LIT­TLE CRIT­TERS: Lend a help­ing hand to your gar­den visi­tors

YOUR GAR­DEN IS FILLED WITH HELP­FUL LIT­TLE CRIT­TERS THAT COULD USE A HELP­ING HAND AT THIS TIME OF YEAR – THEY’LL PAY YOU BACK IN THE SPRING­TIME

South Wales Echo - - Life Style -

THE name for ‘hedge­hog’ comes from ‘hedge’, be­cause of their for­ag­ing habits, and ‘hog’, be­cause of its snout – and the fact they eat like pigs and have a vo­ra­cious ap­petite.

Hedgehogs eat oo­dles of slugs and cater­pil­lars in a sea­son but at this time of year their nat­u­ral food sources can be­come scarce.

Since they re­ally need to stock up on food be­fore they hi­ber­nate for the win­ter, putting food out for hedgehogs at this time of year re­ally helps th­ese ben­e­fi­cial crea­tures to build up the fat stores they need to keep warm while hi­ber­nat­ing.

A lot has been said about what to feed hedgehogs over the years but the British Hedge­hog Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety – of which I am a pa­tron – says that there’s only a hand­ful of things that are re­ally suit­able.

Choose meaty cat or dog food in white meat flavours, such as turkey or chicken, and en­sure it’s in jelly in­stead of gravy (the lat­ter can be overly salty).

Put this out in a shal­low dish and – if you’re wor­ried about cats and foxes clear­ing the plate, cover it with an up­turned un­der-bed stor­age box with a 13cm2 en­trance cut into the side. This al­lows only hedgehogs to get at the grub.

You can also put out spe­cial­ist hedge­hog food which is avail­able from most gar­den cen­tres.

A shal­low saucer of fresh water is the per­fect hedge­hog drink for

TOAD HOUSE

£9.99, Waitrosegar­den.com

wash­ing down the chow.

Please never feed hedgehogs milk or bread as th­ese can make them sick and de­hy­drate them – ex­actly the op­po­site of what they need. weather and look good, and it’s light enough to move eas­ily.

Once hedgehogs are suit­ably fed, it’s time for them to find a cosy dwelling for the win­ter months. You can buy a hedge­hog house or, if you’re in the mood for a lit­tle DIY with the kids, you can make your own rel­a­tively eas­ily. I nor­mally head down to the wine mer­chant and pick up some large (30-40cm) wooden wine crates to trans­form into a home.

An up­turned wine crate with a 13cm2 door­way nes­tled among old log piles, straw and leaves makes the ideal hedge­hog home.

Leave the bed­ding ma­te­ri­als out­side, mind, as th­ese crea­tures like to do their own in­te­rior de­sign.

My web­site (david­domoney.com) has a free, step-by-step guide on build­ing hedge­hog homes. Of course, you’ll need to make sure hedgehogs have ac­cess to your gar­den first by cut­ting hedge­hog high­ways into the bot­tom of fence pan­els or in­stalling hedges as bound­aries, which al­low free move­ment be­tween gar­dens. Most im­por­tantly, if you’re plan­ning a bon­fire for dry gar­den waste be sure to check that no hedgehogs have crawled into the pile think­ing it’s a great spot for hi­ber­na­tion be­fore you light it.

It’s worth light­ing bon­fires from one side only just in case, so that any hid­den hedgehogs can es­cape from the other side.

WATER-BASED HIBERNATORS

OTHER help­ful hibernators in­clude am­phib­ians like newts, frogs and toads, which also eat buck­ets of crop-munch­ing in­sects. If you have a pond nearby, they’ll be plan­ning on go­ing into hi­ber­na­tion shortly. They love to hide un­der rocks as they go into their long win­ter sleep.

I nor­mally turn a ter­ra­cotta pot on its side and bury half of it, side-on, into the ground like an open­mouthed hut. Cram in twigs and leaves and it makes a great shel­tered spot for th­ese crea­tures over win­ter.

Please never feed hedgehogs milk or bread as th­ese can make them sick and de­hy­drate them – ex­actly the op­po­site of what they need

Newts, left, and frogs, right, need your help too

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