Article by Isla Campell
Although hedgehogs have been around for over 15 million years, it is believed their numbers are in decline. With the main reason cited as habitat loss, there are many things one can do to help preserve the species. Well-known for its gardening attributes – they are particularly fond of slugs and snails – and the only spiky mammal present in the UK today.Commonly found around woodland edges and under hedgerows, they also favour suburban habitats, and in particular, gardens. Nocturnal by nature, the hedgehog is insectivorous, meaning it mainly likes to feed on insects and other small animals. However, it will also eat things like bird’s eggs, mushrooms and berries. It is a frequent misconception that hedgehogs should be fed milk and bread: although they like to eat such products, they are lactose intolerant and any dairy will upset their stomachs. It is therefore recommended, when either encouraging hedgehogs into your garden or indeed, feeding one you have found, to leave out such items as meat-based pet food, fresh water, peanuts, raisins or mealworm. Hedgehogs, like many mammals, like to hibernate in the winter. Indeed, advice issued on the topic of hedgehogs states that efficient winter nests are vital for their survival. Unfortunately, due to the loss of their more natural habitats, it can be hard for them to find safe places as shelter. That is why, if you have the space to do so, it can be a nice idea to build a hedgehog house. In this way, you are not only providing essential protection for the spiky creatures, but you are helping the species to keep their numbers up! Additionally, female hedgehogs, if they like the house, will use it in the springtime to have their young in.Whether you are building your own, or buying one of the ready-made houses available, there are some basic rules that should be followed, to ensure the house is as effective as possible.For example, the most popular materials for a hedgehog house include wood and natural materials, like grass and leaves. The experts recommend that once you have purchased, or built the house that you line the floor with a mixture of soil, leaves and straw. Furthermore, it is essential to ensure the house is waterproof, as well as providing enough space for the hedgehog. Once the basic hedgehog house structure is ready, it is important to cover it with a combination of leaves, dried grass and twigs: this will provide added protection. Placing the house away from the wind is also necessary, to avoid the hedgehog becoming too cold. Ideally, it should face south and be located against a wall or fence, for example. The hedgehog hibernates from around November time until Easter, although the weather plays the ultimate determining role. Therefore, when it is reaches the right time for your spiky friend to emerge from its hedgehog house, it is important to leave out food for it. As obvious as this is, it will be essential to the hedgehog’s survival, since it will need to replenish lost fat.