In urban areas, private gardens are often the most suitable habitats for hedgehogs. There is typically plenty of vegetation - and therefore there are plenty of insects, slugs and other invertebrates for hedgehogs to eat - and there are usually limited paved surfaces. However, gardens are not without their own suite of hedgehog hazards. Find out more below.
Strimmers mutilate! Hedgehogs can often be found sleeping in long grasses and wild patches during mild weather, so please check your grass and border edges for resting or sleeping hedgehogs before you strim. A hedgehog’s usual form of defence is to curl up in a ball, but spines are no protection against a flailing wire or a sharp blade. Admissions at Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue show an increase in the number of hedgehogs brought to us who have suffered garden-machinery related injuries. Sadly, many die from deep cuts and lesions. If you plan to use a lawnmower, strimmer or shears, please check the area thoroughly before you begin cutting. This simple check will save lives.
Ponds and Pools
Ponds can be a big problem, particularly artificial ones with straight, slippery sides that make it impossible for hedgehogs to climb out. Although they can swim fairly well, they cannot tread water indefinitely. Without anything for them to climb onto in order to exit a pond or swimming pool, they will eventually tire and drown. Please keep pools and ponds topped up and provide some form of ramp, e.g. a plank, brick steps or chicken wire ladders, to enable them to climb out. If you are considering adding a pond to your garden, why not make it Grace-friendly with sloping sides to make it safe for hedgehogs and other wildlife to drink the water? In the case of swimming pools, safety covers can also help prevent accidents. If an animals does fall into a pool, refer it to a veterinarian or wildlife rescue, as some of the chemicals used in water treatment can be toxic.
Open drains and steep sided ditches are extremely dangerous. Newly dug footings can attract hedgehogs due to the likely presence of unearthed invertebrates, but they can easily fall in and be trapped by the sheer, steep sides. Please ensure all drain covers are correctly fitted and regularly check drains, trenches, and garage inspection pits to make sure that no hedgehogs are trapped. Provide escape routes such as rigid steel mesh, to act as a ladder, or a plank of wood, but be careful that the angle is not too steep.
Whilst most pets will happily share the garden with hedgehogs, certain dog breeds - namely staffies - can be overly aggressive to hedgehogs, even if they are loyal and gentle with humans. If you are concerned about your dog’s interaction with hedgehogs, you could turn an outside light on before letting your pet out which will help to frighten any hedgehogs away. You could also put your dog on a lead on the last ‘patrol’ of the night to help keep hedgehogs safe.
Compost heaps are ideal places for hedgehogs to make their nests and rear their young. Please take care when turning the heap as one thrust of a fork could easily kill a mum or baby hoglets.
Keep chemicals, oils, antifreeze etc. in leak-proof containers out of the reach of any hedgehog that might wander in. Antifreeze is especially hazardous as its sweet smell attracts hedgehogs but is lethal if ingested.
If shed doors have been left open for some weeks, be sure to check for nesting hedgehogs before closing the doors. Hedgehogs may also try to nest underneath sheds, so take particular care if you decide to dismantle your shed; we suggest dismantling in October after hoglets have left the nest but before hibernation season.
Private gardens can be excellent habitat for hedgehogs, but if surrounded by solid fences, hedgehogs have no ability to access these areas. An easy way of increasing access to enclosed spaces is to cut a 5-inch (12-centimetre) hole into the fence board or the lower panels of your fence to provide unrestricted access for Grace and her friends to forage. When possible, use environmentally safe wood preservatives on sheds, fences etc. as hedgehogs often lick new smells or substances—your local garden centre should be able to advise.
Repair wooden fences that blow down in the wind as quickly as possible or hedgehogs may be tempted to make their nests underneath them.
Woodpiles are undoubtedly a useful way of keeping the garden tidy, but hedgehogs tend to hibernate in these piles, so please be extra vigilant. Ideally material collected to burn should be stacked away from the burner and only moved on the day of burning when the heap can be inspected prior to ignition. Bonfire night is especially dangerous with many bonfire heaps being created weeks before burning. The heap should be moved before burning to remove any sleeping hogs. You could surround the bonfire zone with an amphibian rescue fence (or equivalent fencing at least 12 inches high), pegged down before stacking the bonfire. This will deny access to hedgehogs and thus ensure that bonfire night is enjoyed without fear of harm.
Garden netting can also be a potential hazard for hedgehogs as they can easily get tangled up in it. If you must use netting, please leave a gap of 8 inches from the ground and ensure that it is safely secured so that hedgehogs can easily pass under it. This applies to all pea netting, tennis nets, football nets etc. Unused netting should be stored away. Barbed wire should also be kept above ground and should never be left trailing or carelessly discarded. If you do find a hedgehog tangled up in some garden netting, call a veterinarian or your local wildlife rescue.
Slug pellets and pesticides are toxic chemicals intended to kill slugs and other invertebrates. However, they also pose a threat to larger animals—like hedgehogs—that eat poisoned slugs and insects or else ingest the pellets directly. Even products that claim to be hedgehog-friendly may still be cause for concern, as evidenced by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s comments on Bio Slug Pellets:
'Recently we have received letters and calls of concern from members and carers who have seen Bio Mini Slug Pellets advertised using pictures of hedgehogs. We are worried that people may think this means the pellets cannot harm hedgehogs. The pellets concerned made by PBI Homes & Gardens contain an ingredient called metaldehyde; we have post-mortem reports of hedgehogs that have died from ingesting this chemical and believe that it does pose a threat to hedgehogs.'
Beyond the threat they pose to hedgehogs and other invertebrate predators, pesticides can also seep into groundwater or run off into surface water where they can cause additional harm.
So if pesticides are so bad for local wildlife, how are you to control the pests that are eating your garden? Hedgehogs will help keep your pest population under control! Just provide them with a shallow bowl of water and a supplemental meat-based food supply to encourage them to visit. Birds are another predator of slugs and can be attracted to your garden with bird seed and water. Beer traps (beer-filled containers sunk into the ground) and grapefruit peels are other pesticide-alternatives.