Hedgehog Way: FAQs

Hedgehog Way


(C) Tom Marshall

1. Will hedgehogs give my pets fleas?

No, hedgehog fleas are host-specific so cannot live on any other animals. So a visiting hedgehog will not cause a flea infestation in your household pets.

2. What should I do if I see a hedgehog out in the daytime?

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so a hedgehog seen out during the day is likely to be suffering from illness. Please be aware that although unusual, during a lean summer a female hedgehog may make daytime foraging trips to secure enough food to feed her hoglets - removing the female would jeopardise their survival. Please seek advice from a rescue centre.

3. Can I keep a hedgehog as a pet?

No, you cannot keep native hedgehogs as pets. Some hedgehogs are kept by rehabilition centres if they are unable to be released - but they should never be considered as pets. Why not encourage them into your garden instead?

4. How can I encourage hedgehogs?

There are many easy, quick, and cheap ways that you can encourage hedgehogs, from building hedgehog homes, to being a little less tidy with your gardening. The best way to encourage hedgehogs is to actually allow them into your garden! Make sure you have a hole in your boundary fence or  a gap under a gate which is at least a CD sided hole for a hedgehog to fit through - see “encouraging hedgehogs” for more specific information.

5. Can I move a hibernating hedgehog?

No, by moving a hibernating hedgehog you are at risk of waking it, and therefore using up a large quantity of their fat store which they need to make it through the winter. So, please leave a hibernating hedgehog alone. If you do disturb a nest accidentally, cover the hedgehog back up with leaves and retreat. Make sure some food is available nearby so that if the hedgehog does awaken it has some food to help it regain it's stores before it goes back into hibernation. For further advice please contact your local rescue centre.

6. How long do hoglets stay with their mum?

Hoglets will join their mothers on foraging trips from 3-4 weeks old, within ten days they'll begin becoming independent from their mother.

Hedgehog (C) Tom Marshall

(C) Tom Marshall

7. How do I clean out a hedgehog box?

It's a good idea to clean out your hedgehog box at least once a year, to prevent the build up of parasites such as fleas and ticks.

The best time to clean out a hedgehog box is in April or October (when hibernation has just ended or just about to begin, but when there is minimal chance of there still being young hoglets inside).

First check that the box is empty - this is very simple, just pop a light weight peice of cardboard or a piece of scrunched up paper in front of the entrance and see if it is pushed out of the way. If it is then wait a little longer and repeat until you're sure it's not being used.

Now, open it up, remove and disgard any bedding and clean it out with boiling water (please don't use chemicals!), leave it to airdry then replace. You can add a few leaves or a bit of straw into it to start them off, but the best thing is to make sure there is enough bedding materials nearby to the nest so they can build their own.

8. How long should I continue feeding a hedgehog in the winter months?

It's difficult to say. Most hedgehogs go into hibernation between November and March so won't need feeding, but this all depends on the weather.

In a mild winter a hedgehog may stay awake well into December, and if the winter has mild periods it may wake up thinking it is spring already.

The best advice we can give is to keep feeding until it is no longer taken, then keep an eye on the weather and perhaps put some out in mild periods.

9. What should I do if I have a hedgehog sleeping on my lawn?

Hedgehogs sleep and hibernate in a specially made nest, if you find them 'sleeping' anywhere else it's likely that they are ill and are in need of help.

10. What food should I put out for hedgehogs?

Non-fish based cat food or bird food and water – NOT bread and milk as it will make the hedgehog ill and could potentially kill it.

Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so at best the milk will upset their tummies, and at worst it could kill them. Bread holds very little nutritional value meaning they’ll fill up on food which will not help them in the long run.

Cat or dog food is a good food to offer, as are some of the ready packaged hedgehog food you can buy in pet stores and supermarkets. Of course, the best food you can provide is the natural snack bar which comes from a hedgehog friendly garden!



(C) Gillian Day

11. When do hedgehogs hibernate?

It's difficult to say. Most hedgehogs go into hibernation between November and March so won't need feeding, but this all depends on the weather.

In a mild winter a hedgehog may stay awake well into December, and if the winter has mild periods it may wake up thinking it is spring already.

12. How can I make my garden more hedgehog friendly?

See our 'encouraging hedgehogs' sheet.

13. How can I deal with slugs without using pesticides?

Seaweed! It acts as a natural repellent to slugs and is also a good soil amendment. Copper tape, felt matting and beer traps are all methods of helping reduce slug damage.

Water your garden in the morning instead of the evening as this can reduce slug damage by up to 80%. 

Consider using specialised nematodes (tiny soil borne worms). Available at most garden centres they actively seek out and infect slugs. 

Encourage amphibians - consider installing a pond or bog garden. The smallest pond will be loved by all your garden wildlife, and any frogs or toads which are present will help keep your slug problem under sontrol naturally. Just ensure you've got a nice sloping side or ramp so that hedgehogs can climb out if they fall in!

Encourage hedgehogs in your garden as they are natural pest controllers!

14. Is having a pond dangerous for hedgehogs?

No, hedgehogs are good swimmers! Just give them a ramp to make sure they can get out of the water.

Hedgehog (C) Tom Marshall

(C) Tom Marshall

15. Why are hedgehogs declining?

The reason for the decline is certainly not straightforward, there is no one factor we can blame, and further muddying the water are the different pressures they face in rural and urban areas. One of the key problems that everyone agrees on is 'fragmentation'.

Hedgehogs travel more than a mile a night to forage for food, so as hedgerows, also known as ‘hedgehog highways’, have halved since the 1950s, human roads have carved up the countryside, and our increasing penchant for impenetrable fences and walls have continued to line our gardens – the easy travel they used to have has been prevented. Indeed, population density is 30% lower in areas next to roads compared to areas away from roads. Large roads inparticular are a barrier to movement and dispersal.

These factors have led to what is known as ‘fragmentation’ which creates small pockets of populations which can’t travel between each other or move to adjust to local pressures, whether that be disease, predation, flooding, starvation or the building of a new estate. Fragmentation is the silent killer that much wildlife faces today; whilst other problems may exist such as pesticides, predation and competition for resources, their impact is greatly magnified when the population has been literally forced into a corner with nowhere to go.

Pressures in rural areas: An increase in intensive farming means the countryside no longer offers the comfort of many pastures to forage and hedgerows to shelter in - these factors all work together against the fortunes of the hedgehog.

Pasture land which previously provided a varied habitat with plenty of insects have been turned into arable fields and ploughed for production; hedgerows have been removed to create larger, easier to plough fields; and pesticides have reduced the number of insects (otherwise known as hedgehog food) available to be foraged. 

Pressures in urban areas: In urban areas the story isn’t much better. Previously ‘leaky’ gardens are being made impenetrable with 6ft solid fencing and walls preventing our hedgehogs moving around and finding food and shelter; our gardens are becoming just too tidy – paving, concrete and gravel really doesn’t provide many spaces for insects to live and it really isn’t conducive to hibernation or shelter (well except for those lovely wood piles we built in the Autumn ready for bonfire night!).

Pesticides are also a major factor, not only reducing hedgehog food sources, but also by direct poisoning – sadly they can’t tell the difference between a juicy fresh slug and one full of poison! Roads also carve up the available land causing isolated hedgehog populations which may become more susceptible to inbreeding, and far more vulnerable to local extinctions.

Predators: “Predators”, you may ask, “what about those?” Well it is true that our few large mammals will take hedgehogs. Dogs and foxes occasionally do; but, badgers are their principal natural predator and both have co-existed for millennia up until now in the UK. There is little evidence to suggest that they play a strong part in the decline.

In urban gardens their paths rarely cross but hedgehog decline is just as marked as in rural areas where badgers and hedgehogs co-exist, and even in areas with low badger populations hedgehogs are doing just as badly. Where food is limited and shelter is scarce badgers and hedgehogs are in direct competition for very limited resources, but where insects and shelter are plentiful both hedgehogs and badgers can and do coexist together.

Of course, badger predation pales in comparison to the largest and most dangerous ‘predator’ of them all - the car. Tens of thousands of hedgehogs are killed on roads every year, after all spines are little defence against a huge metal vehicle.

16. What about badgers and foxes, aren't  they to blame?

We are very aware of the concern people have about predators and hedgehogs but while there is much anecdotal evidence there is little or no real evidence that predation is a significant factor in the hedgehog decline.

Dietary studies, particularly of badgers, consistently show that hedgehogs make up a very small proportion of their diet (less than 1%). The same is true of foxes where it has been shown that hedgehogs make up about 0.5% of fox prey (although this might have local variation).

Badgers, foxes and hedgehogs as native British animals have co-existed for millennia so it seems unlikely that the hedgehog decline we’ve witnessed recently can be put down to predation. Research does indicate that hedgehogs avoid areas of high badger density, but that is a natural prey response and does not indicate that predation is the reason hedgehog density is low. Research shows that hedgehogs are much more vulnerable when habitat is fragmented. 

Foxes in garden

Terry Whittaker/2020 Vision

All the indications are that the major cause is habitat loss and fragmentation, which has a direct impact on hedgehog survival and reproduction. Predation will only become an issue in very small populations that have been declining for other reasons.

Through our hedgehog project, we have tried to identify actions that both we and members of the public can actually take now to help hedgehogs and restoring habitat we see as the best practical option to help them.

17. What should I do if I see a hedgehog in the winter?

If a hedgehog is out during the day in winter it should be rescued regardless of its weight. If you see a hedgehog at night it should only be rescued if it looks particularly skinny. It can cause unnecessary stress to the hedgehog if it is taken to a rescue centre needlessly. If you are concerned about a hedgehog, please contact your local hedgehog advice centre