It has become a Halloween tradition to leave ‘Jack o lantern’ pumpkins in the garden for wildlife to feast on. Hedgehogs are omnivores, most of their diet being insects and garden pests like slugs. They eat small amounts of fallen fruit, roots and plants as they forage. But are pumpkins good for them?
The pumpkin presents an easy meal and they may gorge on the flesh. This large amount of fibrous fruit is likely to cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. So, not strictly speaking toxic, but not good for the hogs! The British Hedgehog Preservation Society suggest hanging your pumpkins in trees to allow birds and squirrels to eat the fruit. (Thanks to one of our other bloggers who looked into this!)
Wild hedgehog numbers are in decline, their habitat reduced by commercial and residential development. There are also many serious threats in their environment such as traffic, strimming/mowing accidents and bonfires. We can help hedgehogs to survive by making small changes to our gardens.
Hedgehogs benefit from extra food while preparing to hibernate. They hibernate from November to mid-March and must achieve a bodyweight over 500g to survive the winter. Adolescent hogs often need extra food to achieve this weight.
Historically, bread and milk were left for hungry hedgehogs. However, we now know that they are lactose intolerant and do not digest bread easily. Meaty tinned cat or dog food or dry cat food are ideal food sources. The hog will forage for other foods containing more fibre but this provides an excellent protein and energy source. Chicken or turkey-based foods are usually recommended as they may be easier to digest than fish or red meat. Hedgehog food is available from some wildlife food suppliers and pet shops.
Fresh water offered in a shallow bowl allows them to drink easily.
Hedgehogs have large territories, travelling a few miles every night to find food. We may get attached to our hedgehog, oblivious to the fact that many hogs visit us.
Access through garden boundaries is essential for their roaming. Adult hedgehog sized holes can be cut into fences to make a door or spaces cleared under hedges. Hedgehogs will often shelter and nest in the base of a hedge. Some fence preservatives can harm hedgehogs, use wildlife friendly products, where possible. Barbed wire injuries are common, ensuring any barbed wire is 30 cm above ground or not using it protects hedgehogs.
Leaving a pile of old wood or fallen leaves in a peaceful part of the garden can provide a safe place for hibernation, sleep or nesting. These areas also provide habitat for the insects, frogs, toads and worms that the hog can eat. Hedgehogs may burrow into the ground, compost heap or cover themselves with leaves to hide away. Turning your compost heap with a fork can wound a sleeping or hibernating hedgehog.
Garden centres and some craft shops stock pre-made hedgehog houses. Your hedgehog will be just as pleased with a few old planks, but they can make an attractive garden ornament.
Hedgehogs and other wildlife can get stuck in garden ponds and pools. Ensure your pond has shallow, sloping sides so that they can get out if they fall in. Cover any drains, pipes and holes in the garden. If you have a swimming pool, cover it when possible.
Slug pellets contain metaldehyde which can harm hedgehogs if eaten in large quantities or in poisoned slugs. They also kill slugs reducing available food. available food. Eggs shells or coffee grounds can be used to protect plants from slugs. Pesticides and insecticides also affect hedgehogs and reduce food sources.
As hedgehogs eat many garden pests, encouraging them can establish a a natural form of pest control.
Strimming and mowing
Check long grass, leaf piles and the base of hedges before strimming. It is hard to see a camouflaged sleeping hog or nest. Injuries caused by mowing or strimming are often fatal. As hedgehogs are nocturnal, they will be resting somewhere quiet when you are working in the garden.
Hedgehogs can get tangled up in old fruit netting or wire in the garden. They can sustain limb injuries or become unable to move and feed. They are often wounded or trapped in empty cans and plastic bags. Remove any litter from your garden.
Hedgehogs will seek refuge in piles of wood, leaves and grass. If you collect your bonfire material some time before you set it alight, re-site the pile to ensure there are no sleeping hedgehogs within. It is best to collect the material just before starting the fire to prevent sleeping hogs dying.
These actions will protect the hedgehogs that visit your garden. If you see a hedgehog out in the day and they appear sluggish, wobbly or surrounded by flies then they are unwell. Your vet or local hedgehog helpline will help with an injured hedgehog.
- First, transfer the hedgehog to a safe warm place.
- Pick the hog up with a thick towel or gloves to protect your hands.
- Put it in a cardboard box or container with an old blanket or towel.
- Add a hot water bottle to keep it warm, don’t fill the box with the bottle allow the hog to choose whether they stay close to the heat or move away to prevent burns.
- Offer meaty food and water.
- Call your vet or hedgehog helpline as the hedgehog may need prompt treatment. If you find a young animal with no adult around, check the area for any others in case a nest has been disrupted.
With some care we may be able to reverse the decline in hedgehog numbers and help these extraordinary animals to thrive in our gardens.