Encourage the local hedgehogs to visit your garden. Make a hedgehog feeding station.
It’s always worth putting out a night camera to see what animals are visiting your garden at night. This is a particularly interesting exercise for me at the moment because we have just moved house. I was very curious to discover more about the local wildlife. So I put out the camera and was delighted when I saw this lovely visitor:
I really didn’t expect to have a hedgehog visiting our garden as we are quite close to the center of a small town. There is a wonderful park and woodland nearby, so maybe he or she travelled from there. Or perhaps they are based in one of the surrounding gardens. Anyway, as hedgehogs are in decline everywhere, and they are so good to have in one’s garden, I was determined to make this particular one feel at home. So I thought I would try and encourage it to be a regular visitor, if not a resident, in our garden.
So what I did was quickly make a hedgehog feeding station. But first, a bit of context.
Why do we need to look after hedgehogs?
Hedgehog numbers across Europe are low, and are getting lower. In Flanders, hedgehog numbers fell by 50% between 2008 and 2018. Similar declines have been recorded in Germany and the UK. There is a real concern that hedgehogs could be wiped out completely in certain areas of western Europe.
The reasons for their decline are varied. In the countryside, hedgehogs have been affected by the loss of hedgerows as nesting sites and movement corridors; the loss of permanent pastures for finding food; and the widespread use of pesticides which kill the invertebrates they like to eat. In towns and cities, slug pellets and other insecticides are taking their toll, along with over-tidy, sterile, wildlife-unfriendly gardens, and of course, death by car.
Hedgehogs are worth protecting simply because they are wild animals that share our living space. But they are also vital to ecosystems. They are an indicator species for the health of the natural world because they feed on soil invertebrates, so a big decline in hedgehogs implies the quality of the environment has significantly decreased. They are also extremely useful, eating vast numbers of slugs, snails, caterpillars, bugs, and other invertebrates.
Protecting hedgehogs is therefore an urgent necessity, and anything we can do to help them is a good step in the right direction. Making our gardens more hedgehog-friendly is one way to help. In this post I am focusing on providing extra food for them to supplement their natural diet. In future posts I’ll talk about encouraging invertebrates by planting nectar-rich plants and not using chemicals.
How to make a hedgehog feeding station
A hedgehog feeding station is basically an upside down box with food and water inside it, and a barrier to prevent larger animals such as cats from getting inside.
You need a box of size about 40 cm long x 30 cm wide and at least 20 cm deep. To be rain-resistant it needs to be a wooden or a plastic box. I chose an IKEA plastic storage box of size 48 x 30 x 25 cm. I went for plastic because I wanted a quick solution to put out the following night. Maybe later I will invest in a permanent and more attractive solution.
Make an entrance hole of size 15 x 15 cm in the “front” of your box. The plastic box I selected was easy to cut with a sharp knife. Smooth the edges of the hole with sandpaper and/or stick some tape over the edges. This is to prevent the hog from being injured by splinters.
And that’s basically all you have to do! Now you need to find a couple of plastic bowls or trays, one for water and one for food. I found something in our waste plastic bin.
What to feed a hedgehog?
When I was a young boy I studied the hedgehogs in my garden and fed them all sorts of things to see what they would eat and what they wouldn’t. I’m sure I offered them stuff that wasn’t particularly healthy for them. I seem to remember they happily gobbled up most things on the menu. Nowadays the recommendation is to give them meat-based dog or cat food (not fish), or dried cat biscuits.
What do hedgehogs drink?
Again, back in the 1970s I recall putting out a saucer of milk every evening for the hedgehogs visiting our garden. And it always disappeared! However, milk is not recommended as it gives the poor little mites the runs. Just a saucer or shallow dish of water is perfectly adequate and much healthier.
So now you’ve got your dish of dog or cat food, and a dish of clean water. Position them on the ground where you want the feeding station to be located. When you place the box over the dishes they will need to be at the end of the box opposite the entrance.
Then place a stone or a small brick (or half a brick) between the dishes and the entrance, but leaving space at the side for the hog to pass. This is to create a barrier to animals such as cats from reaching the food. Then cover the dishes and the brick with the box.
Add another brick or two or other heavy object to the top of the box to stop it being blown over in a strong wind. Or to stop a dog or fox from turning the whole thing over. An optional extra is to add a further obstacle to cats outside the entrance. I added another brick here.
And that’s it. Once it’s set up in the late evening, just go to bed and wake up with high expectations the next morning! That’s exactly what I did. The next morning I removed the brick from the top of my feeding station, lifted up the box, and this is what I found:
All the food had been eaten! I was thrilled. Presumably the hedgehog had returned to our garden, smelled the dog food, found the feeding station, entered, and enjoyed a good supper! However, of course I needed further evidence that it was the hedgehog and not an undesirable animal that had been snacking. Fortunately I had set up my night-cam overnight, and this is what it recorded:
Mission accomplished! A bit later in the night the camera recorded a cat snooping around the box. It was not able to enter the feeding station.
I hope you find this post interesting. If you have hedgehogs visiting your garden – or even if you think you might have, but are not sure – please consider making a hedgehog feeding station to encourage their visits. Let me know how you get on. If you have photos or videos of your own hedgehog feeding station, feel free to share them with me. I would be delighted to add them here. If you’re looking for further information on hedgehogs, try here or here.
Other creative nature projects for children
Making a hedgehog feeding station might be a fun nature project for young children, with parental guidance of course. Apart from bringing them closer to nature, it would also be a practical way to introduce them to the need to conserve our local wildlife. Did you know that on this blog there are other nature projects for children? These include:
- Counting garden butterflies
- Identifying farm crops on a country walk
- Listening to the sounds of nature
- Reading bird books
- Building a bee hotel
- Watching garden birds
And don’t forget my ever-popular 12 ways to make a country walk fun for children!
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