How to make your garden a haven for hedgehogs

Hedgehogs can become a gardener’s best friend, so make your patch more inviting.

Hedgehogs need our help. These spiky critters were put on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as ‘vulnerable to extinction in Great Britain’ in 2020. And according to the State of Britain’s hedgehogs report, hedgehog populations have fallen by up to 30% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas since the millennium. This isn’t good news if you own a garden: they’ve long been a useful companion for gardeners.  

That’s because they’re a great form of natural pest control. Some of their favourite snacks include common pests, such as caterpillars and slugs.

hedgehog sitting in a drainpipe surrounded by autumnal leaves and rosehipsCredit: Shutterstock / Anne Coatesy

Thankfully, there are some simple improvements you can make to your garden that will create a more welcoming space for hedgehogs. You can even encourage them to hibernate near your home over winter, too, so their useful pest-munching services can continue into the next year. 

Try these tips if you want to make more prickly friends this autumn.

Advertisement

1. Leave the right food out

Steer clear of milk

Want to attract hedgehogs to your garden? Before you dash to the fridge and pour a saucer of milk to leave outside, hold your horses – or should that be cows?!  

“We now know that this can upset hedgehog tummies, so we advise against giving them milk and bread, explains Fay Vass, chief executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS).  

Leave shallow dishes of fresh water instead, she suggests, and some more suitable snacks to supplement hedgehogs’ natural diet. “We suggest a good-quality meaty hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food, or cat biscuits. You could also create a log pile, as this will encourage beetles, caterpillars and other insects, which are the natural foods for hedgehogs – a bug buffet!”  

She adds that growing wildflowers will also attract a wide array of insects – good news for your hedgehogs. If you are putting food out containing meat, be sure to check for signs of rodents. You don’t want to inadvertently invite all the local rats to your outdoor area for dinner, too.  

Featured product

Brambles Crunchy Hedgehog Food, Amazon

RRP: £12.17

Brambles Crunchy Hedgehog Food, Amazon

2. Improve access to your garden

Cut a gap in your fence

Don’t be fooled by those little legs. Hedgehogs can travel up to 2km a night, according to the Mammal Society. That’s a lot of gardens. These nocturnal wanderings are often interrupted by walls and fences. You can’t attract hedgehogs to your garden if they can’t get in, after all.  

“You just need to make 13cm x 13cm (5.1in) square gaps in your fences or walls, which should allow even the biggest hedgehogs to pass through safely,” says Vass. “If you can, put gaps on all sides of your garden, so that hedgehogs can travel throughout your neighbourhood. Encourage all your neighbours to do the same and you will have linked up all the gardens so hedgehogs can travel safely to search for food, shelter or mates – creating a ‘hedgehog highway’.” 

Once these gaps have been created, BHPS urges people to please log them on the Big Hedgehog Map.   

3. Build a hedgehog house

Create a safe, predator-proof space

Knowing how to attract hedgehogs is one thing but encouraging them to stay for a while is another. Who doesn’t love to feel warm, dry and safe? Providing a hedgehog house can do just that. Not only can these secure spaces become a place to nest, they might also prove ideal spots for hibernation. There are some pre-made products on the market, or you could build your own. 

“Ideally, the house should have a base and some kind of entrance tunnel to keep predators from reaching in and to keep out the worst of the weather,” says Vass. “BHPS has a design you can download from its website with all the dimensions you need. “Once you’ve built your hedgehog house, position it in a quiet corner of the garden, ideally under some bushes or a hedge. 

“Try and position it so that the entranceway faces roughly south. This will help keep out the cold northerly winds in the winter. You can add some dry leaves to the house, but don’t overfill it – no more than half full should be fine. You could leave a pile of extra bedding material nearby, too, so that your hedgehogs can help themselves to more if they need it.  

“If you have a hedgehog house with an occupant, don’t be tempted to peek in either. Hedgehog mums are notoriously bad for abandoning their babies if they get disturbed – the last thing anyone wants – so best to leave them in peace in their hedgehog home.” 

Featured product

Deluxe Hedgehog House XXL, CJ Wildlife

RRP: £124.99

Deluxe Hedgehog House XXL, CJ Wildlife

Watch the hedgehogs on camera instead

To help ease the temptation to peek inside your hedgehog house, why not install a camera instead? A family friend once set up motionsensor cameras in his homemade house so he could enjoy watching the hedgehogs’ movements from a safe distance. Having this secret insight into the house was also vital to tweaking his design to make it inaccessible to cats (which had been managing to squeeze in and snaffle food). 

Featured product

SUNTEKCAM Wildlife Camera 36MP 4K Trail Camera, Amazon

RRP: £39.99

SUNTEKCAM Wildlife Camera 36MP 4K Trail Camera, Amazon
Advertisement

4. Don’t touch hedgehogs

Handling hedgehogs can cause stress

If you’ve managed to attract hedgehogs to your garden, tempting as it might be to try and hand-feed them, it can be harmful to their survival in the wild. 

“Hedgehogs are wild animals and will be stressed by handling,” says Vass. “There is no reason to touch a healthy hedgehog that is only out at night. Even a sick or injured hedgehog should only be handled for the initial rescue and then ongoing treatments. They should not be treated as pets or handled any more than is absolutely necessary for their wellbeing. Not only can the stress exacerbate any conditions they might have, but it may even prove fatal.  

“Hedgehogs shouldn’t be used to human presence and any hedgehogs that have become tame through over-exposure to people may struggle in the wild.” 

Watch out for fleas 

“While it’s important to care for wildlife, make sure you don’t end up inviting in more creatures than you bargained for,” says Sarah Harley, homes writer for Saga Exceptional. “Although it’s hard to resist the lure of a cute hedgehog, remember they still are wild creatures and may carry fleas.

“A friend of mine encouraged her children to feed and look after a hedgehog family that had set up home in her garden. Weeks later, she discovered her home was so infested with fleas she had to get in the experts to deal with them.” 

5. Avoid using pesticides and pellets

Protect the hedgehog food chain

Though the sale of slug pellets containing the pesticide metaldehyde has been banned in the UK, other types are still on the market. Or you may have a long-forgotten box in the back of your shed. There are many reasons not to use pellets – protecting hedgehogs is one of them. 

“Don’t use pesticides or slug pellets in your garden,” agrees Vass. “Not only can these harm hedgehogs, but they also damage their food chain.” 

Though these pests are a pain, there are other ways to keep slugs out of the garden without using harsh chemicals that would then be ingested by a hedgehog seeking out a slimy snack. 

6. Keep an area of your garden wild

Piles of leaves make a great place to nap

Although we generally like our outside space to look as tidy as possible, many people are rewilding gardens. This is great news for hedgehogs, as Vass recommends leaving a section of your garden to go wild as a great way to attract hedgehogs.  

If you do have lots of long grass, piles of leaves or a compost heap, think twice before you interfere with them in any way. 

“Be really careful when strimming or mowing – check areas thoroughly for hedgehogs before you start,” warns Vass. “Also check compost heaps before sticking the fork in. They can seem like ideal places to sleep for a hedgehog.” 

Before you burn garden waste…

“Bonfires are a tempting home for a hedgehog,” says Vass. “Collected materials should be re-sited just before the fire is to be lit. If this is not possible, the base should be lifted with poles or broom handles (not a fork) and a torch shone in – look (and listen) for any wildlife or pets in need of rescue before lighting. Finally, always light from one side to provide an escape route for anything you may have missed.” 

7. Build a garden pond

Help hedgehogs swim to safety

Creating a pond is also a fantastic way to attract hedgehogs to your garden, as they’ll feed on the insects that are drawn to the water. Vass reminds us that, despite being good swimmers, hedgehogs can become trapped in ponds (or pools) with sheer sides. 

“Keep water levels topped up, provide a gently sloping edge if possible, or place half submerged rocks or a ramp in the water as an escape for them.” 

How to help a hedgehog you’re concerned about

Tips from the RSPCA

Now you know how to attract hedgehogs to your garden, hopefully you’ll find evidence of their visits overnight. But if you’re spotting your new spiny friends during the day, it might mean something’s not quite right. 

Evangeline Button, RSPCA’s senior scientific officer, told Saga Exceptional: “As a rule of thumb, if you see a hedgehog out during the day, it’s likely there is something wrong, as hedgehogs are usually nocturnal creatures. 

“This is because the insects and other small animals they feed on are normally active at night, too.  

“However, during dry periods of weather, species like earthworms become scarce as the ground dries out, so they may be having to search harder and further for food. So, if they appear active and there is nothing obviously wrong – for example the hedgehog is not injured, circling or staggering or in immediate danger – they should be left alone, but provide some food and water to help them.”  

Button says the hedgehog is probably sick or injured when:

  • There is an obvious sign of injury (like a cut or broken leg). 
  • It doesn’t seem interested in the food you’ve put out. 
  • The hedgehog is staggering, wobbly, walking around in circles or lethargic.
  • You can see a large number of flies or ticks on the hedgehog.
  • You can see any maggots or fly eggs on the hedgehog.
  • The hedgehog does not roll up or try to roll up when you approach or touch it. 

You should also help hedgehogs if: 

  • The weather is cold – regular ground frost, snow or temperatures are at or below freezing for several days. 
  • It weighs less than 300g (10.5oz) – about the size of an apple. 
  • It is in immediate danger, for example on a road. 

If you’re not sure, then Button recommends contacting a local wildlife rescue centre for more advice. The BHPS can also put you in touch with a local, independent hedgehog rescue volunteer (by calling 01584 890801). 

Trying to catch a poorly hedgehog?

Should you need to collect a sick or injured hedgehog so that it can be looked after by a rescue centre or volunteer, Button advises the following: 

“If it’s safe to catch and handle the hedgehog, then, wearing thick gloves or using a folded towel, gently pick it up. Place it into a secure, high-sided cardboard box, lined with a towel. You might also find that gently throwing a towel over the hedgehog causes it to curl up, making it easier to catch.  

“Then, take the hedgehog to a wildlife rescue centre. If you can’t do this immediately, keep the hedgehog somewhere warm and quiet indoors, and offer them a small amount of suitable food and water, but make sure you take them to an expert for care as soon as you can.  

“Unfortunately, a lot of the time, sick or injured wild animals are in a very bad state by the time they can be caught, and the kindest thing for the vet to do is to put the animal to sleep, so please be prepared that they may need to take that difficult decision.” 

The RSCPA says keep in mind:  

  • Always wear gloves if you have to handle a hedgehog, as they can carry diseases like ringworm and salmonella bacteria, which can be passed to humans. 
  • Don’t handle the hedgehog any more than you need to because contact with humans will be stressful for them. 
  • Hedgehogs from the same litter can be kept in the same box if it’s big enough. 

If you want to help hedgehogs 

More information about helping hedgehogs can be found on the RSPCA website. The BHPS also has some useful first-aid tips on its website. If in doubt though, seek advice from your local wildlife rehabilitator. 

You can also find out more about helping hedgehogs by becoming a ‘hedgehog champion’. Sign up for free at hedgehogstreet.org (a project run by BHPS and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species) to receive news and seasonal advice. 

Advertisement
Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her

Published:

Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures.

Rosanna loves nothing better than getting under the skin of a topic and is led by an unwavering curiosity to share information and stories that inform and inspire her readers – a mission that has taken her around the world. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller, i-escape.com, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

She turned her attention to the Homes sector as a result of an ongoing renovation and improvement project, which takes up a fair amount of her time outside of work. When she’s not comparing carpet samples or debating the pros and cons of induction hobs, you’ll find Rosanna exploring Bristol’s food and drink scene, obsessively watching horror films, or donning some walking boots and heading for the hills.

  • linkedin