This week marks National Hedgehog Week, designed to raise awareness of these beautiful but endangered animals and to inspire us with ideas of how we can help them in our area.
The west-European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus is one of the 17 hedgehog species found around the world and is unmistakable as the UK’s only spiny mammal. Their specialised coat is made up of approximately 5000 spines (also known as quills) which the hedgehogs use to protect themselves from predators by curling up into a tight, prickly ball when scared. These spines are incredibly strong and will grow to about an inch long, with each spine lasting about a year before it falls out and is replaced by a new one.
As their name suggests, they are often found underneath hedgerows which provide a good supply of invertebrates on which they feed, and create ideal nest sites offering protection from predators. Hedgehogs are also commonly found in urban and suburban areas, with gardens now providing them with food as well as shelter. Because of this, these urban sites have become a very important stronghold for these animals in recent years.
Despite being one of the UK’s most distinctive and best-loved creatures, hedgehog numbers have been decreasing so rapidly over the last 70 years that they have featured on a recent list of the 10 most endangered species in the UK. However there are many simple things that you can do to help hedgehogs in your garden;
Break down the barriers
Opening up your garden is the simplest yet possibly most effective way to help your hogs! By cutting 13cm x 13cm holes in your fence at ground level or digging tunnels underneath fence panels, they will be too small for pets but perfect for hedgehogs to pass through.
Provide extra food
Specific hedgehog food mixes are available to buy in shops, but supplementing their diet with meat-based cat/dog food, mealworms or raisins will be appreciated!
Avoid using chemicals
Applying weed killer to your lawn reduces the numbers of earthworms, one of their main food sources. Slug pellets and pesticides can also make hedgehogs very ill or even kill them.
Offer a nesting place
Whilst there is a fabulous range of ready-made ‘hog houses’ to buy, making your own woodpile is much more fun and also more beneficial for the hogs. As well as providing a sheltered spot for a nest it also encourages more insects – a local supply of food for them.
For more information about hedgehogs and how you can help them, check out the British Hedgehog Preservation Society at www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk