With autumn and winter approaching, we may not be spending as much time sat in the garden, but you may find a couple of prickly visitors start to settle in the leaves and hedges.
Thanks to Launceston-based wildlife rescue Littlest Wildlife Hotel, run by Nikki Rule-Jackson, we have some great advice on how you can look out for hedgehogs coming into your garden this autumn and winter.
Why do hedgehogs need help in the autumn/winter?
As we head towards the pinnacle of the gardening year, there are often piles of cut shrubs and trees lying on the ground which are very inviting for hedgehogs to make a home in. The piles of off-cuts bring small invertebrates to the ground, making the perfect banquet area for small mammals and a great area to settle down in for the colder months ahead. With Bonfire Night being one of the top events of the autumn calendar for many of us, in order to ensure that we aren’t going to injure any small mammals Nikki advises that before any bonfire is lit that the contents are moved to another area. This gives any animals living within the pile an opportunity to escape and we can have a bonfire safe in the knowledge that we aren’t harming any animals.
Although the sunshine might have gone for now, there are always still jobs to do in the garden towards the end of the year. When it comes to tidying up the edges of the garden for the autumn/winter time you really should be checking the banks and overgrown areas to see if a hedgehog is using it as an area to sleep. This would be the only way to protect hedgehogs from being slashed by a strimmer. Strimmer injuries are catastrophic for hedgehogs as the cuts are made deep into the hedgehogs body or worse, head.
If you see a hedgehog out in daylight in the autumn/winter months they need help. It’s the one time that you can pick up and put a hedgehog in a box ready to take to a rescue without fear of doing the wrong thing. Hedgehogs don’t sunbathe!
But what do I do if I find a hedgehog?
If you come across a hedgehog that needs help, you should go and gather a cardboard box, garden gloves to protect your hands, a hot water bottle or plastic bottle that can be filled with hot water, a towel to protect the hedgehog from a potential burn from the hot water bottle, plus a little dish for some fresh water.
Don't give the hedgehog food. Once it is in the care of the rescue centre, they can decide when it is well enough to eat. Hedgehogs expend their last energy to eat and digest food, meaning they have no energy to fight against any of the parasites that are inside them.
At this time of year, the majority of hedgehogs that will need help are autumn juveniles, who aren't quite ready to be out on their own and who aren't big enough to cope with the weather that Britain throws at them. They are often too small to survive hibernation. Nikki looks for a weight of over 450g to ensure survival - however, the weight does not always mean that they are well.
What can I do to support hedgehogs in my garden?
If you'd like to encourage hedgehogs into your garden, first of all set up a feeding station. This merely consists of a plastic box turned upside down with a 13cm squared hole cut in to both ends. In this place a bowl of water, a bowl of wet cat food in jelly and some kitten biscuits. If you see crumbs left in the dry food and big poos then you have yourself a hedgehog! The next step would be to get a hedgehog house for them to hibernate in. Please choose one that has ground clearance, a sloped, felted roof and a passage way to get into the sleeping area.
Remember, hedgehogs need water to drink - don't put milk or other liquids down for them. They eat wet and dry cat and dog food, any flavour - even fish!
Whilst they do eat slugs and snails they only make up 5% of their diet - they can give them lungworm.
Hedgehogs have two litters a year, one in spring and another at the end of summer into autumn. A hedgehog pregnancy is 37 days in length and the average number of hoglets is between four and five.
Most of the autumn babies are unlikely to survive without our help.
If you need any advice on a hedgehog you’ve found please contact your nearest hedgehog rescue. They can be found on helpwildlife.co.uk using your postcode to locate the closest, or contact the BHPS on 01584 890801 who can also advise of rescues near you.
To support the Littlest Wildlife Hotel, Nikki is currently fundraising for a shed with electrical hookup and incubators to help even more animals. Visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/littlestwildlifehotelcornwall?utm_term=W9eQewgey to donate, or find Littlest Wildlife Hotel on Facebook for updates on the amazing work she does for Cornish wildlife.