Leave the leaves – Autumn gardening for hedgehogs

Hedgehog friendly fencing
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Autumn has arrived and already a few leaves are starting to fall in my York garden. Here are my top tips for keeping your garden hedgehog friendly during these golden months.

Don’t be too tidy

It’s really temping to be tidy and remove all the leaves but you’ll be robbing a hedgehog of a cosy Winter nest. Hedgehogs prefer to use dry, medium sized deciduous leaves for their nests. Oak, hazel beech are fantastic along with leaves from fruit trees like apple and cherry. Rake the leaves into piles and leave some underneath something to keep them dry, like a piece of wood propped up against a fence. I also leave piles of hay around the garden underneath similar shelters.

Hedgehog nest in pile of leaves

A natural hedgehog nest in a pile of deciduous leaves. This one has sadly been disturbed – the hedgehogs would not normally be exposed like this.

Piles of leaves also provide places for insects to hide away over Winter – providing valuable food for foraging hedgehogs, who may continue to search for food well into Winter.

Provide a cosy house

Recent research suggests that hedgehogs will make use of manmade hedgehog boxes. Now is a great time to be putting one out, filled with fresh dry hay. I recommend a sturdy wooden one to provide the best protection against the elements and predators. Where you position it is also very important so please watch my video on how to do this. Don’t be tempted to check any hedgehog boxes that you may already have out unless you are absolutely sure they are empty – many hedgehogs have a second litter of babies around this time.

Hedgehog house under wood store

A home made hedgehog house under my log store. It is lovely and dry and sheltered from the elements and has been used by hedgehogs

Recycle your strimmer

I hate strimmers. I cut my wildflower meadow area by hand. Many hedgehogs continue to be maimed and killed by these awful contraptions by people tidying up their gardens for Winter. If you absolutely must use one, check carefully for hedgehogs and other wildlife first.

Try to avoid bonfires

Don’t be tempted to later burn the beautiful piles of leaves you create this Autumn. They are much better left as homes for wildlife and insects. But, if you really must have a bonfire, here is how to do it safely for wildlife.

Autumn for insects

Hopefully you’ve already planted your wildlife garden with the aim of providing food for wildlife all year round and you can relax and admire the beauty and feast provided by your Autumn garden. If not, there is still time to plant now for this year and next. I love Sedums, Wallflowers, Dahlias, and Echinacea to provide Autumn nectar and ground cover. You can read more here about why insects are so important for healthy hedgehogs.

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Scabious flowers for a long time and is very attractive to insects

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Sedums and wallflowers provide stunning Autumn colour and plenty of nectar for visiting butterflies and bees

Dahlia and hoverflies

Hoverflies love these late flowering Dahlias

Keep feeding me please

A good wildlife garden should still be providing plenty of wild food for hedgehogs well into the Autumn but continuing to provide supplementary food and water is still vital. Hedgehogs need to build up their reserves for the long Winter hibernation. Although some larger male hedgehogs may start to hibernate as early as September if the weather is cooler, many females have second litters around this time. They won’t hibernate until the babies have left home and the babies face a battle to get up to weight before Winter.

Wild hedgehogs in garden

Supplementary food is a vital lifesaver all the year round

If you are doing all these things, there is still plenty of time for your visiting hedgehogs to get up to weight prior to hibernation. It isn’t time to be worrying about them yet. Hedgehogs need to be 650g+ to have the best chance of surviving hibernation but more about that soon.

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. You can read more about me and my work here. I also make silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife to support my awareness work. You can visit my online shop here.

Silver wildlife jewellery

Silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife by Little Silver Hedgehog

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Burnt hedgehogs – watch out for wildlife in your bonfire

Hedgehog bonfire poster
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Don’t toast anything but marshmallows on your bonfire this Bonfire Night.

Sadly, every year wildlife dies a cruel and painful death by being burnt in bonfires. It isn’t just bonfires built for Bonfire Night on November 5 but also those created to burn garden waste at any time of year.

Hedgehog nest in pile of leaves

Hedgehog often nest in a loose pile of Autumn leaves – a bit like those created for bonfires

Piles of twigs, logs and Autumn leaves are the perfect hibernation spot for hedgehogs and other wildlife, such as frogs and toads. Bonfire Night falls right at the time when all these creatures are seeking a snug home for the Winter. The middle of a bonfire pile is the ideal spot – out of the wind and the rain.

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To prevent this needless suffering, please consider whether you need a bonfire at all. A pile of twigs and leaves is a perfect home for wildlife year round and makes a great garden feature.

If you must create a bonfire, build it on the day it is going to be lit. Create a pile and then move it to the bonfire site on the day itself. Choose a site that is clear of leaves and other vegetation where you are sure there are no creatures already hibernating.

If you have no choice but to build your bonfire in advance, check thoroughly with bright torches and watch for movement and listen for noises. Hedgehogs will be in the bottom 2 feet of the bonfire. They will often dig down into the ground beneath it. Ideally a team of people should check to cover all sides of the bonfire. Only ever light the bonfire from one side – giving wildlife a chance to escape from the other sides. Whilst it helps, this way of checking is not as good as creating the bonfire on the day. If a hedgehog is hibernating, it will not stir….

If you find a hedgehog, capture it and keep it safe and away from noise in a high sided box. You can find more info on how to look after it here. Only release the hedgehog back when the bonfires are finished and you are certain that the embers have gone cold.

Even with checks, some hedgehogs are unlucky. Below is a hedgehog that was found in a bonfire and all the spines on its back have been singed. This hedgehog did survive but it took many months of treatment for it to recover and the spines to re-grow.

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Burnt hedgehog. Photo courtesty Dorthe Madsen

The hedgehog below was not so lucky, its injuries were too severe for it to be saved.

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Burnt hedgehog. Photo courtesy Dru Burdon

So, remember, whilst you might be having fun on Bonfire Night, it is not so fun for wildlife that may be living in your bonfire. Always always check and ideally make your bonfire on the days itself. Please don’t create a needless wildlife casualty.

You can help to spread the word about checking bonfires. Get in touch with people organising bonfire parties in your area and ask them to check for wildlife. You can also download awareness posters here to put up at work, school and in your neighbourhood – look in the ‘information’ section.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. My work is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about how to support my work here.