that one of their new rabbits was in my garden. It was sitting on the grass. After some efforts the rabbit was recaptured and taken home but was soon back in my garden. I blocked the gap and received home-made cake and biscuits as an unexpected gift for my efforts. I suppose I should now create a proper hedgehog highway.

No rabbit pie? Close boarded fencing is unattractive and unsociable in my view. I’d rather see hedges. Much better for wildlife and nicer to look at. OK, you’ll have to swap preservative and brush for a hedgetrimmer.

One of my neighbours feeds our local hedgehogs.

Until 2nd January this year, one of them was also regularly visiting my front garden. Hopefully, since then it has actually been hibernating.

We also both feed our local urban foxes, but, unlike local cats, the hedgehog has never been tempted by the fox food.

One of my other neighbours doesn’t like me putting wild animal food out at ground level, because she fears it will encourage rats.

I occasionally see the odd hedgehog when I am out at dusk looking for bats. The last time was between Christmas and New Year and I hope it survived.

We have close-boarded fences on all three sides of our rear garden and, although hedges would be more attractive, in an urban environment the wooden fences are more practical. By a quirk of property history all three fences are our responsibility and they are all maintained in good order, but I have made sure that hedgehogs can get through and pass between our garden and the several neighbours’ gardens that adjoin ours. I have cut holes in the fences that are big enough for hedgehogs but we have never seen any hedgehogs in the garden, although we don’t have any slugs either so perhaps there is not much for hedgehogs to come in for.

It has been remarked that one prickly mammal is as much as can be tolerated at our address.

I don’t have a garden, only a back yard which is on two levels due to the high level road at the back. And there’s walls in between the yards so hedgy hogs can’t get in, but when I fitted a big six inch storm drain pipe under my house to protect the yard from flooding I did fit mesh over each end of the pipe to prevent things like hedgehogs from getting trapped inside it. And there is some council grass land only a few yards from my home and I last saw a hedgehog there back in early 2000 which was the last one I saw. But then I haven’t been looking for them, and I think if I went up there looking for hedgehogs with a red filtered torch I’d soon be under suspicion and reported. And I once rescued a hedgehog back in early 1988 which had become trapped in a plastic mesh fence, and it’s spines were acting like hooks preventing it from freeing itself, and luckily I just happened to have some tools with me as I was working on a house there which my parents had just bought, so I got my side cutters out and by torch light I had to carefully reach in between it’s spines and cut the plastic and that got it free and it was lovely to hold as they’re all soft and furry underneath. And I once took one home and let it go for a rummage around my bedroom in the dark, and of course I took it back where I found it the next day.

That is one of the problems for hedgehogs – they can go through a hole in a forward direction but can get stuck if they try to come out backwards. I was conscious of that when I made the holes in the fences. I made the apertures big enough and positioned them so that they could easily see what was on the other side before entering.

I agree with you, they are quite appealing creatures.

This year I am hoping to complete a landscaping project in the garden and I am building in a hidden space behind some timber baulks where a hedgehog family might like to reside.

I don’t know whether cats are a threat to hedgehogs; there are quite a number around us which patrol the garden and could possibly disturb hedgehogs. Squirrels are another possible interference.

” they can go through a hole in a forward direction but can get stuck if they try to come out backwards.“ . Like porcupine spines apparently. On their surface they have scales facing one direction so they enter your skin easily but, when you try to take them out, the scales resist and you die of infection…… I don’t know if hedgehogs have the same attribute. Nature can be clever, and cruel. I wonder why.

After many years of waiting and providing a house, I finally got a hedgehog living in my garden. She had two pups this year though I think one didn’t survive. I feed her occasionally but it’s tricky because my dogs eat the food if I don’t supervise – but if I do supervise I scare off the hedgehog. Some of my dogless neighbours feed her though so she does OK. I’m moving home soon so need to find out if the new owners will also look after her. One of my biggest worries with moving is the future care of the wildlife that lives/nests/eats in my garden.

Although we feed the wildlife, at the same time we try not to make them totally dependent on us so they don’t lose their natural instincts to forage for their own food, not easy to do when they seem to know all they have to do is look at you with cuteness or hungry eyes.

Maewyn, can you leave some photos for the new occupants so they can see the enjoyment they can get from encouraging wildlife into the garden and the satisfaction of knowing they are helping in their survival?

It’s lovely to hear your patience eventually paid off and you attracted a resident hedgehog. Fingers crossed the new owners of your home will be happy to keep an eye on her.

We are very lucky to get a wide variety of wildlife in our garden and hedgehogs seem to survive alongside the badgers and foxes.

We have bought hedgehog food but if not timed carefully, gets eaten by the foxes. A few handfuls of peanuts for the foxes to keep them busy and the hedgehog ignores the hedgehog food preferring the peanuts. 🦔

We installed CCTV last summer, so now get to see what goes on at night. I flicked through the last couple of nights recordings and saw foxes, a badger, a deer, a mouse and for the first time an owl, but no hedgehog. Maybe it is too early for them and they are still tucked up in hibernation as we had at least 3 last year.

I scored 14/15 in the quiz let down by not having a garden pond, but we do the next best thing by providing several water bowls and baths, refreshing the water daily.

Sorry, but I don’t like the plastic hedgehog highway labels that will likely be forgotten about in a few years time, could fall off, start to disintegrate and become a danger to wildlife. Hedgehogs can’t read, and a word to your neighbour should be enough to keep routes open.

In case you missed it, a young hedgehog making itself at home last summer:
https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/hedgehogs-gardens-endangered-wildlife/#comment-1602218

It’s interesting how our fondness for different creatures varies. Hedgehogs are nurtured and assisted and there are charities devoted to their welfare. But no one seems to like moles. Apart from eating earthworms [but also slugs] what have they done to upset us?

The next subject is sloths, with which I seem to have an affinity – or so I am told.

I like moles, although never see them. Proud lawn keepers might not. I find it interesting how so many wild birds and animals are frightened of humans – response to long term abuse must be inherited – but not insects, some of whom also do their best to seek us out and persecute us.

There was a vixen that used to visit the house for food regularly and would stand very close to us.

An attractive experience and declining numbers certainly engender popularity. Grace, our author, is too young to remember when hedgehogs were far more common. I remember when water vole were far more common than they are today.

I have memories of a friend who used to attend our volunteer working parties and at the end of the day would fill several large buckets with ‘molehills’, which were used to make potting compost to grow plants to sell for our charity.

Working with biologists who can get excited over the identification and distribution of even the most insignificant species I have learned that we need to do what we can to protect the lot.

I did have a close encounter with a mole but never actually saw him. At our previous house, which was built on very light soil, I was doing some work in the front garden when the ground moved in front of me and I could tell that a mole was excavating a burrow. I was hoping I could catch the mole but it shot back through the tunnel at considerable speed and I wasn’t able to trap it. When I saw the ground moving it did give me quite a fright since it was so sudden and unexpected, although the grassed areas all around had lots of molehills. I had no intention of harming the mole in any way but, obviously, it would have been petrified of being handled so it was just as well that it got away. The odd snake has been fairly alarming too.

Didn’t there used to be a mole in MI6?

You might think so; I couldn’t possibly comment.

A mole made it to our front garden some years ago, but for whatever reason (heavy clay?) didn’t decide to move in permanently and we had just the one molehill.

We have a hedgehog as I’ve caught one on CCTV so will try and post a video link later. 🦔

@DerekP, Bill Haydon, Derek. Fully recounted in the documentary Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, if I remember correctly. Or was he…….. you never can be sure.

We manage, as individuals, to run our everyday lives without spying on our neighbours, colleagues and friends. We don’t, as individual citizens, in the UK, spend large sums arming ourselves to the teeth to protect ourselves against others. I wonder whether we do it as a nation to avoid the usual hindsighters from criticising if things get a bit awry. I’d rather see the huge sums of money spent on constructive projects that would increase the comfort and wealth of the nation, than on potentially destructive white elephants.

Oh dear, sorry to have got carried away. The wildlife in the garden, as I look out, is four pigeons doing not very much but wandering around. I wonder what their purpose is in life? Or, indeed, anyones?

Thanks malcolm, I enjoyed the recent film version of that documentary.

Just off the top off my head, I think Kim Philby was amongst the Soviet spies in MI6 while Antony Blunt held a similar role in MI5. It has been reported that, luckily, their presence their did not compromise either the WW2 British “Double Cross” counterspy operation, which helped to persuade Germany that the main European liberation forces were going to land in the Pas de Calais or our Ultra intelligence from Bletchley Park.

Quite a few of the characters involved in Double Cross seem lived real James Bond style casino and cocktails lifestyles, except that none of them were actually British by birth and without the gun fights and fisticuffs. So the character created by Ian Fleming is less of a fiction that one might at first think.

Homing pigeons also played their part in WW2 intelligence operations, as some were used as couriers for secret messages.

My local pigeons don’t seem to be doing very much other than waiting around, to see when I’ll be putting out more bird seed.

Funny story about moles – we don’t have them in Ireland. Which is a bit embarrassing as a Zoology undergraduate and seeing your first mole hill at the age of 20 and not having a clue what is was!

As a Chemistry undergraduate I was introduced to moles, millimoles and micromoles, but none of the furry type.

I have not seen a single hedgehog since the start of this Conversation. 🙁

@wavechange I found my old school reports and it turns out that moles were not my friend!

Sad to hear you haven’t see a hedgehog but they are probably busy fattening up after hibernation. 🙂

🙂 I will keep looking. Last year I discovered a really good place for bats just a short walk from home.

Now bats I get very excited about! I need to go up into our attic this week to check when a very small leak is coming from and I have high hopes for seeing signs of bats. 🙂

I’ve never seen one close-up but when I used to live near a river I often went for an evening walk with a friend, just to look for bats. I have a bat detector now to add to the fun. If only it was as easy to find hedgehogs locally, but I have some food for them on my next supermarket order.

A few years ago we returned from holiday to find a bat clinging to the brickwork in the open porch. It remained their for 3 days before disappearing. There was no sign of it moving during that time.

One of my early childhood memories was a hedgehog that visited our garden. One day my father told me it had died, possibly as a result of having eaten a poisoned slug. This is a well known risk to hedgehogs.

At long last it looks as if metaldehyde slug pellets are going to be withdrawn, at least outdoors, though it could be a few years before stocks are used up: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/outdoor-use-of-metaldehyde-to-be-banned-to-protect-wildlife

I have never put out food for hedgehogs. What do they like? And when do they prefer to eat?

Water is the first priority. It’s important not to give them milk because they are lactose-intolerant. (For other reasons, don’t feed ducks with bread.) Specialist foods are available, but these should only supplement their natural diet. Providing food is a good way of spotting wildlife but if it reduces natural foraging it might not help.

There’s always a saucer of water at ground level in the garden.

Perhaps I’ll cultivate some slugs to feed the hedgehogs. What do slugs live on? It looks like they enjoy many of the flowers in our garden including daffodils, narcissi, petunias, begonias and chrysanthemums.

Slugs and snails will eat all sorts of decaying vegetation, so will be very active round compost heaps. They are very important in disposing of organic waste. Slugs are higher up in the pecking order and often get invited out for lunch by thrushes.

@johnward, if you like I’ll happily send you a (large) bag of snails-in-shell from my garden to keep your hedgehog happy. There will be plenty left to devour my crops.

I watched a programme on sewage treatment last night and was pleasantly surprised to see a mobile phone charged off urine, using a bacterial cell, something that does not seem too far off real use to generate electricity on a useful scale, and the discovery of new phages that can be used to destroy nasties that are resistant to antibiotics. That is on top of methane and soil conditioner.

Phage therapy makes use of (bacterio)phages – viruses that infect and destroy bacteria – to treat bacterial infections. It is likely to become increasingly important in what has been dubbed the post-antibiotic era, when many of our existing antibiotics have become useless. Not all harmful bacteria have phages and as we are all aware at present, viral infections are a major problem.

As far as what to feed them – wet dog food is easiest. As @wavechange said never milk but also never bread. Water is good to have in your garden for many animals but be careful about ponds, hedgehogs can get stuck if there isn’t a gentle slope out. They only have wee legs.

Could I use dry dog or cat food, Abby? Wet dog food isn’t very convenient if you don’t have a dog.

Go for dog food and add a bit of water. They should be able to eat the kibble ok (their teeth have evolved to munch the cases of crunchy insects) but they also need the water in wet food. Leave the cat food though. It has amino acids in it that they don’t need. I don’t think it would be bad for them if that is all you have but if you are buying it best to go for dog food. 🙂

I will put dried dog food on the next shopping order and see what I can find. The problem with exploring the garden after dark is that the wood pigeons in the trees become disturbed and make a bit of a racket.

The joys of wood pigeons! As the nights are lighter they will be coming out at dusk so you will be able to put it out then. You can also make a hedgehog cafe if you are worried about foxes and the local moggies.

https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/feed-hedgehogs/

Of course one of the biggest things you can do is make your garden friendly to their natural food source, so no pesticides and keep an area wilder with some dead wood in it.

All the wildlife that visit our garden eat peanuts and sunflower hearts, so if you have those to feed the birds already, try leaving a small pile next to a fence or other edge that hedgehogs might run along, preferably where you can see it.

Peanuts and sunflower hearts are a bit fatty for them but ok sometimes, so if you spot a hedgehog stopping to eat, replace the food with something more suited to their diet.

We have put out special hedgehog food that gets eaten by foxes or cleared up by wood pigeons in the mornings, and hedgehogs have turned their noses up at it and gone for the peanuts. Unless you build specific structures, they will always do what they want with what is available to them.

Hedgehogs like cat food. I once offered one some cat food and it soon scoffed it down, but I don’t know if it’s good for them. But putting out cat food might just attract a neighbour’s cat.

The difference between what animals like and what is good for them is a very important point. For example, dogs may like chocolate but it’s not wise to feed them with it.

Pet food is best but I would recommend dog food. Cat food has added amino acids that cats need to get from their diets but dogs and hedgehogs don’t need it.

One of my local DIY stores sells hedgehog food alongside its wild bird seed.

This is what makes life so complex these days. We were getting some dog food from the animal supplies warehouse on the retail park the other day and there were no crow bars or monkey wrenches available.

I only recently discovered hedgehog food. I thought it was niche and only sold online but great to hear it is more readily available!

Jennifer says:
19 March 2021

I live in a geriatric village. Our woodwork shop made a couple of hedge hog houses a couple of years ago and are now making another two. I have one of my own as well. I have also cut through two chestnut palings (6″ above ground) on a fence that runs along a boundary ditch. We see hedgehogs fairly regularly. Our 10 acre grounds lie on a city/county boundary.

Emma says:
19 March 2021

We’ve been a lot more relaxed about our gardening in the last few years. We have gaps to the front, side and back that allow hedgehogs and foxes to pass through. We installed a pond a few years back and that is a haven. We choose not to mow the law too often and have let clover and other wildflowers grow in it. Last year the lawn was buzzing with bees on sunny days. We let the slugs and snails be and generally they only tend to attack new unestablished plants (which we can protect in nature friendly ways) or ones that are on their last legs (which they are welcome to). We now have a healthy population of leopard slugs that eat only dying vegetation and some other species of slug – they have done a great job of tidying up our fern plants, eating only the dead leaves! We don’t seem to get hedgehogs often, but we have more and more species of bird visiting and frogs and toads. I am hopeful that as the amount of cover increases in the garden, the hedgehogs will find us. My only bug bear is others using slug pellets. I have seen so many dehydrated frogs in my garden over the past couple of years, showing signs that they have been poisoned by eating slugs that have eaten pellets. It’s so very sad and our poor frogs are in decline now too.

Metaldehyde slug pellets are being replaced with ferric phosphate ones. I don’t know if they are completely safe for wildlife or when existing stocks will have been used up, but it is some progress.

I agree about the need for nature-friendly gardening, Emma. One solution is to grow plants that thrive without being soused in pesticides and other chemicals. At one time I had a collection of roses and some of them suffered from greenfly and blackspot. I’m not keen on gardening chemicals so replaced the affected roses with ones that grew happily without any treatment. Growing food without chemicals is more of a challenge.

Slug killers based on aluminium sulphate https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/animal-deterrents/organic-pest-control/non-toxic-slug-control/ and ferric phosphate https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/news/rhs-trials-organic-slug-pellets-perform-better-those-toxic-metaldehyde seem to be effective against slugs and snails without being harmful to other wild life. However, maybe we should be kinder to them. Perhaps live and let live?

My local hedgehog is now back out of hibernation and was seen on my cctv about 1 am this morning.

Ah – I feel a bit emotional seeing two of my favourite old workplaces collaborating! 🙂

One of the problems of helping hedgehogs wander between gardens is that a friendly pet rabbit may come to visit.

Two years ago we had a hedgehog visiting our front patio and was eating the sunflower hearts dropped by the Goldfinches from our bird feeders then, after a week, (he) was joined by another hog (she) but only on a Friday and Saturday night. I put out water and cat food in a hog friendly bowl.

They both continued in the same manner for several months then (she) stopped coming.

As the autumn came (he) obviously went into hibernation but sadly we never saw them again.

Mike – Did any hoglets appear as a result of these nocturnal weekend trysts?