How To Help Britain’s Hedgehogs

In September 2020, the RSPB claimed that the UK has been “overly optimistic” in its assessment of its performance against biodiversity targets, and has lost ground or made no progress in six of the key areas.

The UK had committed to meeting 20 natural conservation goals by the end of 2020. However, the Government has said that it has only met a quarter of the targets – but the RSPB state that the reality is even worse.

41% of UK wildlife is in decline, and one of these animals is the hedgehog. Once a frequent visitor to gardens up and down the country, nobody is sure exactly how many are left. But it is thought that we have lost half of our wildlife since the millennium alone.

If you are here because you have found a hedgehog in your garden and need advice, contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society or find a local centre through Help Wildlife

What is causing a fall in hedgehog numbers?

In the UK, there are several reasons why hedgehog numbers are dropping.

People are paving over their gardens or using plastic artificial grass, in order to easily maintain their outdoor space. This is no good for hedgehogs who forage for bugs.

Gardens also have high fences for more residential protection, so hedgehogs can no longer travel miles in the usual directions. Ponds, strimmers and netting are also hazardous.

More homes are generally being built, which is destroying ecosystems on a huge scale. Intensive agriculture has led to the reduction of habitats such as woodland and hedges, resulting in fewer places to nest, hibernate and forage. Roads and motorways pose a danger, and pesticides have reduced the number of bugs and natural food sources for many wild animals, like caterpillars and worms.

The use of slug pellets is also a concern. Slugs are a main source of food for hedgehogs, but obviously, humans are not fans of these slimy creatures.

How to help hedgehogs

But people do want to help, which has led to a huge rise in people wondering how best to do this.

Hedgehogs usually hibernate between November and mid-March, so throughout the summer, you may have some spikey visitors to your garden.

Project #AmazingGrace, part of Dr Brian May’s Save Me Trust campaign, has created a Five Point Charter full of tips on how to help the European hedgehog in your garden, from attracting them to keeping them safe.

They told Petz: “The idea is that people choose from each section and make changes in their garden depending on the space they have and what works for them”.

Access & Egress

Can hedgehogs get into your garden? They love to roam. Some hedgehogs can travel up to a mile per night. It is no use having the perfect mini eco-system if they can’t get into your garden.

Cut out Hedgehog Holes in your fences, roughly the size of a CD, or a three-inch gap at the base of gates if a hole isn’t possible. Ensure this hole is always kept clear. If you have a large garden, you may want to consider several holes.

Ask your neighbours if they would also consider doing this, and you can make a full Hedgehog Highways spanning a large distance.

Slugs & Bugs

Bring in your local invertebrates by planting native plants, wildflowers and vegetables.

Compost heaps will bring in worms, and woodpiles bring in a whole host of bugs. You can also keep your grass on the longer side to attract wildlife.

If you want to limit pests such as slugs on flowerbeds, use safe means. Eggshells scattered around can prevent slugs from going near anything you want to be protected.

Remember, it is about preventing pests you don’t want, not killing them. Slug pellets can be eaten by hedgehogs, causing poisoning.

Nesting & Resting

Compost heaps, piles of leaves and even enough space under your shed can provide warmth and cover for your hedgehogs (and their hoglets) to rest throughout the day, and through winter. You could even cut a hole in a greenhouse windowpane to allow them to come and go.

A hedge is one of the easiest ways to provide shelter if it is practical. Here, they can forage, rest and raise their young. Native hedges will attract egg-laying moths, increasing your stock of caterpillars, which hedgehogs love.

Drink or Drown

Hedgehogs need water like the rest of us – but don’t make it too deep. A simple shallow dish with gravel in it will ensure they don’t drown, but will also prevent too much water from evaporating.

They can swim, but not for too long, so ensure all ponds have a safe way of getting in and out and cover up swimming pools if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Do or Die

A lot of products in your garden can be hazardous to hedgehogs.

  • Check drain covers are secure
  • Get rid of netting or put it 8 inches off the ground
  • Don’t leave garden chemicals out or use slug killer
  • Check your grass and hedges before you cut them
  • Create clear paths – don’t fill your patio up with too many pots close together

How do I know if I have hedgehogs in my garden?

Hedgehogs can be hard to detect, especially in the summer when it only goes dark close to your bedtime.

Look out for footprints, which look like little hands with four toes. Droppings are another clear sign – they are usually dark brown-grey or black. They should be firm and contain the exoskeletons of the bugs they have been eating.

Leave some piles of leaves out and you may see they are moved when it approaches hibernation months. Of course, the clearest way to know is by installing a night-detecting wildlife camera!

As many as 10 hedgehogs could visit a garden in a single night, so if you see one, there is a good chance there will be others too

Use the Big Hedgehog Map to see if others have spotted any in your area, and also ask around your neighbours!

Keeping hedgehogs hydrated & fed

Hedgehogs eat mainly ground beetles, caterpillars,  worms and slugs. But in colder or drier months these become scarce. So, what can you feed a wild hedgehog?

You can provide them with a shallow dish of water and supplementary feeding at these times. As it is supplementary, you must provide a mix of foods to ensure they are getting everything they need from it.

You can give them meat-based wet dog or cat foods, or dry kitten biscuits. There is also dedicated hedgehog food out there now from Spike’s!

Read our full guide on how to feed hedgehogs with a cat or dog food.

You can also stop cats, foxes and other animals from getting to it by building a dedicated hedgehog feeding station. Don’t worry – hedgehogs have a very high sense of smell so will still be able to sniff it out!

Save Me Trust has a recipe for wildlife dehydration fluid you can make at home: 1 litre of water, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt

What to do if you find a hedgehog in your garden

Hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal. In most cases, if you see one about at night, this is completely normal!

If their eyes are open, they’re not in immediate danger, and they seem to be moving around, monitor them from a distance. If you’re concerned, you can try offering food and fresh water.

But there are certain situations where you may need to act.

When was the hedgehog seen?

How you react depends on when they are in your garden.

  • Summer Nights

Nighttimes between April and October are when you would expect to see hedgehogs out and about. They will usually come out when it is dark or going dark, and can travel for miles in one night so it is common to see them milling about in suitable gardens!

  • Daytime

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, but seeing them out in the day doesn’t always warrant an extreme reaction. Because this is a complicated topic, you can read our full guide on what to do if you find a hedgehog out during the day below

  • Late Autumn Or Early Winter

Hedgehogs go into hibernation for the winter in October/November and come out around March/April, so seeing any in this time frame can be worrying.

They may be looking for extra food as they are underweight, in which case if they do look thin, you will need to take a closer look. Contact a wildlife centre for advice, and get prepared to have to weigh them

A hedgehog that weighs under 600 grams will probably not make it through to the spring – between 550 and 680g is ideal

They may also be about if their habitat is destroyed, such as someone moving a leaf pile they were sleeping in. Most will still be quite sleepy, so try to pick them up and take them to a safe, warm secluded spot away from other potential hedgehog families just in case they’re not related.

Bear in mind that studies have also found that the timings of natural activity are also a bit out of sync at the moment. It is thought a combination of global warming, extreme weather and lockdown have caused animals to start coming out at different times, as well as flowers to bud earlier and birds to migrate out of season. So, still, contact a wildlife charity, but understand this may become the norm.

What to do if you find a hedgehog out during the day

Female hogs can sometimes be seen foraging in the late afternoons when they are building a nest or feeding their young; they will be active and bright-eyed. There are simply not enough hours in the day sometimes!

Well-meaning people can pick them up or move them thinking that they are ill when it isn’t the case, leading to their young dying from cold, hunger or predation if they can’t find their way back. Hedgehogs know their local area very well, and there is no guarantee it is the same as the one which visits your garden every night.

At other times, hedgehogs whose nests have been disturbed may be seen walking to another nest site during the day. This will be done purposefully, as though they are hunting out shelter, so these also should be left to go on their way.

The above scenarios can be rare but are normal – watch their movements from a distance to see whether everything seems okay.

But it is cause for concern if they have their eyes closed, seem to be sunbathing, have spikes missing, are generally lethargic, or seem to be a young hoglet. Hoglets making noises is also concerning.

They may also be cold if the weather isn’t very nice. It can also be concerning if they seem very thin as they may not make it through winter.

Call your nearest wildlife centre for advice if something doesn’t seem right and follow our guide on how to pick one up below. The Hedgehog Rescue website has more information on every situation.

What to do if you find a baby hedgehog

As mentioned above, young hoglets out during the day is a particular concern. Watch from a distance if they seem to be otherwise healthy, as they may have just got their first taste of freedom and not realised they shouldn’t be out at this time.

But if they seem to be very young (as in too young to move) and alone, their eyes are closed, or in immediate danger, act by following our handling guide below. You can try feeding them, but if they don’t accept it, chances are they are not weaned so you need to contact a wildlife centre.

Should I return a hedgehoglet to its nest?

If the mother isn’t about you can, but ensure there is no scent left. If the mother is about, it is best to take it to a wildlife centre for rehabilitation to limit the risk of the mother abandoning the rest of the nest or killing the young.

Also, check you place it in the correct nest. If you know there are a few families around, you may risk putting the young into the wrong family which can lead to the nest being abandoned or young killed.

What to do if a hedgehog is on the road

A road is a place of danger for wildlife. But moving a hedgehog when it isn’t necessary is also a dangerous activity.

If you live near a busy road, they can be likely to avoid it. If it is quiet, they can risk crossing it, but this may be their everyday habit if they are hunting for food or building a nest.

Warn people that they are there – put up signs, and have a word with local residents. If you watch them, you may also see that they are likely nesting on one side and therefore hunting on the other side. Try putting out food to prevent them from needing to cross.

If they are actually on the road, and you’re worried about cars, you can quickly use gloves or a towel to pick them up and set them on the other side. Don’t do this unless you’re sure they could be hit, and don’t risk your own life to stop traffic.

I have disturbed a hedgehog nest – what do I do?

You may unknowingly destroy a hedgehog nest. They can hibernate anywhere, from underneath sheds to compost bins, and you don’t always know they are there.

Generally, we would say to not undertake any huge gardening projects during hibernation months because of the risk. But if you have disturbed a nest, ring a rescue for help. Every situation is different so you will need catered advice.

In general, you should try to keep the mother with the babies, avoid touching them and keep a very close eye. The mother can return to the nest and move them herself in some cases if the coast is clear.

Never interfere with a nest of babies, as the mother could abandon or kill them.

My dog has hurt a hedgehog

It can be hard trying to balance wildlife with domestic animals. Generally, the latter must give way to the former, however.

Hedgehogs have been recorded as being injured by badgers, foxes and domestic dogs. We say injured because they are unlikely to be killed – those spikes are there for a reason!

But if your dog does hurt a hedgehog, you need to contact a wildlife centre straight away. They will likely have sustained injuries and will need to be rehabilitated and also get over the shock.

Do check if your dog is okay too – spines or injuries to the mouth or paws may be present.

Do hedgehogs have fleas and ticks?

Helping wildlife should be your main thought, but it can be a worry if you’re concerned about parasites or have other pets in your home.

Hedgehog fleas are host-specific, so won’t live on your dog or cat. It is also unlikely they will manage to get onto your soft furnishings but do use flea home treatment if you’re concerned. You also don’t need to worry if you have hedgehogs in the garden where your dog or cat frequents (although do always check them over).

If a hedgehog is covered in more than a couple of ticks, they could suffer from anaemia in future, so these should be removed.

How to handle a hedgehog

As wild animals, being handled could be traumatic. This should only be done if you’re sure you need to intervene.

  1. Prepare a cardboard box with high sides by lining it with a towel or scrunched up newspaper
  2. Use gardening gloves to scoop the hedgehog up and place it gently into the box
  3. Keep the box in a quiet, warm place. You can use a hot water bottle filled with warm tap water to keep them warm underneath the towels

Don’t use a hot water bottle if they are bleeding as this will cause them to bleed more quickly. Also, ensure the bottle doesn’t go cold

  1. Place some food and water in the bo with them, but don’t force them to eat
  2. If you’re taking the hedgehog to a rescue centre, ensure there is enough padding in the box so they don’t move about when being transported. Check that food and water can’t spill out