Help Save the Hedgehogs!


hedgehogThe RSPCA is urging gardeners to help save the crisis-hit hedgehog population in the UK, as it has taken in more than 10,000 of the spiny animals in the last five years. With up to three quarters of all rural hedgehogs being lost in the past two decades, one of the biggest threats to their survival is starvation due to the decline in the bugs they eat.

Gardeners are being asked to pledge to help encourage hedgehogs into their neighbourhoods by providing plentiful food sources such as insects, building hedgehog houses and dead hedge habitats, as well as planting insect-friendly plants. The RSPCA is highlighting the issue at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden by showcasing hedgehog-friendly gardening ideas.

Hedgehogs are brought into the care of the charity’s wildlife centres (pictured) by animal rescuers or members of the public, usually after they’ve been seen out during the day due to illness, injury, and worryingly, being underweight after struggling to find food.

Now, following Hedgehog Awareness Week (30 April – 6 May), the RSPCA is urging people with gardens and outdoors spaces to go online and pledge to help encourage hedgehogs into their neighbourhoods. The public are asked to provide means for hedgehogs to find plentiful food such as insects – from building a hedgehog house, popping a ramp in and out of any garden ponds, growing insect-friendly plants or building a dead-hedge habitat.

The call comes ahead of the opening of the RSPCA Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, where the charity will be showcasing hedgehog-friendly gardening ideas. These include three hedgehog houses, a stunning dead hedge area including a further hidden hedgehog habitat, and beds of pollinator-friendly plants – plus a green roof to encourage insects into the garden.

Evie Button, scientific officer at the RSPCA said: “It’s really sad to think that our beloved night time garden visitors are at risk of starving in our own backyards. With busier roads, increased building sites and loss of hedgerows all impacting a hedgehog’s natural environment and their ability to find food, it’s essential we all do what we can not only to protect hedgehogs, but also to help them thrive.”

The gold-medal winning designer of the RSPCA Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has also joined the call for action.

Garden designer Martyn Wilson said: “Hedgehogs are a gardener’s friend as they eat beetles, caterpillars, worms and other invertebrates, so as gardeners we need to be doing all we can to protect them from dangers such as harmful pesticides that wipe out their food sources.

“We all have a responsibility to help wildlife, and we can also make it easier for hedgehogs to thrive and find food and water. It’s simpler than you might think and the good news is hedgehogs can be welcomed into the garden without compromising on style. The RSPCA Garden demonstrates plenty of ways people can take simple but effective steps in their own gardens.”

The RSPCA has also highlighted the benefits natural lawns and green spaces in people’s communities can have on helping hedgehog populations to thrive.

Dr Ros Clubb, RSPCA wildlife expert, added: “While we understand that some people with gardens prefer the idea of artificial grass, or may replace grass with things like gravel paths or decking, access to real lawns does have huge benefits for wildlife – including for the increasingly under-threat hedgehog.

“In the last five years, we’ve had more than 10,000 calls about hogs in need – so they need all the support they can get, and we simply cannot help them all on our own.

“Sadly, many hedgehogs are starving, and that’s in no small part due to the loss of bugs for them to eat. That’s why gardeners taking steps like growing real lawns, prioritising insect-friendly plants and building a dead-hedge habitat, are all so important for hedgehogs.

“Gardeners really do have the power to help Britain’s hedgehogs – and this is a key theme of our garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, which is all about the small things people can do in their own gardens to help our crisis-hit wildlife.

“Building a hedgehog house, popping a ramp in and out of any garden ponds, or making hedgehog highways are all great ways to help hedgehogs get around, find plentiful food.

“If you have space in your garden, allowing a section of your grass to grow long – creating a mini meadow – could also become a biodiverse habitat for wildlife.”

Helpful hints for hungry hedgehogs

  • Leave out foods like tinned dog or cat food and crushed cat or dog biscuits, or supply good quality, meaty hedgehog food from wildlife food suppliers.

  • Keep feed bowls clean to avoid harmful bacteria.

  • Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t feed hedgehogs milk or bread – milk can cause diarrhoea and bread isn’t very nutritious.

  • Create your own bug hotel to encourage a healthy insect population for hedgehogs to feast.


Hedgehog-friendly gardening tips

  • Build a hedgehog house out of bricks and sticks (pictured above).

  • Provide an exit route from ponds and pools. Use bricks or stones at the side of the pond. Create a sloped edge on part of the pond to help hedgehogs to climb out if they fall in. Cover swimming pools overnight and when they’re not in use.

  • Hedgehogs travel on average a mile a day and may be impeded by walls and fences. You can help by using fencing with gaps, removing a brick from the wall, cutting a hole in your fence or digging a tunnel underneath, or you could make hedgehog highways.

  • Cover holes and uncovered drains, or check them every day to make sure no hedgehogs have become trapped.

  • Check for hedgehogs before using strimmers or mowers – particularly under hedges, where they might be resting during the day. If you’re forking over a compost heap, check them for any nesting hogs first.

  • Always thoroughly disturb bonfires immediately before you light them, as there could be hedgehogs nesting or hiding inside. Moving the whole bonfire by hand before setting it alight is the best way of ensuring that hedgehogs and other wildlife aren’t sleeping in there.

  • Litter is a real hazard to hedgehogs – they can get their heads stuck in tins, plastic bags, binders from drinks cans or discarded yoghurt pots. Make sure you dispose of your rubbish safely and check there’s no litter in your garden. Any plastic rings should be cut up, however small they are.

  • Raise any netting: if you have any netting or wire in your garden, make sure it’s at least a foot above ground level, as hedgehogs can easily become tangled up in it. Pack away or roll up fruit nets, tennis and goal nets when they’re not in use. Replace any netting in your garden with solid metal mesh, as it’s less likely to entangle hedgehogs.

  • Don’t close your shed doors if you usually keep them open, as there might be hedgehogs nesting inside. Keep any dangerous chemicals or tools well off the ground. If you need to dismantle your shed, check carefully underneath the floor first for nesting or hibernating hedgehogs.

  • Avoid slug pellets and pesticides – these can poison hedgehogs and should only be used as a last resort. Instead, try using one of many natural alternatives, like sprinkling crushed eggshells or coffee grounds around the plants you need to protect. If you have to use pellets, place them under a slate that’s inaccessible to hedgehogs. (The outdoor use of slug pellets containing metaldehyde was banned in Great Britain from March 2022.)

  • Make a note of the contact number for your local wildlife rescue organisation so you have it to hand if you find an injured hedgehog.

The RSPCA is empowering people to become a Wildlife Friend and help the charity save thousands of wild animals in need – just like hedgehogs.

Elements of The RSPCA Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this May are inspired by the frontline work of RSPCA teams and volunteers rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing thousands of wild animals every year, and the charity hopes the garden will inspire people to encourage wildlife into their gardens and take action protecting them from harm.

Partnering with designer Martyn Wilson of Wilson Associates Garden Design, the charity’s garden will also celebrate the RSPCA’s forthcoming 200th anniversary next year (2024).

As part of the project which is being generously funded by Project Giving Back, the garden will be relocated at the end of the event to RSPCA Stapeley Grange, one of the charity’s wildlife rehabilitation and education centres, for visitors to enjoy the living legacy for years to come.

It will continue to provide sanctuary for wildlife, and also for visitors to the wildlife centre – including young people, families and vulnerable adults, who already visit the centre for support with emotional wellbeing and resilience. The space will deliver impactful experiences and bring essential animal welfare education to communities who have fewer opportunities to connect with their environment.

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