The Latin word for hedgehog is Erinaceus and our own British hedgehog is scientifically known as Erinaceus europaeus; it is the same species that occurs throughout most of the continent of Europe. In Britain it is found almost everywhere except some of the Scottish Islands, but tends to be scarce or absent from wet areas and pine forests. Uplands and mountainsides are not popular, probably because they lack both suitable food and suitable nesting places. Hedgehogs are well established in our urban habitat and can, somewhat surprisingly, survive very well in our cities, making extremely good use of cemeteries, railway land, wasteland and both public and private gardens.
Diet – Hedgehogs are noisy eaters as people who have encountered these animals ‘at table’ will testify; but what do they actually eat?
Beetles are a major food item along with caterpillars and earthworms. Most people are aware that hedgehogs are basically insect eaters.
However, many householders put out a saucer of meat based pet food for their garden friends. The hedgehog will treat this as a welcome supplement to its normal diet and will not go hungry if, for some reason, the food is not put out. Always ensure that a dish of water is available especially during the summer months or in extreme weather conditions.
At the risk of disappointing some people it is worth mentioning the fact that hedgehogs tend to ‘do the rounds’ and visit several gardens within an area. Ten or more different individuals may visit a garden over several nights, which could mean that ‘your hedgehog’ is in fact a number of different individuals visiting at different times.
Helping your Friends
The best ways of assisting hedgehogs are by helping them avoid man-made hazards and providing them with suitable places to nest, especially in the winter.
These are poisonous and should not be used. If absolutely necessary, pellets should be placed in a pipe or under a slate inaccessible to hedgehogs. Remove dead slugs daily. Use other pesticides sparingly; or better still not at all, you never know what else they might kill or make sick. Always try alternative methods
Hedgehogs can become entangled in tennis and other nets causing death by starvation. Roll up the net well above ground when not in use. Keep pea netting 22 –30cms (9 – 12”) off the ground so hedgehogs can pass safely underneath them and plants will grow up to the netting. Legs can also become trapped in “log roll” edging.
Hedgehogs are inquisitive and will try to eat almost anything, a trait that can lead to their undoing. Having been attracted by the remaining contents, hedgehogs have been found with their heads stuck in tins, yoghurt pots and plastic cups. Always cut the plastic rings of “carry 4 and 6 pack” holders. To prevent such unnecessary deaths, litter should be disposed of in a proper manner. Keep bags used for putting out household rubbish off the ground. This will prevent hedgehogs reaching them and tearing into the bag, they can become trapped in the rubbish or even put out for refuse collection.
Keep drains covered so that hedgehogs do not become stuck down them. Bean trenches, footings, fencing holes and car inspection pits are all potential death traps for hedgehogs. Provide an escape route e.g. a sloping plank or cover the holes so hedgehogs do not become trapped.
Keep shed, greenhouse and garage doors closed at night so hedgehogs are not tempted to make a nest in them and perhaps become trapped when doors are permanently closed. Store chemicals safely.
When replacing walls or fencing try to provide a hole so hedgehogs can continue to pass from your garden into your neighbour’s gardens without difficulty. Use environmentally safe wood preservatives on your fences, garden furniture and wooden buildings.
Do keep dogs under control if you know you have hedgehogs in the garden. Also remember that whilst your dog may be hedgehog friendly, visitor’s dogs may not. If in doubt keep your dog on a lead when it goes out into the garden when it is dark.
Hedgehogs in the Garden
The hedgehog is known as ‘the gardener’s friend’ as it will eat slugs, beetles, caterpillars etc., and does no harm, so if you have a garden a hedgehog is to be encouraged. They should not be kept in close captivity, but regarded as welcome visitors.
Parasites – If it is necessary to remove fleas from a hedgehog, then a commercially prepared powder suitable for caged birds (Johnson’s Rid-Mite) can be dusted amongst the spines (taking care to avoid the eyes of the animal) as an adequate treatment, but do not use on very young hedgehogs.
Blood-sucking ticks are often found on hedgehogs and after taking their fill of blood, will drop off the host in order to complete their life cycle. Removal of these ticks is a difficult task but can be accomplished by dousing the ticks in olive/almond/cooking oil. Removing these ticks with forceps is to be avoided as the inexperienced may leave the mouthparts and head in the skin that may turn septic.
Hedgehogs are one of the most common patients at the hospital where injuries and illnesses range from broken legs, dog bites, severe damage caused by strimmers & lawnmowers to Pneumonia and bad breathing caused by lung worms
Any time a hedgehog is seen out in daylight it will be ill & need urgent help
Pick it up, pop in a box & contact us for advice
You can find out a lot more about hedgehogs from The British Hedgehog Preservation Society