Jill’s Hedgehog Release Tips

It is getting very difficult to find safe release sites for rehabilitated hedgehogs. We need a number of linked gardens to ensure the hedgehog has enough food and nesting sites, and ideally these gardens mustn’t be using chemicals and insecticides. That is why initiatives like Wilderhood Watch’s Hedgehog Street are so important to this endangered species. 

If you are reading this, then you obviously have an interest in supporting hedgehogs in your area. Here’s what to do if your street has been selected for a hedgehog release:

If you are the release garden:

If you do not already have a suitable hedgehog house in your garden, the hedgehog will be brought to you in a house that it has been used to sleeping in. This gives it somewhere safe to return to during the first few evenings of freedom. You will be asked to set up a predator-proof feeding station in the same garden, to ensure the hedgehog has food while it explores its new territory. You will be given a ‘starter-pack’ of food the hedgehog is used to for the first few days. It’s likely that the hedgehog will stay around the release garden to start with, especially if it was rescued as a baby and has been in captivity all winter. It won’t have been shown the ropes by its mother and will be more cautious. Sometimes hedgehogs return to their house for a long time; sometimes they just go straight away. Hedgehogs don’t normally nest close to a food supply, so it will find a more private place to live eventually.

If you are the neighbouring gardens to the release site:

  • Make sure your garden is accessible. A hole about 11cm wide is all that is needed – or even just a couple of inches of gap under a fence. Hedgehogs can get through quite narrow spaces.
  • Clear up rubbish, especially netting, or anything a hog can get its head stuck in!
  • If you have a pond, make sure there’s a ramp out of it or stones to climb on. Hedgehogs can swim but they need an escape route if they fall in.
  • If possible, block routes that would take an inexperienced hog straight towards a main road. All our garden fences and paths tend to be at right-angles to the road, and as hedgehogs usually follow the line of hedges or walls, this inadvertently directs them straight towards traffic.
  • Look out for the hog after dusk. All releases are marked with an identifying blob of nail varnish on their spines so that you can see it clearly on a night camera. It will fade in a few months, but if you see a hog in your garden, you’ll be able to tell straight away if it is the recent release or another wild hog. All our releases are also microchipped so that, should one be unfortunate enough to find itself back at the rescue, we can scan it to see who it is and where and when they were released. Even if you find a dead hedgehog, let us know, because we can still scan for a microchip, which helps with our research.
  • Please put out saucers of water. You could also consider putting out a small amount of food in a predator-proof feeding station. A hedgehog soon learns where the food sources are and does the rounds! A hedgehog can visit around 20 gardens a night and can travel up to a kilometre, especially if it is a male looking for a mate. Ideally someone on the street should put out food all year round (apart from coldest winter when they’re hibernating) – it doesn’t have to be everyone. And in fact taking turns to do it means it’s less likely that rats will be attracted to a regular source.

These are recommended hedgehog foods – ones where animal derivatives are the first-named ingredient, not cereals. The higher the protein content, the better:

A group of food bags

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And you can make your own feeding station like this very easily:

A brick structure in the ground

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A plastic container with a white pipe on a wood surface

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  • Please do not use slug pellets or other insecticides. Slug pellets poison not only the slugs but the hedgehogs and birds that eat them. 
  • The best thing you can do to help the hedgehogs in your area is to garden with them in mind, and that really means NOT gardening! Just leave an area of your garden untouched. Allow some native weeds to grow, which attracts insects and ensures food for the hogs. There’s nothing a hog likes better than a wood pile, or open compost heap. A pallet in the corner of your garden, piled with all your garden refuse, is perfect for hedgehogs. They like to nest under the pallet, and the decaying matter on top of it allows the hog’s favourite foods of beetles and worms to drop through. If you’ve no room for a pallet, allow leaves to collect in a corner and don’t clear them up. You will often find a hedgehog nesting there in the summer.
  • No garden in St Albans is without a visiting fox, but foxes can attack hedgehogs – not to eat, but because it is their hunting instinct. Over half of all admissions to the hedgehog rescue last year were as a result of a fox attack. So please do what you can to keep these species apart, such as making sure there is shrub cover for a hedgehog to hide, and not leaving out food at night that is meant for the birds. And certainly DO NOT feed foxes. They are an apex species doing very well without human intervention.
  • Be aware there’s a hedgehog trying to find its way around your neighbourhood. Keep an eye on your garden in case it has got into difficulty. A hedgehog should not be around in daylight, so if it is, it needs help.
  • Listen out for hedgehogs – they can be very noisy, especially when they’re courting!

It may be that your release stays around your gardens, or it may disappear and never be seen again. Often we have no idea what happens to them, but your help in working together to give them the best chance of survival is much appreciated.

Jill Stevens

Hedgehog rehabber at London Colney Hedgehog Rescue and Ladder rds WW coordinator