How to help hedgehogs in autumn

How to help hedgehogs in autumn

©Tom Marshall

Autumn leaves strewn across our gardens, parks and towns are like a magical sprinkling of treasure for one of the UK’s most elusive creatures. Hedgehogs regularly come out top in surveys of favourite wildlife amongst the British public, and fallen leaves offer vital nest-making materials as they prepare to hibernate.

No wonder they’re popular, because they’re amazing – and not just because they’re cute. They can smell an insect even if it’s two cm under the ground. They have between 5000-7000 spines, and, incredibly, they can travel between one and two km in a night. Shockingly, however, their populations have declined in the past 50 years from 30 million to 500,000.

Luckily, we can help by creating habitats for them - including hedgehog houses. That's what people living near one of our My Wild City sites on Bristol's Northern Slopes did last week. As part of a week-long hedgehog project with Knowle West Media Centre, locals were invited to build homes for the hedgehogs in their community.  You can do this yourself by getting an old box such as a wooden wine crate, wood to make a tunnel, and then filling the box with dry leaves or straw to keep the hedgehogs warm. Put it in the quietest part of the garden and cover with leaves or logs.

As 5 November approaches, it’s important to remember that bonfires are dangerous for hedgehogs. Woodpiles make ideal shelter, and sadly many hedgehogs fall foul of un-checked bonfires and are killed because of it. So here is a useful check-list:

  • Build the bonfire on the same day that you will light it. The longer it’s left, the more likely a hedgehog will wander in.
  • Place chicken wire one metre high, at an outward angle, all the way around the bottom while you're building it.
  • Always place the bonfire on open ground – never on a pile of leaves as a hedgehog may be hiding underneath.
  • Always check the entire bonfire for hedgehogs before lighting it. They tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet in particular. 
  • When checking, lift parts of the bonfire section by section using a pole or broom. Do not use a fork, spade or rake as this may injure a hedgehog.
  • Use a torch to look inside the bonfire and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise that hedgehogs make when they are disturbed or distressed.
  • Light your bonfire from one corner, rather than in the centre, in order to give hedgehogs a chance to escape if they need to.

If you do find a hedgehog, move slowly. Pick it up with gardening gloves, along with any nesting material it may have been sitting in, and place it in a cardboard box lined with newspaper. Relocate the box to a safe location that is far from any fires, or wait until the bonfire is over and dampen down the fire site with water before releasing the hedgehog under a bush.

Of course, you can support hedgehogs at any time of the year – and you can start making a difference right away. Stop using pesticides, for example. Insects are key to their diet – in fact, an adult hog can eat over 100 in one night. Pesticides kill off insect populations and can have a fatal effect on other wildlife and pets. Leave any fallen leaves, because they are perfect for nest-building. Take care when gardening, especially if you’re using a strimmer – leaf piles, log piles, compost heaps, garden sheds and long grass are favoured hog hang outs. Sowing native wildflowers now or in spring will attract amazing insects that provide food for hedgehogs and other wildlife - you could even head to our urban wildlife nursery in Bristol, Grow Wilder. to choose some beautiful native plants for your garden.  Get together with your neighbours to create a hedgehog highway in your street, and contact your local council to encourage them to take action for hedgehogs too.

Finally, if you find a hedgehog that’s very small, injured, or sick you can contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for rehabilitators in your area (01584 890801). Let’s help our favourite prickly creatures thrive.