Hedgehogs are welcome visitors to our gardens, eating slugs and other pests, and helping achieve the balance of nature.

However, an Oxford hedgehog campaigner has said numbers have fallen by as much as 50 per cent since 2000 in the UK countryside.

Hugh Warwick, of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – known locally as ‘Hedgehog Hugh’ said there were now fewer than a million hedgehogs in Britain.

On the eve of next week’s Hedgehog Awareness Week, he said: “Gardeners need to get rid of the cult of tidiness, the idea of having the garden manicured and maintained to the nth degree. We need to let the life within the garden live a little bit more. The biggest hazards are in the way we manage the garden. And careless gardening is the chief hazard.”

Hugh offers the following advice on how to take care not to harm these prickly mammals during Hedgehog Awareness Week, and beyond...

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1. Watch your strimmers

This may be the ideal time to tidy up any rough patches of grasses, but they may conceal a hedgehog asleep in their day nest on a warm summer’s day.

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“A hedgehog doesn’t have a ‘fight or flight’ response like other animals, who will beat a hasty retreat when confronted by the noise of an oncoming mower or strimmer,” Warwick warns. “A hedgehog will roll into a ball, which copes with everything except eagle owls, badgers, cars and strimmers.”

2. Put back grates

If you remove grates to clear your drains, make sure you replace them, otherwise hedgehogs could fall in and become trapped.

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3. Keep netting propped up

Keep pea netting 22-30cm (9-12in) off the ground so hedgehogs can pass under and plants will grow to the netting.

“The problem is that the hedgehog’s reaction to threat is to frown and then roll into a ball. When a hedgehog gets caught in netting, it can’t reverse out because their spines are lying flat backwards. Then they roll into a ball which further entangles them,” Hugh says.

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4. Take care turning compost heaps

If you have a traditional compost heap of vegetation cuttings and leaves at the back of your garden - one that isn’t in a container or on a raised palette - make sure you’re careful when turning it, as it may house nesting hedgehogs that are enjoying the warmth.

5. Create an exit from ponds

Hedgehogs enjoy water and are good swimmers, but they do need an exit from a wildlife pond or pool, so either create a gently sloping edge or place half submerged rocks in the water so they can easily get out.

Warwick says: “Water is crucial for hedgehogs. Shallow dishes on the ground are also great for hedgehogs and insects. If your pond is ornamental with vertical sides, if you can’t build a beachy bit, put in a ramp.”

6. Don’t leave litter

Dispose of litter responsibly. “The most regular hazard hedgehogs face is elastic bands,” says Hugh. “Hedgehogs will push through the undergrowth and if an elastic band is on its side, they will push through that. Once it goes over the spines, they can’t disentangle themselves.”

7. Avoid pellets and pesticides

Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets. Not only can these harm hedgehogs, they can also damage their food chain. Use organic methods instead.

8. Feed correctly

Hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant, but they don’t know they are, warns Warwick. So don’t feed them milk or bread as they will end up with stomach upsets.

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They are carnivores, and their favourite diet is worms. When the weather is cold and dry, leave out foods like meaty pet food (not containing fish) within an upturned box with a side entrance that you can turn into a feeding station.

“If you put a barrier inside the box, creating a tunnel as you go in, and put the food near the front wall of the box, the hedgehog can snaffle in but cats can’t. By creating a dead end, rats will be less willing to linger,” Warwick says.

9. Beware of bonfires

If you must have a bonfire, check carefully underneath the pile before you light it. Hedgehogs may be nesting beneath the debris. Lift the base with poles or broom handles (not a fork) to check.

Hedgehog S.O.S.

If you find an injured hedgehog, use gardening gloves to pick it up, bring it indoors and put it in a high-sided cardboard box with an old towel or fleece in the bottom.
Fill a hot water bottle so there is a gentle heat. Don’t let the bottle go cold, so change the water frequently.

Once the hedgehog is settled, call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890 801.