Writer and photographer David Chapman tells us more about how to be a good friend to that well-loved and familiar garden visitor, the hedgehog
Hedgehog photographed by David Chapman
The hedgehog is the largest of our hibernating animals and as such it needs to pile on the calories during autumn. Fortunately there are plenty of natural foods to be found in our gardens and the wider countryside at this time of year. The hedgehog is a good ally to us in our gardens as it will eat many pests including slugs, beetles and bugs as well as plenty of worms and hedgerow fruits.
Most hedgehogs have no trouble in building up fat deposits to attain the six hundred grams of body weight they need to survive the winter. However the young from the hedgehog’s second litter of the year, often born in September, frequently struggle. Pinkies, as the young hogs are known, spend four weeks suckling from their mother and a further four weeks learning how to fend for themselves, at the end of this time they can expect to weigh about two hundred grams. That is still a long way short of the body mass required for successful hibernation so these hogs will need to delay their hibernation well into November.
If you find a hedgehog wandering around during daylight hours in October the chances are that it is one of these youngsters. Providing a little extra food for them is a good idea but do not, under any circumstances, offer bread or milk. Hedgehogs cannot digest milk and bread is not helpful in adding on calories. Cat food is ideal but avoid giving fish-flavoured varieties as these are not natural for hedgehogs.
The other problem facing hedgehogs at this time of year is in finding a suitable place to hibernate. In our gardens we can help by leaving an unkempt corner where we pile a few logs, twigs and leaf litter; here the hedgehog will happily make its own hibernaculum. Alternatively a custom built detached hedgehog residence can be installed; these look as good as any garden ornaments and may actually be life-savers.
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