Gardens are important refuges for some of our elusive mammals who now find the countryside an increasingly hostile place. A good example is the rarely seen hedgehog, whose numbers have been declining and the latest figures suggest a quarter of the population has been lost in the last 10 years. Everything a hedgehog needs can be provided by gardens and as they eat mainly beetles, slugs and earthworms there is every incentive to attract them! We just need to be aware of what they don’t like.
No slug pellets!
Using pesticides is the most important thing to avoid, particularly slug pellets as these poisons will affect the hedgehogs too, not to mention other wildlife and in particular birds such as thrushes and blackbirds.
Leaving some areas of the garden to become wilder, with log piles or heaps of leaves will provide undisturbed places for them to nest and sleep.
The increasing use of wooden fencing around gardens hasn’t helped as hedgehogs will naturally travel large distances in search of food and now find themselves much more restricted. The easy solution is to have some gaps in the fence just big enough for a hedgehog to squeeze through.
Ponds are a wonderful addition to any garden providing habitat for many species, including some potential food species for hedgehogs, but it’s important that there is a shallow, sloping end to allow any intrepid swimmers to climb out!
The vegetable garden can be a hazardous place if there is any protective netting as hedgehogs with their poor eyesight can get themselves entangled, so it does need regularly checking. Strimmers and lawnmowers are potentially very dangerous for mammals which can’t move away quickly. It’s always a good idea to just go through an area first to check for anyone taking a nap which of coarse could include frogs, toads or even a grass snake.
Use a little cat food
Having safely negotiated the hazards of the spring and summer hedgehogs now have to make sure they’ve eaten enough to sustain them through the cold months and find a place to hibernate. So again gardeners can help at this crucial time by ensuring there are plenty of supplies, possibly with a little extra in the form of cat food and by providing potential hibernation sites in the deliberately untidy areas.
Which other mammals use my garden?
The other mammals which are likely to be secretly using our gardens, flitting silently through are the bats. Bats populations generally are decreasing so that gardens with plenty of insects and ideally a pond can be an important resource for the more common species. Corridors of insect-rich habitat provide vital links for these far-ranging aerial hunters and gardens can play their part.
Is your garden wildlife friendly?
Answer four quick questions to assess your garden and receive one of our free 'This is a Wildlife Garden' plaques.
You can make a difference
The exciting fact is that gardeners can really make a difference by just giving a little thought to the wildlife which may potentially find refuge in our carefully tended gardens however small. The rewards are many, not least the chance of attracting some unexpected, rare visitors!
For more information
1. Read our top ten tips for wildlife friendly gardening
2. Read more about mammals with the Somerset Mammal Group