If you would like to save our hedgehogs, you’re just in time. Hedgehog numbers have dropped by a third in urban areas and a half in rural areas. Fragmentation of habitat is the main problem (from garden boundaries being closed off and rural hedges removed). Ever since the days of Beatrix Potter, this ‘shy snuffling’ creature has bewitched the hearts of many. Get to know hedgehogs, and how to help them.
A Beginner’s Guide to Hedgehogs
So what are hedgehogs? They are mammals (their closest relatives are moonrats: they are not related to porcupines). They are found everywhere in the UK (there are also blonde hedgehogs that live in the Channel Islands). They mostly live on the ground and are nocturnal. They do eat slugs, but are more likely to feed on beetles, worms and millipedes.
Their name comes from where they live. They love hedges, and since we have lost most of our hedgerows, they now take to people’s gardens. But because they travel up to 2 miles a day, the closing off of most gardens is a big reason why they don’t have the habitat they need. The ‘hog’ part comes from the sound they make, like a piglet! The spines are actually hair (quills) and made up of the same material like our nails and hair. Most hedgehogs have around 5000 spines that grow again, after falling out.
As you likely know, hedgehogs are able to roll themselves into a ball when scared or threatened, to protect their soft little bellies. They don’t see well, so are easily scared and can run fast if need be. They can swim, but can’t climb out of ponds with vertical sides. So always ensure (for all wildlife), ponds have sloping sides. They like sleeping a lot, and hibernate in winter before giving birth to little hogs in spring. Males have no part after breeding.
Hedgehogs are great for nature, as they eat many of the ‘garden pests’. In fact, they are greedy little hogs and will quite happily munch away all a farmer’s or gardener’s pests.
Tips to Help Hedgehogs
- Dogs (and badgers) are natural predators. So if you live with dogs, keep them on a lead if letting them out at night if hogs are nearby (both could get injured if a dog picked up a hedgehog). Although we are advised to leave a little ‘hole in the fence’ (a hedgehog highway for them to travel between gardens at night), it’s best to avoid this if you have terriers (or they live nearby) as they could attack. Also be sure rabbits and hens can’t escape through holes (likely secured at night, when hedgehogs are about).
- Don’t leave black sacks around, they can choke. Use gull-proof rubbish bags, which they can’t penetrate to access yogurt pots etc. Crush and flatten cans (and remove the tops to avoid jagged edges). Report abandoned shopping trolleys to your supermarkets, as hedgehogs sometimes get stuck in them. Also pick up dropped elastic bands, as these can get caught around limbs and spines (ducks also eat them, thinking they are worms).
- Clear your garden of all hazards (safer for all). Remove barbed wife and netting. Ensure ponds have sloping sides, and use Lifetime Wood Treatment over toxic Creosote.
- Never use slug pellets, these are lethal to wildlife and pets. Use safe humane methods instead like Grazers or Molluskit (hedgehogs eat slugs).
- Don’t light bonfires (hogs can die from inhaling smoke). If you do, move the pile just beforehand, or gently lift up from all sides with a broom handle, to allow sleeping hogs to escape. Also don’t fork compost.
- Replace garden strimmers with garden shears (this is a big cause of injury to hogs and other creatures). Ideally use a manual mower. Or whatever mower you choose, again sweep long grass with a broom before mowing, to allow hogs to escape and move on.
- Use a drain cover. Tiggywinkles says if you find a hog that has fallen into a drain, the only solution in most cases, is to use two pairs of pliers to gently wrench them out (take them to the vet or wildlife rescue to check for injuries or chemical 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 may need to see the vet.
- Rat poison is also toxic to them. There are more humane methods to deter rodents including Mouse Mesh (which fixes to the side of buildings, just not over gas vents and clean out regularly: the thicker version can deter rats).
Habitats for Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs hibernate in winter to conserve energy when food sources are less abundant (their bodies shut down, and they breath and heart slows). But in mild winters some may not hibernate at all. You can help by leaving areas wild, and creating damp shady areas that encourage their natural food.
If you are using a hedgehog house, brush it out only after you are sure the hedgehog has gone (or if you are sure a hedgehog is not using it). If a mother is disturbed, she may abandon or eat her babies. Hoglets stay with mum for around 8 weeks, then leave to live independently. 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).
Help to Help the Hedgehogs
- British Hedgehog Preservation Society is at the forefront of helping hogs. They have campaigns to ensure college campuses and football pitches are hedgehog-friendly, and a helpline you can call for advice or if you find a sick or injured hedgehog: 01584 890801. Click the Information tab to find leaflets for farmers and vets.
- Hedgehog Street is a site where you can learn how to make ‘a hedgehog highway’ for safe routes to travel. Remember not to do this if you have terriers in your garden (or nearby) to keep them safe. Ensure holes are not where vulnerable pets like rabbits or hens could escape (they will likely be secured when hogs use the holes at night: you could block it during the day as as last resort). You can install a hedgehog highway sign (recycled plastic), so people know not to block it up.
- 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.
How to Help Injured Hedgehogs
If you find an injured hog, call British Hedgehog Preservation Society 24h Helpline on 01584 890801 and choose option 1 for details of your local wildlife rescues. They say that online hedgehog rescue sites are difficult to update: they keep their list updated daily, and know of rescues unable to accept new calls or admissions.
Although mothers will come out to feed during the day (for themselves or gather nesting material), this will only be briefly (hogs will be moving purposefully and should be left). Other hogs however that are unwell will be seeking heat in the sun, so they suggest wrapping the hog in a towel with a (not too hot) hot water bottle, as they likely are hypothermic and can’t warm themselves up. They can then be kept safe, until help arrives.
You can offer cat/dog food (not fish-based) and water, unless advised not to. Never give hedgehogs bread and milk (this can kill them) and do not give peanuts or sunflower hearts (or mealworms in large amounts, as this can cause problems). Never feed sweet foods (like digestive biscuits).
Books to Save Our Hedgehogs
- Hedgehugs is a series of lovely books for children. Learn about two hedgehogs in love who can do anything but hug, due to their spines. So they come up with an innovative solution!
- The Hedgehog Handbook is a guide to the countryside lore and insights into the life of the hedgehog, along with tips to help. A monthly celebration, this book is packed with inspirational quotes, entertaining facts, and literature references. The perfect gift, for anyone with a penchant for prickles.
- The Last Hedgehog is a dark yet funny poetic ode to the hedgehog, asking us to take better care of our spiky friends. If you think that Pam Ayres only writes funny limericks, prepare to be surprised.
- The Hug is a beautiful and heartwarming bedtime story for children. Both a hedgehog and a tortoise are looking for a hug. They ask all the other animals they come across, but for some reason, no-one will hug them. Until a wise owl explains: Hedgehog is too spiky, Tortoise is too bony. And that’s when they find each other! While We Can’t Hug is a sweet follow-up, inspired to show us ways to be affectionate, while social distancing. Now Hedgehog and Tortoise are the best of friends, they want to give each other a great big hug. But they are not allowed to touch. ‘Don’t worry’, says Owl, ‘there are lots of ways to show someone you love them. So the two friends wave to each other, blow kisses, sing songs, dance around and write letters.
The Last Hedgehog is a lovely little gift book to share with someone who loves our little hog friends. Pam Ayres has written a dark yet funny poem from ‘the last hedgehog left on earth’, to shock us into doing something to help save our hedgehogs. This thought-provoking book is a reminder of why we need to save our hedgehogs.
A national treasure. There are clear comparisons between Pam and Sir John Betjeman. Daily Express
Her spiky creation reminds us that unless we act soon, hedgehogs will soon be gone. Beautifully illustrated by Alice Tait, The Hedgehog tells of the terrible damage that humans are doing to his land. And what we can still do to keep them alive, and thrive:
Cousin Henry, young and bright
Went up in flames on Bonfire Night
And poor old Grandpa, fast asleep
Was stabbed to death on a compost heap.
If in your fence you’d made a space
We could have moved from place to place.
From now on, as you pull the drapes.
You’ll see no round familiar shapes.
Nevermore, from dusk till dawn
Will eat slugs on your lawn.
From now on, you can eat your own.