Gardening Lymington - September in your garden - keeping Lymington gardens hedgehog friendly

Keeping Lymington and New Forest gardens hedgehog friendly.

 hedgehog in Sept

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help our Hedgehogs

I am lucky to live in a very sociable street. Every year we have a street party just for the fun of it, although we do try to tie in a theme. Themes have ranged from celebrating the royal wedding and the centenary anniversary of the street to bringing a dish made from local ingredients. This year I suggested the theme should be how to make our street hedgehog friendly.

 

We all know the plight of the bee but hedgehogs are also declining at a rapid rate. Some estimates suggest that the hedgehog population has declined from 30 million in the 1950s to 1.5 million today. Others say their numbers have plummeted by a third in 10 years. Whatever the figure, what’s obvious is the number of hedgehogs is in decline, and we can’t blame it on changes in farming. Hedgehogs mainly live in suburban gardens, so it’s the way we garden that’s had the biggest impact on hedgehog numbers. The good news is that if we change our practices just a little we can have a direct impact on hedgehog numbers.

 

Hedgehogs have a reputation for being covered in fleas, this is not the case. A healthy hedgehog has no more fleas than any other animal, they have the added bonus however of eating slugs. Slugs are my number one enemy in the garden, so I am very keen to encourage hedgehogs into my garden.

 

Hedgehogs are insectivores with big appetites. An adult hedgehog can eat up to 200 grams of insects/slugs a night, i.e. half their weight in food each day. In order to feed this appetite they need to roam for up to 2 km each night. But the problem they encounter is fences. They inhibit the hedgehog’s ability to wander from garden to garden. Instead they are forced out onto roads where they are frequently killed. One of the first things we can do to help the hedgehog is replace fences with hedges. Native hedges composed of blackthorn, hawthorn or wild privet for example will quickly establish and reach a decent height in a few years. Such planting is ideal for hedgehogs – they are not called hedgehogs for nothing. Here they will find food, and shelter; two of the most important requirements for a hog, as well as access to more gardens.

 

If you can’t plant a hedge because you already have a fence, you only need to create a gap about 5 inches / 12cm under the fence or wall. This will enable the hedgehog to access other gardens. Depending on the length of your fence, one or two of these will normally be sufficient.

Another way to help hedgehogs is not to be too tidy in your garden, or to have a scruffy corner out of sight:

  • Have areas of long grass. Here the hedgehogs can search for earthworms and beetles. If you find that leaving an area like that is too untidy for you try mowing a path through it so it looks more inviting, and cultivated.
  • Leave some logs/branches/twigs in the garden so the hedgehogs can make a nest for themselves. You could make or buy a custom made hedgehog house, but the beauty of having a wild area is that logs are also homes to lots of insects which in turn attracts the hedgehogs.
  • Try not to disturb these areas between November and March, as this is the time hedgehogs are hibernating. And if your logs have been stacked for a bonfire, for example on Bonfire Night, check there are no hedgehogs there before lighting it.
  • And finally raise any sport or fruit nets in the garden so they are ½ meter above the ground or hedgehogs may get entangled in the netting.

 

Don’t forget to check for hedgehogs before you start with the strimmer or lawnmower!

 

If you find the idea of a wild area in the garden unappealing choose a spot furthest from the house and screen it off from view. Have the long grass here, along with your compost and leaf bins. The latter two create lovely nest for hedgehogs. Because of this it is always good to check your bins for droppings or entrance holes and just gently rummage around in them before sticking a fork in. Again, don’t empty them before April. Leaf bins are also attractive to hedgehogs as they will find slugs there, eating the decomposing leaves.

 

Hedgehogs drink lots of water at night. So if you can have a pond in your garden that will be another great attraction to hedgehogs. They are good swimmers so a natural pond with gentle sloping sides will allow the hedgehog to happily wander to and from the water. What they cannot cope with are the steep sides of formal ponds. If you have such a pond put some rocks by the side of the pond wall positioned in such a way that they would enable hedgehogs to clamber out of the pond, should they fall in. This technique also applies if you have a cattle grid at the entrance to your drive; otherwise the hedgehog is trapped. Fortunately most new cattle grids come with little ramps to address this problem.

 

If you don’t have a pond, just put a saucer of water out for them. Never put out milk, as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant so it upsets their stomachs. Nor should you put out bread as being insectivores they eat meat. It would be better to put out dog/cat food or special hedgehog food.

And please stop using slug pellets as any hedgehog that eats these poisoned slugs will also be poisoned. There are organic slug pellets, which claim to be wildlife friendly. Alternatively put down beer traps. Cut the bottom off old plastic bottles and fill these with the cheap beer. This attracts the slugs, which consequently fall into the trap. This method does require you to keep refilling the traps but if you can do this while the plant is young and tender it will reduce the number of slugs attacks. Eventually the plant becomes older and more unpalatable to slugs and subsequently gets established.

 

But surely the best way to eliminate slugs is to have your own hedgehog, so hopefully by following these few steps your street can become a hedgehog friendly street too.

 

Article by Debby Lockey for lymington.com

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