The European hedgehog, or Erinaceus
Hedgehogs have been around for more than 15 million years! They are quite primitive creatures with features typical of early mammals, such as poor eyesight with a good sense of smell, but are unique in the animal kingdom. Hedgehogs have outlived many other species and been residents in Britain since the last Ice Age. Find out about the life cycle of a hedgehog here.
Why do hedgehogs need help?
Hedgehogs are classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity
Action Plan - a third of the British population has been lost in 10 years.
There are many contributing reasons for the decline in hedgehog numbers, both in urban and rural locations. These include impenetrable garden fencing, use of chemicals and pesticides, roads and traffic volume, and loss of hedgerows and permanent pasture.
A word about badgers: while badgers will hunt hedgehogs, there is no evidence that they are a major factor in species decline. Badgers and hedgehogs have coexisted in the UK for many thousands of years, and hedgehog numbers are falling even in areas with low badger densities.
Rustle the Hedgehog
Rustle the Hedgehog, star of the Trust's Knit for Nature campaign, wants to help you make a home for hedgehogs in your garden and has kindly demonstrated some hedgehog-friendly wildlife gardening ideas here.
Ten ways you can help hedgehogs
1) If you see hedgehogs in your garden, putting food out will encourage them to visit again and help them through the lean times, or even all year. Cat food, mealworms and sunflower seeds are good suggestions; placing the food under an upturned washing-up bowl with an entrance cut out will help keep other animals from taking it. Hedgehogs need daily access to fresh water, but cow's milk is harmful to their stomachs.
2) If you have walls or fencing, try to leave some holes at ground level so that hedgehogs can get in and out on their night-time wanderings.
3) Leave areas of the garden as natural as possible - piles of leaves under hedges, under the shed - places to sleep, nest and hibernate. Resist the temptation to tidy up too much! Why not build a hibernaculum.
4) Avoid using chemicals in your garden. In particular, slug poison may be taken by slugs which are then eaten by hedgehogs, as well as thrushes.
5) Cover drains and gullies - hedgehogs have poor eyesight but are quite curious, meaning they fall into holes and get stuck. If you have a pond, make sure hogs can climb out, using a ramp or stones, if they fall in.
6) Avoid plastic netting or at least check it daily in case animals and birds have become entangled. Bits of plastic string and the discarded netting from fat balls are also hazards.
7) Litter can be a serious problem for hedgehogs (as well as other animals). As their spines point backwards, they find it very hard to extricate themselves once entangled. Help them by picking up litter when you are out and about.
8) When cutting areas of long grass try to avoid using strimmers, which can be lethal not only for hedgehogs but also for any reptiles or amphibians sheltering there. Ensure you check for the presence of any wildlife before you cut manually.
9) If you plan to have a bonfire, move the material gently around and check that no hedgehogs are sleeping within the pile.
10) If you find a sick or injured hedgehog, or a tiny hedgehog (less than 450g) in late autumn, contact your local wildlife centre, such as the RSPCA or Secret World.
Hedgehog images © Tom Marshall