Hedgehogs are unmistakeable, with prickly spines all over their back and sides, sharp pointy snouts with a somewhat concave face, tiny tails, and curl up into balls when disturbed.
Hedgehogs can be anything from 15-30cm (6-12in) long, with a very small tail measuring 1-2cm (3/8-3/4in).
Hedgehogs are widely distributed in the UK and are relatively successful in urban habitats, finding homes in gardens, cemeteries and wastelands. There are some habitats they don’t like however, for example uplands, wetlands and pine-covered areas.
Hedgehogs have shown a significant decline in recent years and the reasons for this are not clear. As a result of their decline, however, they have been included in the list of priority species updated in 2007. Hedgehogs also have partial protection from being killed, under Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and under Schedule III of the Bern Convention.
Hedgehogs prefer areas where they will have enough cover and shelter, and where they will find enough food. Hence intensively farmed fields are no good, but hedgerows, woodland edges and suburban spaces are good for them. They are also found in farmland, parks and gardens.
Where to find them in the garden
Hedgehogs use gardens for shelter, making nests, or hibernating. They may be found under piles of logs, under the garden shed, in piles of leaves or in compost heaps. During the day they may also use patches of long grass for resting in – so if you are strimming long grass please check for hedgehogs to avoid any nasty injuries to them. Hedgehogs may include your garden in their nightly foraging rounds; they can travel up to 2km (1 1/4miles) a night. If you do have such a night-time visitor you will probably hear their snuffling as they feed or move about, they are reputed to be fairly noisy!
Role in the garden
Hedgehogs are sought-after garden guests as they eat up slugs. They also eat worms, beetles, caterpillars and any other invertebrates they can find. If you want to feed your hedgehog, put out meat-based petfood (including cat biscuits as this can be good for their teeth). You can also put out raisins, cooked potatoes, and chopped fruit. Avoid giving cows’ milk as this can cause diarrhoea.
Dangers to hedgehogs in the garden
Hedgehogs face several dangers in the garden and it is important to be aware of these:
- Strimmers. If you have let a patch of grass grow long PLEASE CHECK before strimming. Hedgehogs have suffered very distressing injuries as a result of strimmers, often resulting in them having to be put down.
- Hedgehogs like to like in the long grass during the day, so check through it carefully either by hand or sweeping a stick gently backwards and forwards. At certain times of year this will also have the added benefit ofdetecting any frogs or froglets that have hidden there.
- Bonfires. If you have been collecting wood for a bonfire, check it before you light it. Woodpiles are regarded as ideal shelter by hedgehogs.
- Ponds and swimming pools. If your pond or pool only has steep sides a hedgehog that falls in will drown. At the very minimum, please make sure you have a piece of chicken wire shallowly angled so that hedgehogs can use it to climb out of the pond. Preferably, make sure your pond has at least one sloping side. If there is any likelihood that hedgehogs can access the swimming pool, either consider covering it, or put some chicken wire slopes in there as well.