There is a hedgehog that lives in my garden. Can I give him bread and milk and how can I keep him safe?

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Q: There is a hedgehog living in my garden. Can I give him bread and milk and what can I do to keep him safe?

It’s a real treat to have a hedgehog in your garden, especially as hedgehogs are thought to be becoming less and less common in Ireland.

The Irish name ‘Gráinneog’ actually means ‘the horrible’ or ‘the ugly’, but is that right? Anyone who has seen a hedgehog up close can appreciate its beautiful little face and bright eyes. And as for ‘hoglets’ (baby hedgehogs), with their wrinkled skin and oversized coat of spines, what’s not to love?

Unfortunately, sometimes when we think we’re helping wildlife, we may be doing more harm than good. Bread and milk actually cause serious stomach problems, despite the fact that hedgehogs eat it. It’s like humans who can’t resist chocolate or donuts – such a diet isn’t necessarily good for us. Bread and milk have no place in a pig’s diet. Hedgehogs are insectivores, feasting on beetles, earthworms, slugs, caterpillars, centipedes and earwigs.

If you want to provide food for your prickly garden visitor, canned cat food is the best option, along with water. I’ve seen hedgehogs feed from the same bowls as cats and even foxes! Their penchant for slugs makes them a welcome garden visitor that will help protect your plants.

You might not know if these nocturnal mammals visit your garden after dark.

Gardeners should be careful if trimming at the base of hedges or burning garden vegetation in case hedgehogs have created a nest inside. If you find a young piglet at this time of year, it’s best to leave it alone, as its mother is likely nearby. But if you are concerned about a hedgehog that you have spotted during the day or that appears to be sick or injured, I would recommend contacting a wildlife rehabilitation expert, via Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland as they require quite specialist care and it is illegal to keep or contain a hedgehog without a permit.

The hedgehog’s ability to hibernate during the winter is quite amazing. During hibernation, its body temperature drops to 40°C and its heart rate slows from 200 beats to just five beats per minute!

The European hedgehog is an ancient animal, first appearing in the fossil record around 15 million years ago. But its success over such a long period may be about to change. Research from Europe and Britain shows hedgehog numbers are in steep decline, with UK research showing numbers have fallen by almost 50% in rural areas and 30% in urban areas over the past few years. last 20 years. The declines are thought to be due to loss of marginal and hedgerow habitats, pesticide use and increased road traffic, and because we have similar problems in Ireland the Irish hedgehog population could experiencing similar declines, but we don’t have any evidence yet.

Creating a small hole at the bottom of garden fences will allow hedgehogs to move between gardens, which is very important for them to find enough food.  Each night, they actually travel long distances of up to three kilometers in search of insects, worms, slugs and caterpillars.
Creating a small hole at the bottom of garden fences will allow hedgehogs to move between gardens, which is very important for them to find enough food. Each night, they actually travel long distances of up to three kilometers in search of insects, worms, slugs and caterpillars.

The Irish Hedgehog Surveytarget=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>, led by the wonderful Elaine O’Riordan, launched in 2020, aims to assess our hedgehog population and anyone can get involved. There is an occasional registration system, where you can report sightings of hedgehogs via the National Biodiversity Data Center website.

The project also includes a voluntary registration component, which provides training in systematic registration. This involves placing 10 “footprint tunnels” in a 1 km2 area overnight for five nights and checking them each morning for footprints. A footprint tunnel is a low corriboard/cardboard tunnel, baited with food at one end to attract hungry pigs. To reach the food, the hedgehog must cross a puddle of ink and then leave ink prints on sheets of white paper, identifiable the next morning. Elaine runs workshops to train volunteers and it’s a great citizen science survey that individuals, community groups or families can participate in.

* Juanita Browne has written a number of books on wildlife, including My First Irish Animal Book and The Big Book of Irish Wildlife.

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