Most people will readily admit to loving hedgehogs yet very few of us will ever encounter a live hedgehog in the garden or the wild. Being solitary and nocturnal creatures, this is hardly surprising. Sadly people are more likely to encounter a hedgehog as an accidental roadside casualty.
Although the hedgehog’s sense of smell and hearing is very good, they do suffer from poor vision which increases their vulnerability. Mortality rates are also very high, approximately 20% of all hedgehogs will die within four weeks of birth otherwise the average lifespan is 3 years. Less than one in a thousand hedgehogs will live beyond ten years. Most alarming however is that most hedgehogs will die during hibernation. This despite hibernation being the hedgehog’s natural and instinctive means of surviving without food sources during harsh winter weather. So it seems the life of this tiny creature is short and precarious.
Also worrying is the decline in the hedgehog population, which is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with loss of its natural habitat resulting from modern intensive farming and monoculture crop growing techniques. Deterioration in rural habitats combined with a lack of suitable habitats in urbanised environments are significant factors contributing threats to the decline in hedgehog populations.
We should take responsibility to learn more about this valuable natural garden predator which besides insects preys on slugs, snails, earthworms.
Some actions we can take to help:
- Cutting or strimming long grass can be hazardous to hedgehogs. To reduce casualties and avoid the risk of accidents, check area carefully before commencing any cutting.
- Slug pellets are usually safe and harmless to animals and contain only a tiny amount of the active ingredient (metaldehyde) necessary to kill slugs and under normal conditions this will pose no threat to hedgehogs. However this could change if the hedgehog was to ingest considerable amounts (the equivalent required to kill 50 slugs) of poisoned slugs. Applying some common sense to using slug pellets sparingly and where possible removing poisoned slugs will all help reduce the risks.
- Hedgehogs naturally hibernate in nests which they will construct using primarily leaves and grasses but they will also nest in random manmade enclosures such as log pile. Hedgehogs also like to move location often (even during hibernation) and in the course of the year will live alone in several nest sites. Even in urban gardens, it is easily possible to make some simple provision and provide a secure shelter for these valuable gardeners allies.
Whenever possible lets do more to help hedgehogs survive and thrive.