Hedgehog numbers are declining at a shocking rate in the UK. Unbelievably, we’ve lost a third of them since the millennium. The good news is your garden can provide a lifeline for these sweet little animals.
You can start helping hedgehogs right away by establishing a safe and welcoming environment in the garden in the following ways:
- Create a hole in your fence line/dig a tunnel beneath it
- Put out a shallow heavy bowl of water and some cat biscuits to tempt them in
- Throw away slug pellets
- Pick up your netting
- Create an escape route from steep sided ponds
Once you’ve prepared these steps, it’s time to get a hedgehog house. When hedgehogs realise your garden is safe, well-stocked and has a steady water supply, they’ll want to move in!
The following information will help you work out the best hedgehog house to buy, and how to prepare for your new garden guests:
Hedgehog House Design
Wooden Hedgehog Houses
If you want a wooden hedgehog house, go for real hardwood.
Plywood just won’t go the distance, and the last thing you want is rotting wood surrounding a nest or hibernating hog – rot makes hedgehogs vulnerable to predators and fungal infections.
If you buy a stained or varnished hog house, it will last longer; however, it may take a season for hogs to move in. They have sensitive noses and strong smells can deter them initially. Once the house has been weathered, hedgehogs will be more likely to use it.
Metal-Framed Hedgehog Houses
Metal framed hog houses can cause condensation, so wooden houses are usually recommended by wildlife charities, but there’s no escaping the fact that metal-framed houses are usually better value. If you do go for one, try to make sure it gets enough ventilation to dry out.
Additionally, it’s important to check metal-framed houses inside and out before use, in case there are any sharp edges.
Hedgehogs can get caught or cut by protruding pieces of metal, so t’s really important to keep the houses in good condition and check them regularly.
It’s also a good idea to peg down a metal-frame house as they don’t tend to weight much and can be easily flipped over. An excitable dog, child, cat or fox could all be in danger of tipping over a hedgehog house.
Tent pegs can be used to secure a hedgehog house – push them through the frame and brushwood into the earth beneath.
Houses with Tunnels
If you are able to stretch to a slightly pricier version that has a tunnel and two internal sections, the hedgehogs will be safer from predators.
You want to avoid predators being able to stick their paw in to drag out bedding or even the hedgehog itself. Some of the best hedgehog houses feature a predator-proof tunnel; this is often a narrow tunnel with at least one 90° bend in it. These will stop predators from reaching their paws into the main room of the shelter.
Baby hedgehogs (known as hoglets – awh!) are especially vulnerable, so you should at least make a tunnel yourself if you choose a house without one – a few bricks will make all the difference.
Buying a Hedgehog House vs a Feeding Station
Hedgehog houses can be used as either nests or protected feeding stations.
However, the houses shouldn’t be used as both. If you put food inside the home of your resident hedgehog, you risk attracting other hedgehogs (creating potential turf wars), predators and flies into their chambers. It will basically make nest invasions inevitable.
You can either buy two hedgehog houses, and use one for each purpose, or create your own feeding station by placing a patio slab on bricks. Placing hedgehog food outside in the open overnight will likely attract neighbourhood cats and foxes, but hedgehogs will get a look in on the food as well.
If you want to double check who or what is actually eating the food you put out, installing a wildlife camera can be reassuring; that way you can check that the hedgehogs are benefitting.
Encouraging Hedgehogs to Move in
Once you’ve got a hedgehog home, you’ll be wondering how to attract those hedgehogs. H
ere are a few things you can do to get them coming to your garden:
- You will need hedgehog-sized garden access so that hogs can find your house. They can’t climb over fences, so a 15 x 15 cm hole in the fence will help them get in. Failing that, dig beneath your fence to create a tunnel (this might need to be discussed with your neighbour first…!). If there’s no access, there will be zero hedgehogs.
- Ensure a clean, reliable water source is easily accessible. Wildlife will visit your garden if you leave out water. The trick is to make it clean and consistent. Hogs travel several kilometres a night and they get very thirsty. In hot weather many hedgehogs are taken to wildlife rescues with severe dehydration – imagine not having a drink for days in a heat wave. If you spot a hedgehog sunbathing take it straight to a vet or wildlife charity.
- After water comes food. Never give hedgehogs bread and milk no matter what your friends say. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and giving them products with lactose will cause diarrhoea. This can cause hedgehogs to die of dehydration. Bread won’t kill them, but it has no useful nutrients. The best food is dry or wet cat food in a meaty flavour. Dog food is good too.
How to Position Your Hedgehog House
There are some tricks to siting a hedgehog house – they prefer certain areas over others.
Choose a sheltered spot on dry soil that doesn’t get waterlogged. Think about the winter months – does it get wet there? If so, find another location – damp will cause health problems for hibernating hedgehogs.
Also think about heat. A hedgehog house in direct boiling sun can kill a hedgehog inside. If you have any large bushes (evergreens are particularly good) that’s a good place to position a hedgehog house.
Hedgehogs like a bit of cover when they emerge, plus it helps maintain a consistent temperature within the shelter.
You should also turn the door so it faces away from prevailing winds. Hedgehogs won’t appreciate any 50 mph gusts blowing inside the shelter and creating a chill.
The final step is to make sure it’s not placed on a hedgehog footpath. Hedgehogs often frequent certain paths as they enter and leave your garden. Often they run along the fence line if that’s where they access your garden from. If this is the case, don’t put the hedgehog house there. It’s too busy to be attractive to potential residents. Hogs like secret sheltered places.
Tip: Don’t be tempted to bury the hedgehog house as this creates damp. Cover it with leaves if you want, and then keep watch from a distance.
When to Prepare Your Hedgehog House
Any time is a good time to put a hedgehog house out – right now is excellent, in fact!
Hedgehogs are active for most months of the year, even during hibernation they are often looking for water and food in warmer snaps. During these times it’s possible that the hedgehog will happen across your much more suitable accommodation and choose to move in.
Hedgehogs use houses in a number of ways:
1. Hibernation – Hedgehogs hibernate for several months because food is in short supply. Don’t worry – feeding them cat food won’t interrupt their natural hibernation – it’s the cold that triggers the instinct. Hibernating hogs will feel cold to the touch, breathe shallowly and appear dead. Don’t move any hog out of a house in winter because you assume it’s died – it’ll just be deeply asleep.
2. A day nest – don’t worry if your hog disappears for a few days, they have large territories and can’t always make it back in time, so they have several nests in the area. Dirty stop outs indeed! Something as simple as a dog walker crossing their path at 5 am can prevent them returning before sunrise.
3. Nests – Females can have several litters a year and hedgehog houses can make the perfect nursery. They usually give birth in June or July, and may have a second litter around September/October. Therefore, keeping a hedgehog house out keeps it as a viable option for any expecting mothers.
If you don’t want to have your hedgehog house out all year long, you can put it out in autumn to help potentially hibernating hedgehogs. They can start hibernating as early as November, and may stay hibernating until late March. This is all dependent on the weather as well as the hedgehog.
How to Prepare Your Hedgehog House
Hedgehogs are good at finding dry, warm bedding materials, and it’s not necessary to provide any for them. However, if you do decide to do some preparation for your hedgehog, you could use dust-free hay, leaves and dry moss to line the house.
Only half fill the house with these materials, leaving some near to the entrance as well. This will allow hedgehogs to ‘find’ and bring in their own bedding, which is part of their nesting process.
One thing that’s definitely worth doing, is clearing the garden of anything unsuitable that a hedgehog might try to use for bedding, such as plastic bags. They’re very resourceful animals, so it’s best not to leave anything lying around that might cause them harm.
Don’t put food, water or any type of chemical, including flea powder, in the house. Food and water may attract pests, whilst flea powder can be fatal to hedgehogs.
Remember to clean your hedgehog house too, once it’s vacant. Everything needs to be emptied out, as the natural bedding of leaves, plant material will rot down. Ticks also fall off and breed so the bedding, so that’s another reason to carefully clear the house out after each nesting season.
Wear gloves and allow the house to be aired out for at least a day.
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