With interest in hedgehog houses down by over 50% during their most treacherous time of the year, wildlife expert Sean McMenemy urges the UK public not to neglect hedgehogs by creating ‘hedgehog highways’ in the garden.
This Bonfire Night comes with extra excitement, as last year’s lockdown extinguished the chance to celebrate properly. However, amongst the commotion comes the risk that the safety of UK wildlife will come under threat.
As nocturnal creatures, hedgehogs are in particular danger, as they may mistake bonfire log piles for shelters whilst roaming through the night. Wildlife experts are asking the public to look out for these mammals by creating hedgehog highways so they have enough room to roam and not get trapped near a bonfire.
Hedgehog highways are 5-inch gaps in fences that help prevent the accidental trapping of hedgehogs by allowing access between gardens. Hedgehogs naturally roam through many different gardens whilst foraging for food, finding mates and seeking out shelter.
The lovable creatures are named on The Mammal Societies Red List of endangered mammals, making the Bonfire Night warning more crucial than ever. Although one of the UK’s most iconic animals, since 2007, numbers of wild hedgehogs in the UK have halved, and there are now thought to be fewer than a million left in the UK.
Garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife, Sean McMenemy, said, “With their natural habitats being destroyed by urbanisation, our gardens are a crucial place of safety for hedgehogs, so it’s essential that people do everything they can to protect them whilst celebrating Bonfire Night. We’ve seen interest in hedgehog houses drop by over 50% compared to last year, further emphasising the need for the UK public to consider our impact on the livelihoods of hedgehogs.
If you find a hedgehog in your garden, ensure it’s not trapped. In many gardens, hedgerows have been replaced by high fences with concrete gravel boards, which create impenetrable barriers preventing hedgehogs from reaching the spaces they need to forage for food.
Hedgehog highways are a great way to protect the hedgehog population. Hedgehogs travel up to a mile every night in search of food and leaving small gaps in fences for them to move between gardens prevents them from getting trapped or having to cross dangerous roads. You can even buy or make a hedgehog highway sign in order to make sure the gap is kept clear. It’s certainly possible to have a wildlife-friendly Bonfire Night if the proper precautions are taken!”
What if you find a hedgehog in your bonfire?
If you find a hedgehog, it’s important to move slowly and calmly, not to alarm it. Even if the bonfire is lit, you should be able to rescue the hedgehog by following the steps above.
With a pair of gardening gloves, please pick it up (along with any nesting material it may have been sitting in) and place it in a high-sided cardboard box. Ensure this contains plenty of newspaper, and relocate the box to a safe and suitable location that is far from any fires. Please wait until the bonfire is over. Dampen down the fire site with water before releasing the hedgehog under a bush or near a log pile to ensure its safety.
What else can you do to support hedgehogs at home?
Aside from protecting hedgehogs on Bonfire Night, there are plenty of things that you can do to support the hedgehog population throughout the autumn and all year round. As hedgehogs prepare to go into hibernation at this time of year, it’s especially important to make sure that you try to supplement their diet and provide suitable places to shelter.
- Buy or build a hedgehog house, ensuring it is sheltered somewhere and well camouflaged with leaves, compost or tree branches.
- Buy specialist hedgehog food or leave out meat-based cat or dog food and provide access to a source of clean water. Leave these out just before dusk.
- Never use slug pellets, as these can be poisonous to hedgehogs. Try placing crushed eggshells or coffee grounds around the plants you want to protect instead.
- Leave wild areas in the garden, such as piles of leaves and logs. These make effective nests and attract the insects that hedgehogs need as part of their diet.
- Cover any drains or holes, and ensure any ponds or swimming pools have an escape route. Avoid using fruit netting, as hedgehogs can become entangled in it.
- Try to keep your garden as green as possible by keeping decking and patios to a minimum.
Hedgehog charities that you can support
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