What can I do to help?
Everyone loves helping hedgehogs to prepare for their winter hibernation by putting food out in their garden. Cat food and water are ideal to help fatten hedgehogs up to the minimum 450g they need to be to have the best chance of surviving hibernation. However, this doesn’t guarantee their survival. If you spot a hedgehog out in very cold weather that you think might be underweight or have health problems, you can contact a local hedgehog rescue centre such as Wild Hogs for advice. However, please be aware that hedgehogs don’t always hibernate for the whole of winter, they can go in and out of hibernation depending on the weather.
One of the most important factors that is currently limiting hedgehog numbers is suitable hibernation habitat. Hedgehogs need different types of nests and locations for nesting throughout the year, they have different nesting needs for daytime, breeding and hibernation. An absence of the right kind of leaves and an appropriate supporting structure is probably why hedgehogs are absent from large coniferous forests, bogs, heaths and moors. Leaf size is an important factor for hedgehogs making hibernation nests, with leaves like oak, beech, hornbeam and lime being ideal. As well as suitable leaf sizes, hedgehogs need a supporting structure for the nest. This is often under thorny or stinging undergrowth, especially brambles, where hedgehogs will be better protected against predators.
As gardens and parks become ‘tidier’ with fallen leaves and brambles being cleared away; suitable nesting habitat for hedgehogs is becoming rarer. The provision of hedgehog boxes by kind residents can help increase suitable nesting spaces, although natural is always best. If you do have a hedgehog box in your garden ensure you are providing suitable bedding, ideally the right size fallen leaves, and research has shown that homemade boxes are preferred by hedgehogs than shop bought ones.
More natural nesting habitat for hedgehogs would be the best gift you could give to them. When you’re next in your garden, take a look around and see if you’re able to leave a ‘messy’ corner for hedgehogs and other wildlife. Perhaps a pile of fallen leaves, and some bramble or other bushes. Many gardens don’t have the types of trees hedgehogs prefer, so why not link your garden up to other spaces that might be more suitable? This might be other gardens, or a local park. If hedgehogs can move between gardens to find food and suitable nesting sites then they have the best chance of surviving and thriving in urban areas. Do you have any suitable access holes for hedgehogs? If not could you make some? They should be at least 13cm square or the size of a CD case. Please record any existing or new hedgehog holes here so we can create a picture of hedgehog highways across the county. This will help us better protect hedgehogs and their habitats.