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Watch out for hibernating hedgehogs

Look out for Hedgehogs
Be careful when clearing your gardens in late winter / early spring as hedgehogs may still be hibernating under leaf litter

This weekend, while out in the garden clearing a build-up of dead leaves and layers of last-season’s montbretia foliage, I uncovered a prickly, but very welcome surprise.

A hibernating hedgehog!

Its spines flexed involuntarily, once… twice… and then it was still again. I whipped out the smartphone and took one quick photograph (above), before replacing the leaf-litter, tucking the snoozing hog back up until its ready to emerge of its own accord. With a bit of luck it will decide to stay around the garden, helping to keep those pesky garden pests under control.

In late winter and early spring, as the weather warms and evenings lengthen, thoughts naturally turn to getting the garden ready for the busy planting season ahead. My spiky little discovery over the weekend is a stark reminder that we need to take particular care when clearing and tidying our gardens, and consider the creatures that are using them as a refuge.

Hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable, especially to power tools like strimmers and brush-cutters. Unlike most other creatures, hedgehogs don’t run away when threatened — they curl up in a tight ball and relly on their formidible spines to protect them. It’s an effective strategy… but not much of a defence against a motorised strimmer.

If you plan to do some post-winter clearing and tidying in your garden, please be wildlife aware. Here are a few tips that might help:

  • Don’t be too obsessed with tidy: while you’ll certainly want to keep parts of your garden reasonably tidy, don’t obsess about having it pristine — wildlife prefers things a bit “rough around the edges”.
  • Only do what you need to: clearing dead leaves and brambles from lawns and borders is fine, but there’s really no need to extend that clearance to every corner of the garden. Why not leave the area under the hedge or beneath your shrubbery alone. These areas offer ideal refuge for creatures like hedgehogs, and leaf litter is home to countless invertebrates which in turn provide food for birds, hedgehogs and other animals.
  • Keep use of power-tools to a minimum: try and clear vegetation by hand, or using manual tools, wherever you can. Doing things by hand is much less damaging, gives wildlife a chance to get out of the way, and gives you a good chance of noticing anything that doesn’t (like my hedgehog :-)). If you do need to use power tools, always try and assess the area where you’re working to minimise the potential for wildlife casualties.

Do you have any tips for a wildlife-friendly post-winter garden clean-up? Let us know in the comments below, or join the conversation over on our Facebook page.

For more on the European Hedgehog check out the species profile here.

If you find an injured or wounded hedgehog, follow the advice on the Irish Wildlife Matters site here.

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