Bed, Breakfast and the Hedgehog Highway – part 1

As you’re munching mince pies and feeling merry and bright this Christmas, spare a thought for your garden hedgehogs. In our modern gardens it’s getting increasingly difficult for hedgehogs to find a good meal and a place to rest their weary heads. They might be hibernating at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t set your garden up to be a true hedgehog oasis come springtime. In a 3 part blog series, Hedgehog Officer Simon Thompson explains exactly what our spiky friends are looking for:

Hedgehogs are an increasingly rare sight in our gardens. For those of us keen to see them snuffling around after dark it can be helpful to try to think of our garden as a hedgehog bed and breakfast. Our enchanting nocturnal neighbours live a life on the go, often navigating long distances looking for places to get on with their hedgehoggy doings. A perfect ‘forever home’ is just not on the hedgehog’s agenda; but a series of reliable, friendly bed and breakfasts is exactly what they’re after.

Hedgehog_c_Tom_Marshall (WildNET) (2)
Hedgehog copyright Tom Marshall 2015.

As it happens hedgehogs have a very similar list of questions to us when it comes to selecting the perfect place to rest their weary head. Three simple questions, the correct answers to which could inspire regular overnight visits from your local ‘hogs:

  1. Can I get there easily?
  2. Is the accommodation comfortable?
  3. What’s the grub like? (Always the first question on my list!)

In my role as Hedgehog Officer for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust I spend a lot of time talking about the urban hedgehog’s perspective on all three of these questions, particularly the hedgehogs living here in Solihull. In this blog I’d like to talk about the first, and arguably most important of these questions.

Hedgehogs travel, and they do this for good reason. Just like any animal, they have needs; breakfast (a lot of food each and every night), beds (safe places to sleep the day away, and hibernate in the winter) and places to meet other hedgehogs (I’ll leave this to your imagination…).

Gravel board in action (c) Jacksons Fencing
Hedgehog friendly gravel board copyright Jackons Fencing 2015.

These needs can’t usually be met within just one garden or even a couple of gardens so hedgehogs have to wander over gardens, streets, neighbourhoods, parks, golf courses, school playing fields, church yards, and wherever else they can get to!

For anyone, or anything, planning on taking a trip good transport links are essential. Granted, hedgehogs are less concerned with bank holiday traffic jams and excruciating airport delays than your average human holiday maker, but there are travel dilemmas which we share. Picture the scene: You’re heading off for a long weekend at your favourite B&B – lovely! You’ve been this way before; you know the route; you know which exit to take on that dreadful roundabout; you know where you’re stopping for lunch and you know precisely how long your journey will take. Just an hour into your journey, the dreaded sign appears ahead “Road Closure”. Your way is blocked.

This unfortunately has become an all too familiar occurrence for our urban hedgehogs. Over recent decades routes of travel have become obstructed. New walls and fences are too tall to climb and too solid to push through. New, busy roads carve up the landscape with potentially deadly consequences.  The places that hedgehogs need to get to – the best quality bed and breakfasts – are difficult, dangerous or impossible to access.

Hedgehog gravelboard long shot w
Imagine this fence without the hole – would it be possible for a hedgehog to get through? Image copyright Jacksons Fencing 2015.

An urban hedgehog’s home range (the area through which it wanders), could be made up almost entirely of gardens. Imagine a street’s worth of gardens, rickety old fences and hedges bustling and busy with house sparrows. Mrs Jones at number 37, somewhere in the middle of the street, is getting a new puppy and decides that she needs a brand new fence to prevent his escape. The fence goes up and Mrs Jones’ garden is a puppy-proof playground. What she doesn’t realise is that her new fence has stopped any local hedgehogs from being able to get past number 37, a blockage. There could well be hedgehogs stuck on either side of her garden, isolated and with potentially half as much space to move through.

Chopping up the landscape into smaller and smaller inaccessible chunks in this way can have a disastrous effect over time. Many urban hedgehogs simply can’t find enough places to safely sleep the day away or a big enough breakfast to survive. This is one of the many problems directly contributing to the massive decline in urban hedgehogs here in the UK.

So what can we do about it? Well we need to start considering the needs of our hedgehogs. All of our gardens could be an easily accessible hedgehog bed and breakfast, providing shelter and feeding opportunities. It’s thought that somewhere in the region of half of all the adults in the UK feed birds in their garden. Just imagine if we could get those twenty-something-million bird lovers to ensure that their garden provided access and space for hedgehogs too. That would be amazing.

But what if your garden isn’t the most wild? What if you’ve got a large deck or a lot of patio with very little natural space? Well, your garden would still make an excellent hedgehog highway if you create holes or gaps so that hedgehogs can easily pass through on the search for somewhere a little greener. If you have a solid wooden or concrete based fence you could install a few hedgehog friendly gravel boards, like the great ones manufactured by Jacksons Fencing, which allow hedgehogs free reign of the garden while maintaining the strength of the fence. Gates can be great access points too, if you can make sure that the bottom of it is a few inches off the ground this will provide another easy route in for any wandering ‘hogs wanting to drop in for a bite to eat.

Hedgehog using the Gravel Board
Hedgehog using hedgehog friendly gravel board copyright Jacksons Fencing 2015

A hole here and there, no bigger than the size of a CD case will make a massive difference, linking areas together and increasing the flow of the habitat and giving our hedgehogs the right to roam. In my next blog I’ll be looking at the ways which we can make our B&B garden more enticing once the routes of travel have been opened up for our hedgehogs.

One final word, once you’ve cut your holes or installed your new gravel boards, please do go and see Mrs Jones at number 37, take her a photo or two of your charming new visitors and see if you can convince her that they need her garden too!

Next week, Simon returns to talk about how you can provide the perfect hedgehog accommodation once they’ve arrived in your garden.

Simon Thompson runs the Hedgehog Improvement Area project for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. The project is funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

This blog was originally posted on the Jacksons Fencing website.

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