Five years ago we provided a home to a young hedgehog that had spent time recuperating in a local rescue centre.
‘Spikey’, as he was called by my eldest daughter, was set free in our garden in June 2015, and he seemed to enjoy his new surroundings. A few sniffs and he was off exploring, so after a few minutes watching him we left him alone and thought we’d see him over the next few days, weeks, months and years.
However, the days, weeks, months and years passed by without even one sighting of Spikey and we thought that was it. The girls were disappointed, particularly my youngest as she was just one when Spikey was released so had never seen a hedgehog.
But lockdown has been very strange in many ways and one evening while eating my dinner in the garden, with darkness falling and one or two bats already sighted, there was a rustling noise coming from one side of the garden.
At first, I thought it was birds moving about in the ivy, finding the perfect spot to roost for the evening, but the noise kept on happening even after darkness had fallen. I eventually decided to investigate and as I got closer realise that the noise was not coming from the ivy or hedge, but from the undergrowth.
The light of my phone was switched on and suddenly a movement at the bottom of the ivy made the noise I’d been hearing. As I tried to make out what it was, the animal moved and revealed itself to be a hedgehog!
I must admit I was a little excited and immediately wondered if it was Spikey, although I later realised that if it was Spikey he would have been pretty old for a hedgehog. Instead it could be one of his offspring, but either way a hedgehog in the garden was something we had only seen when we released Spike five years ago.
I feed the birds meal-worms during the breeding season and sprinkle some over part of the lawn, and it was the leftovers that the hedgehog was feasting on.
He (I say he because it’s quite a big animal and the males are traditionally bigger) came back for a number of nights afterwards, and my daughters were able to see him and it added to their knowledge and excitement about wildlife, something I’m keen for them to continue learning.
We’ve not seen it for a few days now but given the warmer weather I’m now setting out dog food and have cut the underneath of a couple of fence panels to allow it to come in without hindrance.
Hedgehogs are found throughout the UK, save a few Scottish islands. Gardens, hedgerows, woodlands, grasslands, parks, and cemeteries are all important hedgehog habitats, and adult hedgehogs travel between 1 - 2km per night over home ranges between 10 - 20 hectares in size searching for food and mates – that’s entire housing estates and neighbourhoods!
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and only come out at night. They can be heard snuffling and grunting as they forage for food. Although their eyesight is poor, they have good hearing and well-developed sense of smell.
Hedgehogs are good runners, proficient climbers and can even swim. However, if you have a garden pond always make sure it has a shallow area from where the hedgehog, and other animals, can escape.
They are covered with a coat of very sharp spines, which are hollow and made of keratin (like your fingernails). Hedgehogs can roll into a ball and the spines will protect them from predators, except badgers and the occasional dog.
During the day, and during winter hibernation, the hedgehog will sleep in a specially built nest in thick undergrowth, under a shed, in piles of leaves or unlit bonfires. It will never sleep or hibernate outside a nest.
Hedgehogs are insectivores that eat all manner of garden invertebrates from beetles, millipedes and worms to slugs and snails. They usually hibernate between November through to mid-March, but can sometimes be seen out and about during this period changing nesting sites.
Everyone’s contribution is important. Combined, our gardens provide a space for wildlife larger than all our national nature reserves, so by gardening in a wildlife-friendly way, we can help our spiky companions move around safely and find a home.
It is unusual to see a hedgehog staggering around during winter or in daylight, so if you do see one and it looks unwell, it might need a helping hand.
For further information on hedgehogs and how you can make your garden suitable for them along with caring for ones you find our during the day or in winter, it’s worth visiting the RSPCA website.