13 May 2021

How to attract hedgehogs to your garden

Hedgehog in green grass looking at camera

Hedgehogs are a prime example of amazing British wildlife, and, for many, the experience of seeing a hedgehog in their garden is incredibly exciting. To hear the snuffling sounds of these little spikey creatures roaming in your outdoor space can be a great feeling, but, for some, hedgehogs don’t seem to have much of an interest in hanging around.

Due to the growing infrastructure of the UK and the modern world, hedgehogs are finding it harder to survive. In fact, in 2020 hedgehogs were officially added to the Red List for British Mammals meaning that, unless something is done, they are vulnerable to extinction. So, not only is it lovely to have these little creatures plodding around your garden, but it’s also necessary to help them continue long into the future.

In this article, we explore some of the best ways to not only attract hedgehogs to your garden but make them repeat visitors.

Make sure you have a ‘Hedgehog Highway’

One of the main factors negatively affecting hedgehogs is the lack of mobility they are able to achieve in modern-day society. From busy roads to robust garden fences, hedgehogs are being boxed in, which, for a natural wanderer, isn’t ideal.

The first thing to examine when you are asking yourself why you don’t get hedgehogs in your garden is whether they could even get in in the first place. Check around your garden boundary for hedgehog holes (approximately 5” X 5” is the ideal size) and, if you can’t find any then make some. These holes all connect to form the so-called Hedgehog Highway, allowing hedgehogs to move freely between garden spaces.

Grace, from Hedgehog Street, a great resource for those looking to help hedgehogs in the UK, told us: “Sadly hedgehogs are declining in the UK due to various problems including habitat loss and fragmentation. One of the best things we can all do for hedgehogs is to give them access to our gardens through small 13cm x 13cm gaps in fences, also known as hedgehog highways!

“We know that gardens are a vital resource for our prickly friends as they can provide shelter and insect food. By connecting as many gardens to each other, as well surrounding areas including parks and green spaces, we can provide hedgehogs with the resources they need on their nightly travels of up to 2km.”

We spoke to Marc from Wildlife Online who also stressed the importance of this: “Broadly speaking there are two areas that you need to focus on if you’re wanting to attract hedgehogs to your garden: connectivity and desirability. It may sound obvious, but wildlife needs to be able to get into your garden and want to be there. In practice, this means CD case sized holes in fences and a garden that has plenty of food, water and cover while being free from pesticides such as slug pellets.”

Once you’ve done this, be sure to map your hedgehog hole on the Big Hedgehog Map and encourage others to do the same.

Hedgehog carrying moss to construct a nest

Encourage a wild area

As wild animals, hedgehogs are more likely to feel comfortable in wilder areas, so, a garden that’s been paved over with no plant life is not likely to draw them in. Whether you have a bigger, more natural space or a smaller more practical garden, creating a wild area or wild corner of the garden can go a long way.

To do this, pile up logs, leaves and sticks in one area and don’t interfere with them. Not only can this give hedgehogs (and other animals) a place to explore, but it can work as brilliant nesting sites and feeding areas too.

Allotment Alice told us more about how to do this, especially whilst hedgehogs are breeding: “In June and July, hedgehogs will also be breeding so it’s the perfect time to leave out some nesting materials, create a log pile hibernaculum (a hog house) in a quiet undisturbed corner, or add a compost heap or leaf pile to encourage more insect prey. Consider planting perennials that attract pollinators too. Plus, hedges, lawns for worms and beetles, and herbs such as thyme and marjoram between paving stones.”

Leave out food and water

Like all living creatures, hedgehogs have to eat and drink, and their wanderings will often be due to them looking for a meal. A great way to encourage repeat visits from hedgehogs into your garden is to make yourself known as a reliable source of food and water. You can get specialised hedgehog food in many pet stores, but hedgehogs are also fans of most cat foods (although they tend not to like seafood-based products.)

Even if there are no viable nesting sites in your garden, hedgehogs who live nearby and know you put out food will happily make the journey for some breakfast! When feeding hedgehogs, you should always try to ensure you place the food down in a similar place and not stand too close. If you have pets that may try and take the food (such as cats or dogs) you should try and keep them inside for a period of time to give hedgehogs first dibs as well.

Fay Vass, the CEO of British Hedgehog Preservation Society, gave offering food and water as one of her suggestions after explaining that “the very best thing you can do to attract hedgehogs to your garden is to make sure they’ve got a way in!” Fay continued “If you can offer them meaty cat or dog food, dry cat biscuits or a good quality hedgehog food, with of course a bowl of fresh water; leave some of your garden a bit wild; provide an undisturbed log pile; stop using chemicals and be super careful with those strimmers and mowers; you’re well on the way to having a hedgehog haven!”

Alice from Allotment Alice offers some advice for those whose garden is home to more than just hedgehogs: “To stop cats and other garden visitors pinching the food, you can make a feeding station out of an old wooden crate or plastic box, with a hedgehog-sized hole cut into it.”

Remove any obstacles or potential risks

One necessary step for anyone trying to encourage any type of wildlife into their garden is to ensure there are no obstacles or potential risks that could make the space unsafe for visitors. When it comes to hedgehogs, there are a few main threats that should be alleviated.

Ponds – Hedgehogs are great swimmers, however, many ponds don’t offer an easy exit and so hedgehogs who fall into them are unable to get out. If you have a pond, we suggest you both try to ensure nothing can fall in using a small fence or boundary and also create a platform so that anything that may fall in can use to get out again easily. Allotment Alice explains: “Ponds are an often-overlooked hedgehog friendly feature, but hedgehogs benefit greatly from a year-round water supply and are great swimmers. Ensure the sides are gently sloping so they can get in and out easily.”

Netting – It’s very easy for hedgehogs to get caught in netting and litter around your garden. Not only can they get their feet stuck, but their spikes can also be the culprit and so, when using netting in your garden, ensuring there is enough clearance underneath for hedgehogs to pass through safely is essential.

Strimming and bonfires – Whenever you are carrying out work in your garden you should ensure that there is no wildlife present in the area you’ll be changing, but two circumstances where hedgehogs often fall victim to not being checked for are strimming and bonfires. As they like to make their nests in dense, natural areas, the places people strim back and bonfire piles that have been amounting over time are prime candidates for nests. So, before strimming be sure to check the area thoroughly and, if you are having a bonfire, make sure to move the pile completely before burning to make sure it doesn’t contain any nests.

Pesticides and pellets – We often use pesticides and pellets to keep unwanted bugs or rodents from our gardens, but these can be dangerous to hedgehogs. Try to ensure you aren’t using these in your garden and, if you must, that they are only used well out of reach of hedgehogs. And remember, hedgehogs love to snack on slugs, so you won’t need any more slug pellets if you get your own resident hogs!

Small, baby hedgehog in garden alone

Do not interrupt nests

Hedgehogs will often keep a roster of nests in their mind and, as they wander, will pick a nest for the night depending on where they are (this is why it’s important to create a hedgehog highway!) But, in the summer months, mother hedgehogs will bed down to create a nest to have babies in and often will stay in that nest for a few months.

Whether it’s a single hedgehog or a mother with a litter, it’s essential you don’t’ interrupt these nests. These should be safe spaces for hedgehogs and, by interrupting them, you’re making it so they won’t want to return to that nest again. If there is a mother and babies in the nest, any interruption could cause the mother to abandon the babies out of fear for her safety, leaving them to the elements.

If you accidentally interrupt a nest, return everything as quickly as possible and make an effort to keep an eye on the nest in the coming days to see if there is any sign of a hedgehog leaving infants (known as hoglets.) If you believe babies are lost or have been left, call a local expert for advice.

Talk to your local community

It’s all well and good ensuring that your garden is hedgehog-friendly, but, if those that surround you aren’t then you may not get hedgehogs anyway. For those who are keen on encouraging the hedgehog population in their space, talking to neighbours and the local community to discuss setting up a hedgehog highway and hedgehog-friendly gardens can be the best bet. As we know, hedgehogs are wanderers and will have multiple nesting sites and so, just one garden isn’t enough for them.

One great way to get this started is by becoming a Hedgehog Champion with Hedgehog Street. Hedgehog Street is a great resource that allows people to record hedgehog sightings, so you can see how many have been spotted in your local area and how many hedgehog holes there are too. You’ll also get some great resources to help you when talking to neighbours and the local community and give you great advice on how to help your local hedgehog population.

How to attract hedgehogs into your garden:

  • Make sure you have a ‘Hedgehog Highway’
  • Encourage a wild area
  • Leave out food and water
  • Remove any obstacles or potential risks
  • Do not interrupt nests

Hedgehogs are a brilliant part of UK fauna and can make beloved visitors to your garden, offering hours of entertainment watching them forage around and maybe even raising their babies. With these tips, not only will you be able to attract hedgehogs into your garden, but they should become return visitors as well.

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