Hedgehogs are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, living in a wide range of habitats including savannas, forests, deserts, scrublands and suburban gardens.
The British Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is found everywhere in mainland Great Britain, although their numbers are declining rapidly. They generally inhabit woodlands and scrubby areas, but are well-established in urban habitats, often being seen in private gardens and church yards. They are less common in mountainous regions, pine forests and wet habitats.
Hedgehogs live up to about eight years in the wild.
There are about 6000 spines (‘quills’) on the back and sides of an adult hedgehog, each of which is about 25mm long and made of keratin, like our finger nails. These rigid spikes help hedgehogs in self-defence, as when they are frightened, they roll their bodies up into a ball.
The rest of a hedgehog’s body – neck, tail, face and stomach – is covered with coarse, textured fur which generally vary in colour from black to brown, and occasionally blonde or albino.
Hedgehogs have tiny ears, tiny mouths, long cone-shaped snouts and small cylindrical tails, and have approximately 40 teeth.
TIP: It’s great having sports equipment or a vegetable patch in your garden, but please be aware that hedgehogs can easily get trapped in the netting by their spines. If you don’t actually need the netting on your goal, just remove it and use the goal without. If you can’t do that, make sure the bottom of the netting is raised off the ground by about 30cm.
Hedgehogs usually give birth once a year (occasionally twice a year), after a gestation period of five to six weeks. Their litters usually consist of up to about 7 hoglets, weighing about 25g each at birth.
The mother will protect her babies from predators. If the nest is disturbed, she may try to eat her own babies, so never disturb a hedgehog nest.
After six to seven weeks, the hoglets are independent; reaching full maturity at 11 months.
Hedgehogs generally live on their own. Their homes are usually burrows and nests they build themselves, made from leaves, branches and other vegetation. They are nocturnal and so, during the day, are tucked away under leaves, stones or logs; coming out to feed at night.
Hedgehogs can travel up to a couple of miles every night, through several gardens, so if you can, leave a hole the size of a CD in your fence or gate to let they travel in and out… ideally different holes into different gardens will enable them to travel along a ‘wildlife corridor’.
At night time they root through hedges and other undergrowth in search of the small creatures that make up their diet. Whilst rooting, they make snorting noises like a hog… thus how they got their name. They have poor eyesight and rely on smell and hearing to help them find food.
In the wild hedgehogs mainly eat insects and worms, and can supplement this with snails, small amphibians, small rodents, snakes, foliage, eggs, fruit, seeds and fungi.
Please do not use slug pellets in any form, as eating poisoned slugs will also poison the hedgehog. A better plan is to create a wildlife-friendly garden, including good access points into your garden, which will encourage hedgehogs in, and they will help you with your slug problem. A hedgehog is the gardener’s friend!
Predators that are capable of killing hedgehogs include badgers, foxes, pole cats, pine martins, weasels and birds of prey such as hawks and owls. Badgers are the main predators to adult hedgehogs; the rest tend to target hoglets.
Additionally, dogs regularly attack hedgehogs (Hedgehog Rescue gets a lot of dog-related injuries). Cats are curious, but not a threat except to tiny hoglets.
Hedgehogs love to swim and drink water from ponds… so having a pond in your garden is a lovely thing. However, please make sure that you have good access from your water feature, such as a ramp, bricks or wildlife edging as hedgehogs (and other creatures) will die from exhaustion if they can’t get out again.