At this time of year, many of our native wildlife species are preparing for hibernation. There are few more iconic images of the garden in autumn than the sight of a hedgehog rummaging around in a pile of leaves.

Hedgehogs are a gardener’s friend, as they eat snails, slugs and insects and there are a few things we can do at this time of year to help Hedgehogs through the winter that will enable our gardens to flourish in spring without the need for lots of insecticides.

Hedgehogs struggle to find a suitable habitat in a pristine garden so try to leave areas of the garden ‘wild’, with piles of leaf litter and logs. These are an attractive nest as well as a home for the invertebrates (slugs, beetles) that hedgehogs like to eat.

In addition to garden neglect, artificially making a home for Hedgehogs can help. It  can be as simple as placing a piece of board against a wall. Or buy a purpose built hedgehog house. Cover drains and holes and place bricks at the side of ponds to give hedgehogs an easy route out.

Food and fresh water will encourage hedgehogs to return. Leave out foods like minced meat, tinned dog or cat food (not fish-based), crushed cat biscuits, or chopped boiled eggs. Specialist hedgehog food can also be bought from wild bird food suppliers. It is important never to feed hedgehogs milk as this can cause diarrhoea; instead provide plain, fresh water in a shallow bowl.

Check for hedgehogs before using strimmers or mowers, particularly under hedges where animals may rest. Check compost heaps for nesting hogs before forking over. Build bonfires as close to time of lighting as possible and check them thoroughly before lighting.

Every year at Donaldsons, we see cats and dogs who become seriously ill as a result of eating slug pellets and Hedgehogs can be affected as well. Try instead using beer traps, or sprinkling ground up shells around the plants you need to protect.

With a little thought and effort, we can encourage the gardener’s friend to thrive and prosper in our gardens.