Wildlife conservation isn’t just about the rainforests of Brazil or the jungles of the Amazon, it relates to our countryside too. There are many animals in Britain which are becoming endangered, such as certain species of owls and voles, as well as bumblebees, due to our changing lifestyles, garden makeovers and declining habitats.
Hedgehogs are facing a danger of extinction within the next 20 years. There is increasing competition for resources and more threat of attack from larger animals. One of our Members, Margaret Holland FILS, is very keen to help our wildlife and has kindly written an article on how we can help encourage hedgehogs into our gardens, providing them with a place of safety.
The Arrival of Hedgehogs in the Spring
At this time of the year, hedgehogs will be waking up from their hibernation and exploring for food and water.
You can start by providing your local hedgehogs with a bowl of fresh water. A shallow, heavy pottery dog bowl is ideal, as the thickness helps to keep the water cool and the wide base and weight prevent it from tipping. It needs to be placed on a hedgehog run or close to where hedgehogs hibernate, which means it could be used quite frequently. Just as darkness is falling, the bowl should be topped up with clear water for overnight visits.
Soft cat and dog food is ideal, as it contains vitamins and minerals which will help to keep hedgehogs fit. Obviously, cats, dogs and other animals also like this, so it is a problem to keep it entirely for the hedgehogs, but they have been known to share their eating vessel. Covering the bowl with something light will help to keep other animals away.
If cats and hedgehogs are eating together, the milk for the cats should be kept either permanently indoors or placed above floor level in a place inaccessible to the hedgehogs. Milk should never be placed where a hedgehog can reach it. This is because it contains lactose, which can often cause diarrhoea. This results in dehydration and if not treated can cause death.
Bread is also unsuitable for hedgehogs, as it is indigestible. Its digestive system mostly copes with protein from worms and other insects which the animal finds on its nightly wanderings.
It is possible to buy dried hedgehog food from a pet supplier. There are boxes of dry, triangular shapes – like tiny dog biscuits which help to protect the teeth and gums – which they adore. Also there are assorted bags which include dry food mixed with a variety of chopped fruits.
A few pieces of wood can be nailed together to make a little house so that any food left out for them is protected from the rain and other animals. Ideally it should look something like an upturned box with a hole in one side. The measurements for anyone wanting to make one are approximately 12" × 12", with sides 4"–5" high. In one of the sides, an archway needs to be cut, around 4" high × 4" wide. The top of this box should be hinged with an overlap so it is possible to lift the lid to see inside.
In order that local neighbourhood cats cannot get at the dish of soft food, a house brick inside – placed so as to create a chicane they cannot curl around – is ideal. A second brick on the top can help to prevent any larger animal getting inside and taking the box away on its back!
Hedgehogs, being nocturnal, leave their sleeping quarters around dusk. Once it is dark, they can be heard foraging beneath trees or in bushes looking for worms, insects and slugs. They can cover a wide area during the night and then return at daybreak.
If ever a hedgehog is seen during the hours of daylight, either walking around or lying outside the nest, then it is necessary to find out why. There is normally something wrong and it should be taken straight to a wildlife rescue centre. Vets may help but only for medication. On two occasions during the last five years, I have found that on each occasion a visit to our hospital centre necessitated a stay of about three weeks. One animal was badly dehydrated and another one was not well enough to survive the winter without specialised help.
There are many wildlife rescue centres around, St Tiggywinkles being the largest one, mostly supported by donations. This centre can sometimes be seen on television and last year it was visited by Autumn Watch and some of the animals were televised. This famous centre can be found at Haddenham, near Aylesbury and the people there can give advice over the telephone. They will also provide the address of a local wildlife centre. St Tiggywinkles can be contacted by telephone on 01844 292292 or email at email@example.com.
In order to persuade hedgehogs to return to our gardens, there are one or two things which can entice them. If there is a woodwork enthusiast in the family, an insulated house placed beneath a tree under foliage or alongside bushes will be appreciated. It should have a door at one side of the long wall to prevent draughts and be half-filled with hay. Suitable houses can be purchased from garden centres but can be quite costly.
Hedgehogs are attracted to the smell of cat or dog food in a feeding area and ensuring that some is available each night will encourage their return after their nocturnal excursions. If you do this, they will have no need to look elsewhere.
In return for all this, your garden will be protected from slugs, beetles, snails and many other garden pests. The hedgehog is a much more efficient means of getting rid of these than poisonous slug pellets, which can do them and other wildlife harm.