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Gardeners urged to help hungry hedgehogs

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by Barbara Csernai

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ORDER

The RSPCA is urging gardeners to take urgent action for crisis-hit hedgehogs.

It is estimated that in the past two decades, up to three-quarters of all of Britain’s rural hedgehogs have been lost – with one of the biggest threats to their survival being starvation, due to the decline of bugs they eat.

The RSPCA’s upcoming RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden will highlight the prickly issue.

Hedgehogs are brought into the care of the charity’s wildlife centres by animal rescuers or members of the public, usually after they’ve been seen out during the day due to illness, injury, and worryingly, being underweight after struggling to find food.  

To mark Hedgehog Awareness Week (1 – 7 May) the RSPCA is urging people with gardens and outdoor spaces to go online and pledge to help encourage hedgehogs into their neighbourhoods. The public is being asked to provide means for hedgehogs to find plentiful food such as insects – from building a hedgehog house, popping a ramp in and out of any garden ponds, growing insect-friendly plants or building a dead-hedge habitat.

The call comes ahead of the opening of the RSPCA Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, where the charity will be showcasing hedgehog-friendly gardening ideas. These include three hedgehog houses, a stunning dead hedge area including a further hidden hedgehog habitat, and beds of pollinator-friendly plants – plus a green roof to encourage insects into the garden.

Evie Button, scientific officer at the RSPCA said:

It’s really sad to think that our beloved nighttime garden visitors are at risk of starving in our own backyards. With busier roads, increased building sites and loss of hedgerows all impacting a hedgehog’s natural environment and their ability to find food, it’s essential we all do what we can not only to protect hedgehogs but also to help them thrive.

The gold-medal-winning designer of the RSPCA Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has also joined the call for action.

Garden designer Martyn Wilson said:

Hedgehogs are a gardener’s friend as they eat beetles, caterpillars, worms and other invertebrates, so as gardeners we need to be doing all we can to protect them from dangers such as harmful pesticides that wipe out their food sources.

We all have a responsibility to help wildlife, and we can also make it easier for hedgehogs to thrive and find food and water. It’s simpler than you might think and the good news is hedgehogs can be welcomed into the garden without compromising on style. The RSPCA Garden demonstrates plenty of ways people can take simple but effective steps in their own gardens.

Helpful hints for hungry hedgehogs

  • Leave out foods like tinned dog or cat food and crushed cat or dog biscuits, or supply good quality, meaty hedgehog food from wildlife food suppliers.
  • Keep feed bowls clean to avoid harmful bacteria.
  • Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t feed hedgehogs milk or bread – milk can cause diarrhoea and bread isn’t very nutritious.
  • Create your own bug hotel to encourage a healthy insect population for hedgehogs to feast.

Hedgehog-friendly gardening tips

  • Build a hedgehog house out of bricks and sticks
  • Provide an exit route from ponds and pools. Use bricks or stones at the side of the pond. Create a sloped edge on part of the pond to help hedgehogs to climb out if they fall in. Cover swimming pools overnight and when they’re not in use.
  • Hedgehogs travel on average a mile a day and maybe impeded by walls and fences. You can help by using fencing with gaps, removing a brick from the wall, cutting a hole in your fence or digging a tunnel underneath, or you could make hedgehog highways.
  • Cover holes and uncovered drains, or check them every day to make sure no hedgehogs have become trapped.
  • Check for hedgehogs before using strimmers or mowers – particularly under hedges, where they might be resting during the day. If you’re forking over a compost heap, check them for any nesting hogs first.
  • Always thoroughly disturb bonfires immediately before you light them, as there could be hedgehogs nesting or hiding inside. Moving the whole bonfire by hand before setting it alight is the best way of ensuring that hedgehogs and other wildlife aren’t sleeping in there.
  • Litter is a real hazard to hedgehogs – they can get their heads stuck in tins, plastic bags, binders from drinks cans or discarded yoghurt pots. Make sure you dispose of your rubbish safely and check there’s no litter in your garden. Any plastic rings should be cut up, however small they are.
  • Raise any netting: if you have any netting or wire in your garden, make sure it’s at least a foot above ground level, as hedgehogs can easily become tangled up in it. Pack away or roll up fruit nets, tennis and goal nets when they’re not in use. Replace any netting in your garden with solid metal mesh, as it’s less likely to entangle hedgehogs.
  • Don’t close your shed doors if you usually keep them open, as there might be hedgehogs nesting inside. Keep any dangerous chemicals or tools well off the ground. If you need to dismantle your shed, check carefully underneath the floor first for nesting or hibernating hedgehogs. 
  • Avoid slug pellets and pesticides – these can poison hedgehogs and should only be used as a last resort. Instead, try using one of many natural alternatives, like sprinkling crushed eggshells or coffee grounds around the plants you need to protect. If you have to use pellets, place them under a slate that’s inaccessible to hedgehogs. (The outdoor use of slug pellets containing metaldehyde was banned in Great Britain from March 2022.)
  • Make a note of the contact number for your local wildlife rescue organisation so you have it to hand if you find an injured hedgehog. 

The RSPCA is empowering people to become a Wildlife Friend and help the charity save thousands of wild animals in need – just like hedgehogs.

Elements of The RSPCA Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this May are inspired by the frontline work of RSPCA teams and volunteers rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing thousands of wild animals every year, and the charity hopes the garden will inspire people to encourage wildlife into their gardens and take action protecting them from harm. 

Partnering with designer Martyn Wilson of Wilson Associates Garden Design, the charity’s garden will also celebrate the RSPCA’s forthcoming 200th anniversary next year (2024).

As part of the project which is being generously funded by Project Giving Back, the garden will be relocated at the end of the event to RSPCA Stapeley Grange, one of the charity’s wildlife rehabilitation and education centres, for visitors to enjoy the living legacy for years to come.

It will continue to provide sanctuary for wildlife, and also for visitors to the wildlife centre – including young people, families and vulnerable adults, who already visit the centre for support with emotional wellbeing and resilience. The space will deliver impactful experiences and bring essential animal welfare education to communities that have fewer opportunities to connect with their environment. 

Source: RSPCA