The hedgehog is an easily recognisable mammal, which means it should be easy to spot. A drastic drop in numbers has made this more difficult in recent years, and this is reflected in the National Hedgehog Survey. Below, we’ll explore their natural diet and give you some tips to entice them to your garden.
Over the last 20 years, the hedgehog population has declined by approximately 40%. For the first time, there are fewer than a million of them. There are so few that only 29% of British people reported seeing a hedgehog in their garden last year. This has led to them being classified as a priority conservation species.
This decline may have multiple causes, but it seems the most likely culprits are urbanisation and the intensification of agriculture. Whilst these may seem polar opposites to each other, they both fragment the hedgehog habitat of woodland edges, hedgerows and grassland – making it harder for the hedgehogs to survive. They also reduce the diversity of plant life available, leading to fewer insects and less food overall.
Hedgehogs have adapted by moving to gardens for food which may help local populations.
What do hedgehogs eat?
Hedgehogs are generalist feeders, so they’re not fussy about what they eat. They do, however, have a large appetite and can consume up to their own bodyweight in food every night. The foods below make up the vast majority of their diet, in descending order, but it’s not an exhaustive list!
Slugs and snails
While your garden may not have a good supply of these foods, it’s easy to tempt some of these insects in – which will then bring in the hedgehogs! A herb garden, planted with mint, dill and fennel, is sure to attract a plentiful supply of beetles. Alternatively, creating a compost heap and keeping it damp will draw in the earthworms. By making your garden enticing to invertebrates, you’ll be creating an inviting environment for hedgehogs. Remember to put a hedgehog ‘corridor’ into your garden by cutting a small hole in any fence line so they can get in and out.
What to feed hedgehogs
If it isn’t possible for you to entice a hedgehog’s favourite food, there are other ways you can feed local hedgehogs. There are specifically designed hedgehog foods you can buy from garden centres, or you can use the cheaper option of dog food, minced meat or cat biscuits. In either case, make sure you also supply a fresh source of water.
How can you tell if you have hedgehogs?
Once you’ve done all this work, it’s nice to know if a hedgehog is actually visiting! The easiest way to tell is by looking for their footprints or their droppings. The footprints from the front paws can often look like miniature human hand prints, with five toes and the main pad all in a small circular shape. Depending on the ground type, only four toes may show up. The back feet are longer and slimmer, and slightly triangular at the back.
The droppings can vary greatly in appearance, depending on the hedgehog’s individual diet. They’re usually very dark in colour, ranging from dark grey or brown to black. You can often see the indigestible exoskeletons of insects in them. They are between 3 and 5 cm long, cylindrical, and tapered at the ends.
Hedgehogs are becoming a rare sighting. With Hedgehog Awareness Week around the corner (starting 1 May), there’s never been a better time to get involved. Make your garden into a hedgehog paradise and let us know in the comments if you manage to spot one, or find one of their calling cards!