Are you lucky enough to have a hedgehog visiting your garden? These much-loved mammals are in trouble, with the UK population possibly falling by two-thirds in the last 25 years alone.
Evidence suggests this decline is most severe in rural areas and hogs are actually faring better in our towns and villages than the countryside. This means gardens can be an important refuge for the species. One way you can help any visiting hogs is to provide some food. But what do hedgehogs eat and what should you feed them?
What do hedgehogs eat?
Insects and other invertebrates are the hedgehog’s main natural food source. A typical diet includes:
Hogs hunt by snuffling through the undergrowth, using their keen sense of smell and hearing to catch any prey they disturb. While invertebrates are top of the menu, hedgehogs are opportunistic eaters. Carrion, fallen fruit and the eggs of ground-nesting birds may all be taken should a hog come across them.
It’s thought a lack of food may be a factor in the hedgehog’s decline. This is because invertebrate numbers have been reduced by agricultural intensification and pesticide use.
As opportunistic eaters, hedgehogs will readily consume food left out in your garden. The best foods to provide are:
Meat-based cat or dog food
Specially-made hedgehog food
As well as providing food, you can put out a shallow dish of water to ensure any visiting hogs stay hydrated.
When to feed hedgehogs
You can start feeding hedgehogs as soon as they emerge from hibernation in spring. The food will be most beneficial in late summer and autumn when they are building up the fat reserves needed to survive the winter. It’s also worth providing food and water during periods of dry, hot weather, as natural resources can become scare in these conditions. It’s not exactly clear how much urban hedgehogs rely on food provided by people, but it’s thought to supplement rather than replace their natural diet.
What not to feed hedgehogs
The following foods should be avoided when feeding hedgehogs:
Bread and milk (hogs are lactose intolerant so milk can make them ill. Bread has little nutritional value)
Mealworms (thought to cause health problems when eaten in large quantities)
How else can you help hedgehogs?
You can help hogs further by making your garden attractive to their invertebrate prey. Allowing areas to become overgrown or adding a pond, log pile or compost heap will provide habitat. Birds and other wildlife that feed on these minibeasts will benefit too.
As well as providing food, it’s important to ensure hedgehogs can easily access your garden. An individual hog can range over a mile in a single evening, but when gardens are surrounded by impenetrable walls and fencing it becomes difficult for them to move around. A space of just 13 x 13cm is enough for any hog to get in and out of your garden.
Hedgehogs also need sheltered spaces to sleep during the day and hibernate through the winter. Overgrown patches, compost heaps and log piles can all be used by resting hogs. Another option is to buy or build a hedgehog house. Place the house in a quiet, shaded corner of your garden to have the best chance of a hog taking up residence.