Hedgehogs in Your Garden? Here’s What to Do

Encountering a hedgehog in the garden is a sign of a healthy outdoor environment. These creatures are beneficial to gardens as they eat pests such as snails, slugs, and caterpillars, which can damage garden plants.

Garden owners can play a vital role in the conservation of hedgehogs, which have faced a decline in population. Allowing hedgehogs to access the garden not only aids their survival but also keeps the garden’s ecosystem in balance.

A hedgehog snuffles through a lush garden, surrounded by blooming flowers and tall grass

To ensure hedgehogs can safely enter and exit, a small hole in the perimeter fence or wall, about 13 centimetres square, should be created.

This passageway, commonly referred to as a Hedgehog Highway, facilitates their nocturnal foraging and is essential since hedgehogs roam over large areas each night. Gardens should also be checked for hazards, such as open drains or holes, and providing an escape route from water features can prevent drowning.

When a hedgehog is spotted during the day, it may indicate distress, as they are primarily nocturnal. In these cases, assessing the hedgehog for signs of injury or illness is crucial. Gardeners should avoid using pesticides, especially slug pellets, as they can harm hedgehogs. Creating a habitat friendly to hedgehogs not only supports these charming creatures but also helps maintain a thriving garden ecosystem.

Understanding Hedgehogs

A hedgehog explores a garden, sniffing and foraging for food among the plants and fallen leaves

Encountering hedgehogs in the garden can be an enchanting experience, giving a glimpse into the lives of one of the UK’s most beloved nocturnal mammals. This section covers their species characteristics, diet, behaviour, and ways to mitigate potential hazards.

Species and Habitat

The hedgehog commonly found in UK gardens is the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). These solitary creatures are well adapted to a variety of habitats but tend to favour gardens for the ample food supply and potential nesting sites.

They can often be found in hedges and undergrowth, which provide not only food but also protection from predators. Due to habitat loss, creating a ‘hedgehog highway’ in your garden by ensuring there are gaps in fences can be crucial for their survival.

Behaviour and Diet

Hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, known for their unique foraging habits. They have a diet consisting mainly of invertebrates such as beetles, caterpillars, snails, and various insects, aiding in the control of garden pests. Hedgehogs may also consume hedgehog-specific food if provided, but gardeners should avoid giving them milk as it can cause illness.

  • Diet Includes:
    • Beetles
    • Caterpillars
    • Snails
    • Insects
    • Hedgehog food (commercially available)

Health and Hazards

While hedgehogs can benefit gardens by consuming pests, they are themselves vulnerable to various diseases and garden hazards. It’s important for gardeners to check areas before using strimmers or lawnmowers to avoid injuring these creatures.

Hedgehogs can suffer from a range of diseases, some of which can be spread to other hedgehogs. Therefore, hygiene is important when handling them or providing food and water stations. During hibernation, usually from November to mid-March, hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable and should be carefully monitored to ensure they maintain enough weight to survive the winter.

Creating a Hedgehog-Friendly Garden

A garden with a small hedgehog house, shallow dish of water, and plenty of leafy hiding spots

Creating a hedgehog-friendly garden involves providing food and water sources, safe shelter and nesting areas, and ensuring the garden is free from common hazards that could harm hedgehogs.

Providing Food and Water

Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures and benefit greatly from supplementary feeding, especially during the autumn when they are building up fat reserves for hibernation. Food options include meat-based wet cat or dog food, or specialised hedgehog food, which can be placed in a shallow dish out of reach of other animals.

Hedgehogs need a consistent source of water, particularly during dry spells, so it will help your little (or not so little) friend if you place shallow dishes of water around the garden.

  • Feeding tips:
    • Do not provide milk, as it can cause digestive issues.
    • Scatter dry cat food to encourage natural foraging behaviours.

Safe Shelter and Nesting

For hedgehogs to thrive, they require secure places to nest, forage, and hibernate. Leaving areas of the garden wild, with piles of leaves or logs, can offer natural nesting sites. Hedgehog houses can also be purchased or constructed with a small entrance to deter predators. It is important to have accessible entry and exit points in fences or hedges to create a ‘hedgehog highway’.

  • Shelter specifics:
    • Position the hedgehog house in a quiet part of the garden, covered with leaves and brushwood for added protection.

Garden Hazards to Avoid

Gardens can contain many potential hazards to hedgehogs. Netting, slug pellets, and pesticides should be used sparingly or avoided to prevent poisoning or injury. When gardening, be cautious as hedgehogs can hide under foliage or within compost heaps.

Before lighting bonfires, always check for hiding hedgehogs. Additionally, ensure that ponds have an escape route like a ramp or sloped edges to prevent drowning.

  • Hazard reduction:
    • Remove litter and small debris to prevent hedgehogs from getting trapped.
    • Check for hedgehogs before using lawnmowers or strimmers.

Supporting Hedgehogs Beyond Your Garden

A hedgehog wanders through a lush garden, surrounded by vibrant flowers and tall grass. The sun casts a warm glow on the scene, highlighting the hedgehog's spiky silhouette

In the interest of sustaining hedgehog populations, it’s crucial to extend support efforts beyond personal gardens. Enhancing local habitats and ensuring safe passage for hedgehogs can lead to healthier populations and benefit the wider ecosystem.

Fostering Local Hedgehog Populations

Communities can play a pivotal role in protecting hedgehogs by preserving and creating habitats where they can forage and mate. Establishing “hedgehog highways”, small gaps in fences and barriers that allow these creatures to travel between gardens, is essential for their movement and survival.

Encourage your local council to leave wild patches in public parks and to plant native hedgerows rich in invertebrates like beetles – a primary food source for hedgehogs.

Injury and Rescue

Should one come across an injured or sick hedgehog, it is important to contact a local rescue centre promptly. Weight loss, visible wounds, or unusual behaviour such as appearing in daylight during hibernation months can indicate distress.

The correct protocol is to safely contain the hedgehog in a box lined with newspaper or a towel and offer water – avoid milk and bread. Timely transport to a rescue facility can be the difference between life and death for these animals.

Advocating for Hedgehog Conservation

Raising awareness about the decline of British hedgehog populations is imperative. Advocacy can take many forms, from engaging with legislators to protect habitats to participating in local wildlife surveys.

Avoiding harmful garden practices, advocating for alternatives to pesticides, and educating others on creating rubbish-free environments will collectively contribute to safeguarding these unique mammals. Public action in these areas is a crucial step in ensuring hedgehogs remain an integral part of Britain’s natural heritage.

Fun Hedgehog Facts and Misconceptions

A hedgehog explores a garden, sniffing at plants and insects. Text reads "Fun Hedgehog Facts and Misconceptions" above

Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures with a diet that primarily comprises insects, such as slugs and snails. They are known for their characteristic spines, which are not present on their face, legs, and underbellies. Contrary to common misconceptions, hedgehogs are not related to porcupines and are not rodents; instead, they belong to the order Eulipotyphla.


  • Preferred: Insects, snails, slugs, worms
  • Occasional: Frogs, eggs, carrion
  • Avoid: Milk, bread (can be harmful)

Hedgehogs are often thought to drink milk; however, dairy products can actually cause them digestive issues. Instead of milk, they should be provided with water. Bread is also not suitable for hedgehogs as it offers no nutritional value.

Hibernation Facts:

  • Time: Typically from October to April
  • Activity: Hedgehogs hibernate to survive winter scarcity.

It is a misconception that hedgehogs hibernate throughout the entire winter period; they might wake and forage during milder spells. If a hedgehog is spotted during daytime, it may indicate it’s in trouble, as they are naturally nocturnal.

Home Care:

  • Suitable food: A shallow dish of water and meat-based cat food can be offered.
  • Caution: Foods like milk and bread are to be avoided.

Many believe hedgehogs have fleas specific to them, and although they do, these fleas rarely infest pets like dogs. Hedgehogs have a keen sense of hearing and smell, which aids them in foraging but does not help prevent them from becoming entangled in garden nets or hurt by lawn mowers.


  • Protection: Their spines serve as a defence mechanism.
  • Shedding: Spines are shed and replaced regularly throughout their life.

When hedgehogs feel threatened, they curl into a ball, and their spines act as an effective deterrent against predators. Hedgehogs also communicate through a variety of noises, including snuffles and grunts as part of their foraging behaviour.

While coffee grounds are rumoured to deter slugs—a primary food source for hedgehogs—there is no need to rely on such measures if these animals are present, as they are natural pest controllers.

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