CREATING A HEDGEHOG FRIENDLY GARDEN
HEDGEHOGS – THE GARDENER’S FRIEND
Hedgehogs do no harm in the garden, they eat a great variety of insects and invertebrates like beetles, caterpillars, worms, earwigs, cranefly larvae, slugs, snails and millipedes etc.
THE RIGHT HABITAT
Recreate the woodland edge in your garden: a shrubbery with a few trees and shrubs of varying heights, underplanted with wild flowers or other ground cover and mulch with organic material (woodchips/composted bark/rotted manure/grass cuttings/leafmould etc). A 4” (10cm) thick layer will repress weeds, retain moisture, improve soil structure and insulate the soil. Only apply mulch when the ground is warm and moist. Native plants are best to provide food for insect larvae, some of which only feed on one type of plant. Native oak leaves are eaten by 284 species of invertebrate and are also good for building hedgehogs’ winter nests. A mixed hedge of native plants does the same job as a shrubbery and acts as a safe corridor for hedgehogs and other creatures to wander between gardens. Recommended plants: hawthorn, field maple, holly, native privet, dogwood, guelder and dog rose, beech, alder, buckthorn, goat willow. Plant at 45º angle to get established. Put garden rubbish along the hedge bottom – dry leaves,grass and twigs to provide a possible hibernation site.
Make a log pile and leave a hedgehog-size hole in the middle for nesting, then cover with leaves and grass cuttings. Many insects including beetles will live there and provide hedgehogs with prey. Make leafmould rather than burning fallen leaves, this replaces humus in the soil, it decays with the aid of fungi and is ready for use in 1-2 years, and in the meantime provides a possible hedgehog nest site.
Compost all your vegetable and garden waste, this is the heart of an organic garden and provides a good restaurant and home for hedgehogs, BUT do please take extra care when turning or using the compost, it is easy to put the garden fork right through a sleeping hedgehog with lethal results.
Don’t be too tidy, all wild creatures need somewhere to hide, nest sites and nesting material, leave a wild area if possible with a bramble patch which makes an ideal hibernation site. Brambles are nature’s sanctuary, providing late flowers for insects and fruit for birds.
If you have a small garden, the same conditions can be achieved under any evergreen shrub with arching branches to provide a roof (e.g pyracantha) choose a plant with berries for the birds and/or nectar for insects, let leaves pile up underneath, or put them there with some dry grass cuttings to encourage a hedgehog to make its winter nest underneath. Clumps of pampas grass are also favourite nest sites. But please DO take care when cutting them down in case there is a hedgehog inside and PLEASE DON'T burn your clump unless you are quite sure that there are no hedgehogs nesting there.
Leave some nettles to act as a nursery for the insects you want to attract. Other nursery plants are: hazel (good for squirrels), willow and sow thistle. Provide ground cover; bare soil is not attractive to ground dwelling creatures such as beetles, centipedes or earwigs (all hedgehog food items) – they prefer dark, damp places under plants, pieces of wood or mulch.
The aim is to attract ALL forms of wildlife from the tiniest bug to toads and hedgehogs, so it is most important to give up using harmful chemical sprays.
Now, RELAX AND ENJOY! Take time to look and see who is sharing your garden with you. There is always a good reason for NOT doing a job just yet! Leave seed heads on for the birds in winter, leave the hedge-cutting until nesting is over, let plants grow into one another creating a spectacular effect which you can tell your friends you had planned, when they admire it!
On to Garden hazards