Hedge-Blog: Help hedgehogs get a quiet night
Alex Firman - 27 March 2014
The other day I asked a few friends to name three animals they'd see in their gardens; four out of five of them included the hedgehog in the list. The wee beastie is one of the most well-known animals to trot through gardens in their nocturnal hunt for food, being a source of fascination for small children and constant frustration to dogs (if mine are anything to go by).
Although the hedgehog is one of the most easily identifiable inhabitants of British gardens, we may not be able to identify them quite so easily in the future. Hedgehogs have been suffering a frightening decline, with the population falling from 30 million to 1.5 million in the past sixty years. Partly to blame are the changes to the British countryside – although hedgehogs are happy in gardens, their main habitat is hedgerows, and these have been rapidly disappearing.
Due to a focus on maximising efficiency, tractors and other farm equipment have got bigger, and with them the fields – what was once a patchwork of small fields growing different crops becomes a monoculture on one massive field, with the hedgerows that once divided it being ripped up and removed. In this way, hedgehogs have lost aa big chunk of their natural habitat.
But they have lost their food too. Hedgehogs love nothing better than a crunchy beetle or juicy worm to lunch on, but pesticides sprayed in farmland and drifting into hedgerows has meant there is less food for them to gobble down.
So, why the fuss about hedgehogs? Apart from being one of Britain's best-loved animals, their insectivorous diets makes them good news for anyone who has a garden. A good chunk of a hedgehog's diet is made up of insect pests such as caterpillars and slugs, so encouraging hedgehogs in the garden helps keep down the pest numbers as the hedgehogs hoover their way through the garden. When hedgehogs ingest slug pellets, this can make them ill, so forget those slug pellets and pesticides and invite the hedgehogs to come and feast!
At this time of year the hedgehogs are beginning to wake from their deep hibernations; from November until March they sleep, living off body fat until the spring comes and their food supplies start to appear again – round about now. During hibernation, hedgehogs choose nesting sites that will be reasonably secure, dry and warm; in the garden the best places to find hibernating hedgehogs is in piles of wood or autumn leaves.
However the best thing anyone can do to help hedgehogs at this time of year is to leave them in peace and quiet. That piles of leaves carefully raked up in the autumn? The log pile that just looks like it's about to crumble? Leave them both alone until April so that any hedgehog inside can sleep as long as they need to. Likewise, in the late autumn don't get rid of all those falling leaves, make a pile in a quiet corner of your garden and give a hedgehog a chance to make a hibernation home in your garden. And if you want to help those hedgehogs living in farmland areas, support organic agriculture by buying organic foods.
Abbey Home Farm, where I work in the sleepy Cotswolds, is usually a stranger to hedgehogs but just before the beginning of winter a hedgehog turned up as a regular guest in the garden of my boss and was a source of delight to her grandchildren. Currently it (hopefully over time it will gain a gender) is hidden away in a corner of the garden as yet unexplored but hopefully will make its reappearance now that spring has started springing. As yet I believe the hedgehog is unnamed but all suggestions are welcome. Except Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.
If you're interested in learning more about hedgehogs and how they can be helped, your local Wildlife Trust is usually a good source of information. And if you unfortunately find a hedgehog that has been disturbed during hibernation, then the British Preservation Society is another great port of call. You can find out more about Abbey Home Farm on Facebook or Twitter.
Alex Firman, is an apprentice through our Future Growers Scheme, based at Abbey Home Farm, Cirencester. Alongside learning to be an organic farmer, Alex is busy writing our very own ‘hedge-blog’ and taking too many photos.
UK wildlife is in decline and we're looking for 1,000 Organic Wildlife Warriors to help us save it. As an Organic Wildlife Warrior you'll have full membership of the Soil Association – a 'Hedge Fund' with a difference that actually works for hedgehogs! Together we can get UK wildlife back on its tiny feet.