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Hedgehogs in the Garden
By Ark Wildlife
5th September 2013
What you can do to help attract and encourage hedgehogs in your garden.
Hedgehogs require safe nests for sleeping, breeding and most importantly hibernation. These sites must be waterproof, warm, well ventilated and safe from predators and sadly more and more commonly safe from man. Hedgerows, fallen trees, wild areas and derelict buildings made up these suitable sites but our modern farming and gardening methods leave fewer suitable sites available to the hedgehog.
Every year hedgehogs are accidentally killed and injured in large numbers by strimmers, mowers, forks and fire as they seek nest sites in thickets, compost heaps and long grass. Additionally, research shows that 28% of hedgehogs fail to survive each winter, with severity of weather having the greatest impact. The weight of the adult hedgehog being key to survival. Any juvenile or hoglet found after the end of September weighing 500g or less will not survive without additional feeding.
Hedgehogs forage over wide areas up to 3-4 miles a night. You can encourage them to visit your garden regularly by providing access via a 4.5 inch gap in fences etc. along with food and water at night throughout the summer. Providing a permanent shelter for sleeping will tempt them to set up home and a female hedgehog may even use a hedgehog house to have her young.
Siting your Hedgehog House
In autumn as the days shorten and nights get cooler hedgehogs seek warm dry winter quarters suitable for hibernation. Once found they will begin to collect leaves, dry grass, brush, etc to form a nest.
By placing a purpose built hedgehog house in a quiet shaded position in your garden with an entrance hole out of the weather (ideally facing East to South), part filled with handfuls of leaves, grass or hay to initiate a nest, you will be providing a hedgehog with a model nesting site.
Hedgehog houses can simply be placed in a suitable location in the garden and left, but if you prefer you can also partially bury them in the ground, under a log pile, compost heap or similar. Ventilation is provided at roof level and the entrance hole is slightly raised to accommodate this action (if you intend to partially bury your hedgehog house we recommend placing roofing felt or plastic sheets under the runners to keep an air space under the box and reduce excess dampness in the nest chamber).
Once the hedgehog box is in position try to keep your distance and visits to a minimum as human smells and unnecessary disturbance may deter hedgehogs from taking up residence. To check if an animal is using the house place a small light object (grass, etc) in front of the entrance to see if it gets pushed away.
What to feed your hedgehog
Ideally look for a complete hedgehog food such as Ark Hedgehog Food Original that offers the correct balance of nutrition and vitamins that our wild European hedgehogs need. However, hedghogs are omnivorious and much like humans enjoy a mixed and varied diet. So in addition to their main food, try supplementing their diet with wet, meat-based tinned pet food as well as calcium worms, or a good quality hedgehog muesli. Make sure these have no added salt or sugar and have been balanced for calium and phosphorous. Do not feed bread or milk to hedgehogs as this may cause diarrhoea.
Make sure there is a shallow dish of clean fresh water every night for hedgehogs and other wildlife that may visit your garden.
If you find cats and other animals are attracted to these meals, try offering non meaty proprietary hedgehog foods or a handful of calcium worms or crushed peanuts.
Maintaining your Hedgehog House
Hedgehogs carry many parasites such as ticks and fleas and in the wild will change nest sites regularly to avoid a build up of pests. In the garden we can help by cleaning out the nest chamber in April and October (post hibernation and post breeding season) as long as the house is empty. Remove and destroy all old bedding material and clean the interior with boiling water and/or scrubbing with slightly soapy water or veterinary approved disinfectant. Allow drying to take place before replacing the roof and then add new dry, clean bedding ready for the next occupant.
A well sited hedgehog house should be in a secluded area out of the weather but still allowing good air circulation. In such positions a purpose built Hedgehog House will last for many years with no further treatment. However, to increase the useful life of your hedgehog house indefinitely you may prefer to add additional protection, in which case you can cover the lid with roofing felt and apply a water based preservative (outside only) bi-annually. Do not use creosote or use a solvent/oil-based preservative because the fumes are toxic. There are lots of animal safe water based preservatives available from good hardware stores.
Hedgehogs naturally carry fleas and ticks and healthy animals will not be affected by them. If you find a hedgehog with excess ticks or in poor condition during the day, please consult a vet or your local hedgehog carer (see contacts below).
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