Category: Wildlife

Help Nature This Christmas

Untrimmed Hedgerows a Vital Source of Winter Food

As we wake up to the season’s first frosts and start the count down to Christmas, there’s no doubt that winter is fast upon us.

Animals that hibernate, such as the hedgehog have hopefully found themselves a snug winter home, which leaves our overwintering species of birds and mammals, as well as millions of birds that seek refuge here from overseas, to tough it out in our countryside and gardens.

As some sources of food get harder to find, birds and other creatures turn to the seeds and berries of our trees and hedgerows to help them through.

Where hedges are left untrimmed, they provide a vital source of food to help sustain our wildlife through the tough, leaner months ahead.

Those farmers, landowners and homeowners who leave at least some of their non-road-facing hedges untrimmed until well after Xmas (February) – when the birds and small mammals would have had the benefit of the berries they produce, are giving nature the very best possible Xmas present – a source of food.

We can also all do our bit to help in our gardens, as many kind people already do, by putting out supplementary food in bird feeders.

One of the best all round foods is sunflower hearts or sunflower chips, many types of bird species enjoy the seeds (goldfinches, greenfinches, great tits, blue tits etc) and they provide a great source of high value nutrition.

Another helpful food to put out in feeders is high quality suet fat balls (best without nets so no beaks or legs get caught in them). As the name suggests, the ‘fat’ in the fat balls provide an important source of ‘quick’ energy for birds in the colder months. Plus, they are loved by many species such as great tit, blue tit and, if you’re lucky you may also get nuthatches and woodpecker.

In really hard weather we may also see larger, farmland birds come closer to our gardens. Redwing (looks like a small Thrush) and Fieldfare (about the size of a wood pigeon) both love apple chopped into small rings – and in conditions like last year’s snows, putting out food like this can be a life saver.

For more information on best supplementary foods for birds or wildlife friendly hedgerows, try the RSPB links below:

Hedgehogs, Hibernation & Bonfire Safety Checks

Hedgehogs, Hibernation & Bonfire Safety Checks

Recent research by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species indicates that hedgehog populations in rural areas like ours have fallen by a shocking 50% since the turn of the last century.

This is in no small part down to the loss of habitat – the removal of hedgerows, the fencing off of our gardens, as well as the use of pesticides (this includes slug pellets), injuries from garden equipment and changes in farming methods etc.

With bonfire night and Halloween fast approaching, there’s another hazard these small creatures can fall victim to – our bonfires.

However, we can all take simple actions to ensure any hogs that we’re lucky enough to have in our area, don’t get caught up in the flames:

  • We can make sure that we only build our bonfires on the day we plan to light them and
  • We can double check hedgehogs (or other wildlife) hasn’t snuck under our ‘cosy’ wood piles before lighting them.

If building a fire in the days before it is to be lit is unavoidable, the BHPS suggest using a tight knit mesh (mess too small for creatures to get stuck in) around the lower sections of the fire and, then a couple of hours before the fire’s to start, use a blunt wooden pole (or similar) to go around the fire carefully lifting the base sections of the wood to double check that no creatures have snuck inside.

November through to March is typically when hedgehogs seek out a place to hibernate making it even more important that we check our bonfire piles ahead of our bonfire events.

If you were to find an injured or sick hedgehog, there are at least 2 local wildlife sanctuaries that offer specialist care for hedgehogs. The general guidance is that hedgehogs seen out in broad day light should be checked for to ensure they’re a healthy hibernation weight and free from injuries to ensure they have the best chance of making through the winter months.

For further information on this or other hedgehog -related questions, the BHPS website offers some excellent information and links. Closer to  home,  the following charities specialise in helping hedgehogs:

Help a Hedgehog Hospital – Stroud valleys (south west of Cirencester)

24-Hour Emergency Helpful

Tel: 01453 823 871 or 07870 378207 – Day Time AND

Tel: 01453 886 424 or 07867 974 525 – Evenings and Weekends

Oak & Furrows Wildlife Sanctuary – Cricklade (near Cirencester)

Tel: 01453 886 424

Fay Vass, Chief Executive of BHPS, said “If material is stored on open ground in advance of having a bonfire, it’s crucial to dismantle it and move it to another spot just before lighting. Ensure it’s moved to clear ground – never on top of a pile of leaves as there could be a hedgehog underneath, and not too close to pampas grass which can ignite very easily and is another favourite spot for hedgehogs to hide under.”

If a large bonfire must be built in advance, protect it whilst building by putting some chicken wire, at least one-metre-high, all the way around the bottom. This should be held in place with stakes and the wire should slope outwards at an angle to make it difficult to climb, as hedgehogs are good climbers! In case you have missed anything light the fire from one side only and keep people away from the unlit side so that any hedgehogs can hopefully escape in peace.

If, whilst building, a bonfire is left unattended, for however short a time, it’s imperative to check for young children, hedgehogs and other animals, including family pets, before lighting. As hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of the bonfire, check by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can stab them. Using a torch will help to see and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise they make when disturbed. Fay continues “If hedgehogs are found, take as much of the nest as you can and place them in a high-sided cardboard or plastic box with plenty of newspaper/old towelling. Ensure there are air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers. Wear garden gloves so as not to get human smells on them and to keep them calm as hedgehogs are easily stressed – also, it protects your hands from their spikes. Put the box in a safe quiet place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities, offer specialist hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food and water. Once the bonfire is totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs.”


Hedgehogs – FAQs (Source HPS website)

Are Hedgehogs meant to be out in the daylight?

Not usually no. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means they shouldn’t really be seen out in daylight hours. Some of the exceptions to this are pregnant females gathering nesting materials just before she gives birth, or a new ‘Mum’ taking a break from the nest to get food and water while her young sleep. Sometimes, when the nights are short, a hungry hedgehog may forage around dusk and dawn. However, these hedgehogs would move quickly with purpose. If a hedgehog is lethargic, lay out, has flies around it, is wobbly, or gives you any other cause for concern, please call us for advice ASAP on 01584 890 801.

What food should I offer to my hedgehog visitors?

The best things to offer are Hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food or complete cat biscuits. The only drink that should be offered is water (especially in dry weather and when offering dry food).

There’s a hedgehog in my garden sunbathing, is that ok?

No, it isn’t. Hedgehogs’ shouldn’t sunbathe and if you see one doing this it is in urgent need of help. Please use gardening gloves or a folded towel to pick it up, pop it into a high sided box with a towel or fleece in the bottom, keep it warm on a covered warm hot water bottle (even in hot weather), offer suitable food and water (see above) and then call BHPS on 01584 890 801 for further advice as soon as possible.

I’ve seen a hedgehog that looks ‘drunk’, is that ok?

Again, no, it isn’t ok. Hedgehogs in this state are actually hypothermic and in urgent need of help. Please offer the first aid described above and call us as soon as possible.

Do all hedgehogs have fleas and do they need them?

Not all hedgehogs have fleas; many of those rescued have none. However, hedgehogs do not NEED their fleas to survive, that’s an old wives tale. Hedgehog fleas are host specific so while they may jump onto a cat or dog, they won’t infest them.

Help! I’ve harmed a hedgehog whilst strimming.

Undoubtedly one of the most worrying calls we receive. PLEASE check areas thoroughly before strimming or mowing. These injuries are usually horrific and the hedgehog often has to be put to sleep, of course many are killed instantly with this kind of accident. Do check for hoglets as the nest you have strimmed could be a nursery nest.

I want a hedgehog for my garden; can I just take one from the wild?

No! Please don’t do this. It’s great that you want to encourage hedgehogs into your garden, but taking one from an area where it knows food and water sources to an unknown area isn’t fair. More worryingly, it could have dependent young in a nest, without its return, the nest will fail and the young won’t survive. Finally, if hedgehogs aren’t already in your garden, there might be a good reason for this. We have a leaflet available on this subject on here , or contact us for paper copy.

Legal Protection

Hedgehogs are protected, in England, Scotland and Wales, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Schedule 6 and in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985, Schedules 6&7. What this means is they are

“(Hedgehogs are) protected from being killed or taken by certain methods under Section 11(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The methods listed are: self-locking snares, bows, crossbows, explosives (other than ammunition for a firearm), or live decoys. The species listed are also protected from the following activities: trap, snare or net, electrical device for killing or stunning, poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substances or any other gas or smoke, automatic or semi-automatic weapon, device for illuminating a target or sighting device for night shooting, artificial light, mirror or other dazzling device, sound recording, and mechanically propelled vehicle in immediate pursuit.”


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