Clumber Gardener: Help our hedgehogs survive and thrive

Chris Marlow, Clumber Park head gardener
Chris Marlow, Clumber Park head gardener

Our hedgehogs are under threat.

It’s been estimated that over the last decade UK hedgehog numbers have fallen by around 30 per cent, mainly due to the destruction of their favoured habitats, especially hedgerows.

Woodlands, grasslands and parkland also provide suitable habitats, as do gardens.

Although earthworms form part of their diet, hedgehogs also consume large quantities of garden pests, such as snails, slugs, caterpillars, earwigs, millipedes and leatherjackets.

Gardeners should therefore encourage hedgehogs into their gardens to help with pest control and can do a few simple things to help with this.

One of the most important things gardeners can do is to stop using slug pellets.

If hedgehogs feed on slugs and snails which have consumed slug bait, the hedgehogs may die.

There are lots of other slug control methods available, such as biological controls which use nematodes, slug and snail repellents or barriers based on copper tape.

The latter is especially effective when wrapped around containers.

The copper produces an electrical tingle that deters slugs and snails from crossing it and reaching the plants growing in the container.

Slugs and snails can also be caught at dusk, when they become more active.

The more diverse your garden is, the better will it suit you and the hedgehogs.

If you have shady, sunny, damp and dry areas in your garden, you can grow a greater selection of plants.

Hedgehogs will be especially attracted to leafy woodland areas and log piles.

A pond which is friendly to wildlife with a ramp, such as a plank covered with chicken wire, or shallow sides, so that hedgehogs can easily climb out, will create more interest in your garden and attract dragonflies and beneficial creatures such as frogs.

Hedgehogs roam over large areas in search of food, so make sure that they can get in and out of your garden.

This won’t be a problem if you’re not entirely surrounded by an impenetrable physical barrier, such as solid fencing.

If you are, think about making holes the size of a CD ( 13 centimetres in diameter) at the base of the fence.

Hedgehogs should be able to get through the base of living hedges okay.

Nesting sites consisting of log piles and leaf litter can be made in the garden or, alternatively, a hedgehog house can be bought.

There are various types, made from wood or plastic and they should be carefully sited out of the prevailing winds and with plenty of surrounding cover.

Hedgehogs start to hibernate in October and November, depending on their body condition and on how cold the weather is.

During hibernation, they lower their body temperature to save energy and will need to feed regularly and be in good condition before hibernating.

Gardeners can help by putting out some tinned dog food to help feed them up before they hibernate.

This is best put under something low, or by creating a feeding area made by cutting a hole in a plastic storage box, so that dogs can’t get at the food.

It is now November but there is still time to plant bulbs and containers for winter and spring interest can also be planted up.

Use variegated evergreens, such as ivy and euonymus, bulbs and spring bedding plants such as polyanthus primroses, pansies and violas.

Protect vulnerable over-wintering plants before the first hard frosts.

Use sacking or straw to cover crowns of plants and bubble film to place around pots.

Lift and bring inside any tender perennial plants such as cannas, gladioli, chocolate cosmos and dahlias.

If you have outside water taps and exposed pipes supplying them, they should be protected to prevent frost damaging them.

Foam covers with plastic ties can be put over the taps, while exposed pipes should be insulated.

Prepare ground for new plantings on heavy soils by digging the soil and adding organic matter such as well rotted manure or leaf mould.

Leave ground rough dug to allow frosts to break down the clods.

Continue harvesting parsnips, swedes, leeks. broccoli and cabbage and prune back taller growing shoots on shrub roses and lavateras.

This lessens the effect of wind rocking the plant and producing a hole against the crown of the plant at soil level.

Leave final pruning until late winter or early spring.