Bed, Breakfast and the Hedgehog Highway – part 3

Christmas is over for another year; the decadent, tasty treats inside the festive fridge are dwindling and normal service is resuming. At this time of year it can be difficult to remember that food is not only about celebration and indulgence, but for many people and smaller creatures alike, food is about survival. Hedgehogs live life on the hunt for food; food to fuel their nightly wandering throughout the summer and to sustain them during the long cold of winter. In the final part of our hedgehog blog series, Hedgehog Officer Simon explains how to give your garden hedgehogs the ultimate foodie treat at your new B+B.

The promise of a decent breakfast is a serious draw for a hedgehog (as indeed for humans!). Many of the areas in which they spend time are either good places to feed, or the best routes to take to get to those places. So what do hedgehogs hope to see on the menu? The answer is simple: lots of delicious invertebrates; with beetles, worms and caterpillars being their particular favourites. Hedgehogs like a menu that is abundant in food from the early spring right through to the very end of autumn. They’re perfectly happy for that menu to be seasonal and will happily take advantage of the abundant moth and butterfly caterpillars in the spring and then select differently throughout the year as availability alters with the shifting seasons. Perhaps surprisingly, hedgehogs do eat other foods too; amphibians, other small mammals, soft fruits, eggs and even birds can make an appearance in their diet!

Beetle - cropped
A beetle’s better than a Full English if you’re a hedgehog. Copyright Emma Richmond (WWT) 2016.

So hedgehogs are not particularly fussy. And this is great news for us budding hedgehog restauranteurs. The concept is simple: to get hedgehogs we need to attract hedgehog food. This can be really easily achieved; just leaving some wild, natural space in our gardens will lure in a hedgehog’s meal. Even something as simple as a small patch of lawn will provide an opportunity for ‘hogs to dig for worms; a very tempting treat as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Us gardening-types tend to have a mass tidy-up a few times a year, getting rid of all of the green waste that’s making the place look scruffy, more often than not feeding it to the brown wheelie-bin. Leaving some of this natural mess in situ or even just semi-tidying it, i.e. moving it all into one corner of the garden rather than shipping it out, can do marvellous things for wildlife. As fallen leaves begin to rot down, insects move in to feed on the decaying plant matter. As we know, lots of insects means lots of feeding opportunity for hedgehogs, which is exactly what we want. This can be taken a step further by creating some piles of logs and sticks or even establishing a compost heap. Piles of logs and other natural waste not only provide a bit of shelter and nesting material for the ‘hogs but also a perfect habitat ready and waiting to be colonized by all kinds of tasty invertebrates.

Log Pile Copyright Simon Thompson 2015
Log pile copyright Simon Thompson (WWT) 2016.

It’s not only the dead and decaying plants that are useful for ‘hogs. Planting your garden with varieties that are particularly attractive to hedgehog prey helps too. A border or beds planted out with native nectar-rich flowers will invite pollinators to visit the garden. Species such as Primrose or Thyme look great as bedding plants and also provide food for caterpillars of many different species of moth. If you have space for trees then varieties of Cherry provide great leaves for hibernating material and Oaks and Willows attract a whole host of insects to them. The key is trying to move the garden away from a sterile and stale landscape towards something a little more interesting and little more diverse.

Many people help hedgehogs out in their search for food by feeding them in the garden, leaving out bowls of midnight snacks. This is a great way of giving hedgehogs a helping hand through the year and certainly here in Solihull, gardens that regularly leave food out for hedgehogs tend to be very well visited. Meaty pet foods make for a great hedgehog meal; you can also buy a variety of special hedgehog food such as the range produced by Spike’s World. Along with a shallow dish of water to drink, this added bonus to their natural diet can really help our urban hedgehogs along.

There’s nothing more annoying than somebody pinching your food, particularly when you’re staying in the very best urban hostelry. I often get asked how to prevent cats and foxes from eating the food left out for the benefit of hedgehogs. This can be done very simply by making a hedgehog feeding station – the instructions to make a simple feeding station from a plastic storage tub are detailed below, or available on Youtube:

Hedgehog Feeding Station Annotated

With a feeding station in place, your food should be well out of reach of any opportunists visiting the garden.

So now your Hedgehog Bed and Breakfast is complete: a  well-connected destination, with ample space for bedding down, plenty to drink and a menu filled with the finest natural foods. What more could the local hedgehogs ask for?

Click the links to read part 1 and part 2 of this blog series.

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

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