How to turn your garden into a hedgehog haven
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A Caithness-based model and animal rights activist is calling for the public to get "hedgehog aware" this autumn to help with dwindling numbers of the prickly little creatures.
Natalie Oag, of Lyth, had a recent visitor to her garden in the shape of a hedgehog she named Puck.
"He has taken residence in my garden and is enjoying moving between two different hedgehog houses we built," said Natalie.
As he prepares for hibernation, Puck is gathering leaves in his hedgehog house and fattening himself up for the months ahead. Natalie says his top three meals are dog food, chicken slices and his overall favourite is corned beef.
"I have learnt so much from this enjoyable experience and have fallen in love with these cute little creatures. They are fascinating and one fact I did not know, they even enjoy having a little swim in a shallow pond."
Natalie's research, however, showed that hedgehog numbers have been falling steadily for a number of years.
"Since 2002 it’s been estimated that we have lost more than 30 per cent of the UK population meaning there is less than one million in the wild."
Several factors have impacted hedgehog numbers including an increase in road casualties due to more traffic; agricultural intensification; destruction of hedgerows; and use of pesticides.
"We could all do a little bit to help the cute little critters this Autumn by welcoming them into our gardens. Hedgehogs are a gardener's best friend – they are very beneficial, eating all the slugs and snails."
The drop in temperature signals the hedgehog to prepare for hibernation which usually stretches from October/November until March/April. However, if the weather is mild some hedgehogs can remain active into December.
Studies have shown that hedgehogs will move their nesting sites at least once during the winter, so you may see one out and about when you least expect it.
Natalie points out a few simple steps to make your garden a hedgehog sanctuary this autumn:
- Provide access – hedgehogs love having the run of the garden and being able to exit via a little hole in the fence or under the gate.
- Remove hazards – check that you have no drains or holes that could potentially trap the hedgehog. Get rid of netting and avoid slug pellets they can be mistaken as food.
- Make a hedgehog house – hedgehogs live anywhere they can find shelter. You can buy a hedgehog house or make one.
- Log piles provide a secure site for breeding or hibernating and with masses of insects in residence they can snack on.
- Compost heaps or leaf piles are another favourite.
She said there is special hedgehog food at pet shops but they also eat chicken or meat puppy food; cooked chicken or raw mince; and chopped unsalted nuts. Leave water out for them but not milk or bread as it can make them sick.
"Pick a corner of your garden and let it become overgrown," added Natalie. "This will provide a great area for hedgehogs to hibernate and nesting spots to go undisturbed and also encourage more insects – a good source of protein for them."
She suggests planting trees like oak, apple and hornbeam whose fallen leaves are a perfect size for hedgehog nests.
"Once you turn your garden into a hedgehog heaven remember it’s important to keep them safe. Check for hedgehogs before using lawnmowers and strimmers; avoid the use of pesticides – they can be fatal to hedgehogs; be careful with bonfires – build in daylight and check before lighting; and look through compost heaps before raking them."
The changing of the seasons has an impact on us all, says Natalie.
"However, when it comes to one of Britain’s most iconic mammals with his little cone-shaped face, short legs and prickly spine we can help increase numbers by helping them survive the winter."
The Scottish SPCA has also launched an appeal for non-fish based tinned dog and cat food to feed the hungry hogs.
Anna Keen, operations manager at the National Wildlife Rescue Centre said: “Hedgehogs generally come in to our care at this time of year because they are underweight. They need to be a certain weight to be able to hibernate."
She added that due to the high volume of hedgehogs at the centre, the Society is going through over 40 cans of food a day. If you wish to donate food to the SSPCA hedgehog appeal please follow this link: www.amazon.co.uk/registry/wishlist/F1JIQ67WYHNA