Many of us will remember as children seeing a snuffling hedgehog shuffling through the garden at night, but sadly this prickly native species is in serious decline in the UK.
According to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, around a quarter of Britain's population was lost during the first ten years of this century, and the loss of natural habitats such as hedgerows and grassland, and pesticides that destroy their prey are thought to be part of the problem.
These spiney creatures do, however, survive well in urban and suburban areas given the right conditions. Here's what you can do to help the hedgehog survive.
Though their natural habitat is on the decline, hedgehogs will happily make a home of their own in a wildlife-friendly garden. 'Wild' areas, a board against a pile of bricks, and piles of brushwood and leaves in a quiet, shady areas may all encourage a prickly visitor to make your garden home, but there are also purpose-built hedgehog houses, specifically designed to protect them from predators, available to buy.
However, remember that if they can't get into your garden, any potential 'homes' will go unused no matter how cosy. And since hedgehogs travel around one mile on a night out, it's an idea to create an access point if you have an enclosed garden. This can be as simple as removing one brick at the bottom of a wall, or cutting a 15cm gap in a garden fence, allowing a hedgehog to go about its business.
If you're a keen gardener, then a regular visiting hedgehog will make a welcome addition. Their natural diet consists largely of slugs, beetles, caterpillars, worms and various insects, many of which are well-known garden pests. Should the weather turn cold or very dry though, you can give them a helping hand with supplementary feeding.
Meat-based cat or dog food will always be welcome, as will unsalted, chopped peanuts, sunflower hearts, dried meal worms and dried fruit. If you are concerned about encouraging other less welcome wildlife in, you can place food in a hedgehog-friendly shelter, made from bricks or piping. And since hedgehogs are nocturnal, it's best to put food out at sunset so that flies do not land. If it's still there in the morning, take it up and get rid of it.
Stay away from the traditional bread and milk, however, as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and likely to suffer diahorrhea if given cow's milk. Keeping a shallow bowl filled with fresh water will ensure they have refreshment on hand.
As well as creating a naturally welcoming environment for hedgehogs, it's important to be aware of the dangers to our prickly friends. Drains, nets and litter all pose problems, as hedgehogs frequently become trapped, so ensure that litter is disposed of safely, drains and holes are well covered, and nets are tied up off the ground when not in use at night. If you have a garden pond, it's an idea to add bricks that can be used as steps should a hedgehog accidentally fall in.
They may also nest or rest in long grass or piles of leaves, so be careful when mowing or strimming in the garden, and try to leave some wild areas. Compost heaps and bonfires are also tempting hibernation homes for hedgehogs, so careful to check that there no animals sheltering there, particularly when the weather turns cold between November and mid-March.
Slug pellets may also pose a problem for hedgehogs. Though evidence suggests they would need to consume a large amount to be killed by the active ingredient metaldehyde, some research suggests it may affect reproduction, so it's an idea to look for alternative methods. And remember, a hedgehog will be only too pleased to help out with nightly slug patrol.
Join Hedgehog Street
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is doing its utmost to help this native species survive and thrive, and they can use your help. Via their Hedgehog Street campaign, you can become a 'Hedgehog Champion' by creating hedgehog-friendly habitats in your local area, and encouraging neighbours and the local community to join the cause. They are also running a hibernation survey this summer, to record sightings of hedgehogs.
So if you'd like to help in keeping these cute critters alive and well, visit Hedgehogstreet.org for more information.
Have you successfully encouraged hedgehogs into your garden? Leave your comments below...