For years I’d dismissed the advice on helping hedgehogs…now my garden is a place where I have to watch my footing as they emerge in numbers after dusk
It’s become somewhat predictable to be faced with a dark cloud when it comes to bearing the reports on the status of wildlife around the U.K. Among those species declared endangered is the much loved hedgehog, the prickly emblem of pastoral Britain, who, despite its dwindling numbers, continues to find its face printed on cute cards and cushions throughout the adoring nation.
If you’re more partial to welcoming the real thing, a couple of minor adjustments to your garden could see you playing host to a hedgehog assembly sooner than you might expect. Since getting to work in May, they have become a regular occurrence in my garden, casting their spiky shadows against the shed walls and twitching their button noses through the tickle of grass as their flaring nostrils detect the day’s residue.
Such sights never fail to be a joy to behold, and have all been possible thanks to the very simple advice given by the campaign group Hedgehog Street.
I first became aware of Hedgehog Street through an article in the London Evening Standard, calling to ‘make the great hedgehog highway an inspiring reality’, in honour of the group’s central appeal. After a little more digging, the cause behind the call seemed clear: in order to survive, hedgehogs need to cover large distances, and this is being increasingly denied to them by modern land management and exhaustive agricultural landscapes.
The good news is, doing your bit to make the highway a reality is really rather simple: create a 13cm by 13cm hole at the base of your fences, allowing hedgehogs access from at least two ends of your garden. I simply drilled a few holes along the suggested diameter and then used a hammer to knock the shape through, before finally sanding over the rough edges for a smooth entry. Not only will this small step be a significant contribution to hedgehog survival, but you may be surprised how quickly they appear.
To heighten your chances of letting them know a new passage is available, try putting food out. There’s a lot they can eat, but I’ve been advised against giving bread and milk (think of them as being legitimately dairy and yeast intolerant). I use a mixture of dried dog food, sunflower seeds and a few meal worms (mmmm). Some of my favourite images, like the one above, were created when I tried scattering a trail of the latter along the pictured log one night. Commitment to their favourite snack was never in doubt, as one after the other, each participant hoisted itself up in a bold effort to reach for every prize-worm it could sniff out; all in a fashion that appeared quite endearing.
Other than proving to be very photogenic, observing my garden visitors up close has thrown up a few surprises, the biggest one being how nimble they are on their feet. Maybe my assumption that the ‘Sonic’ in ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ was ironic was what has mislead me all of these years. The offending company of a fellow Sonic is normally enough to trigger a bed-of-coal style dash, with a prickly garden sculpture becoming a lightly swaying bush before you can blink. They’re also not quite the mute mammals I was expecting, especially when it comes to dining. In fact, listening to a hedgehog milling away on its food will remind you of the time you were stuck next to a person that decided to ‘pop’ their Pringles on the quiet carriage of a Virgin Pendolino.
If you think your tolerance levels can take it, like me, you may want to go one step further by providing a potential home or shelter. Hedgehog Street also provide some simple options here, from the minimal DIY to specially made store available houses that would put certain human residences in the U.K. to shame. My hedgehog home is tucked away in the recesses of the garden, bedded down with leaves and twigs to help retain its dryness. In order to familiarise the hedgehogs that enter the garden with the facilities, I tend to occasionally leave some food and water next to the house, and I’ve often seen the odd one wonder into the entrance only to emerge again minutes later following an assessment of the facilities. This ensures that the home is pinned in the hedgehog’s route map, and could provide a safe haven or even a hibernation home at the crucial time (usually around October to November).
Conservation campaigns like the one being voiced by Hedgehog Street are often met with people feeling unconvinced by the role they can actively play in protecting or providing for nature. I was almost convinced that following the advice of the conservationists would not be worth my while or indeed the hedgehogs’. Albeit, by replacing armchair ignorance with simple garden heroics, I can now experience the privilege of spending time with one of our most loved species and feel better about playing an active role in ensuring its future survival.
That said, it takes more than a few people to create a highway; for the time and effort it takes to link your garden, it can make a huge difference, and who wouldn’t want to help hedgehogs?
Link to the marvelous Hedgehog Street: