By Peter Frost in Britain:
Friday 27th October 2017
Every year numbers of hedgehogs die or suffer horrible injuries due to bonfire piles not being checked before being lit.
To help prevent hedgehogs and other wildlife from dying in the flames, try to avoid building your bonfire until the day it is going to be lit — this will reduce the chances of hedgehogs taking up residence in the bonfire pile for hibernation.
Always make sure you build your bonfire on clear ground (not on top of leaf litter) and don’t forget to check your bonfire just before lighting.
Small, round, brown and covered in spines, the hedgehog is one of the most easily identified of Britain’s wild mammals.
Once better known as the urchin, country folk would eat them often roasted in a clay coat that would remove the spines when the animal was cooked. They even featured in posh cookbooks cooked in an almond and cream sauce. Today the animal is too rare and threatened to think about eating.
Another name for the little fellow comes from Gypsy lore. They called them Hotchiwitchi or just otchie.
Hedgehogs have a degree of legal protection in Britain — they are listed on schedule six of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), which makes it illegal to kill or capture wild hedgehogs; they are also listed under the Wild Mammals Protection Act (1996), which prohibits cruel treatment of hedgehogs.
It would be much better if they were reclassified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to make them a schedule five species. This would introduce a legal imperative to search for hedgehogs in developments — and a legal imperative to mitigate for them.
They are most commonly spotted in domestic gardens or parks. Bushes and hedges provide the perfect daytime hideaway and insect-rich lawns and flowerbeds make excellent feeding grounds at dusk.
Hedgehogs eat all kinds of invertebrates, as well as amphibians, bird’s eggs and anything else they can catch; they particularly like big, crunchy beetles, earthworms and slugs, making them useful allies of the gardener.
If you want to feed them please don’t give them bread and milk. Dried dog or cat food is a much better option. Make sure they can reach water to drink too.
Hedgehogs are disappearing from our countryside as fast as tigers are worldwide. Once common, they are now under threat from habitat loss caused by the reduction of hedgerows, an increase in intensification of our agricultural landscapes as well as urban development.
Another major threat is too-tidy gardens and all those fashionable decks, patios and other hard garden landscaping.
In just the last 10 years, hedgehog numbers have fallen by a third and there are now fewer than one million left in Britain.
Adults will travel more than a mile or two in a night over many acres covering entire housing estates and neighbourhoods.
If you have a garden there is much you can do to help them. They need to be able to roam far and wide in search of food, mates and nesting sites.
Get together with your neighbours to cut a five-inch (13cm) square hole in your fence or dig a channel beneath garden boundaries to link your gardens.
Log and leaf piles and wilderness areas make great places for hedgehogs to nest and hibernate. Local wildlife and dedicated preservation societies sell purpose-built hedgehog homes or you can build your own using one of the many simple designs from the internet.
Remember fallen leaves make the perfect nesting material, so don’t be too tidy and clear all of these away. Pile them in a quiet, undisturbed corner of your garden to allow a safe, secure area for them to breed and hibernate.
Hedgehogs hoover up over 100 invertebrates, such as snails, slugs and worms every night, so there is no need to use poisonous slug pellets.
They have poor eyesight but are quite curious, meaning they fall into holes and get stuck, so make sure you cover up any open drains and gullies.
If you have a pond, make sure you provide an access point so that hedgehogs can climb back out — this can be achieved by using a ramp or placing some stones at one end.
Attract plenty of natural hedgehog food by keeping your garden diverse with a wide variety of habitats. Mulch beds with garden compost will encourage plenty of earthworms, woodlice and beetles as it begins to rot down, while wood piles encourage a rich feast of earwigs, centipedes and woodlice.
Don’t be afraid to let your grass grow a little wild and leave some leaf litter as both are important homes for the hedgehog’s prey, including ground beetles and leatherjackets.
Most of these tips come from the many wildlife trusts that are working across Britain to restore habitats for wildlife and campaign for better protection for all nature.
Many run projects to specifically address the disappearance of hedgehogs, including raising awareness among local communities, recording sightings, encouraging people to take action at home and targeting hedgehog hotspots for conservation effort.
Why not help in their efforts?