The European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, is said to be the gardener’s best friend; eating slugs, beetles and other unwelcome visitors to the vegetable patch. Whether this is true or not, the garden is the most likely place to find what is considered to be Britain’s favourite mammal, the species having fled from industrialised farmland to survive.
While the hedgehog, or urchin as it was once known, is holding its own in mainland Europe, this endearing mammal is in serious decline in Britain because of a loss of habitat and food on farmland. Conservation groups are trying to create suitable places for hedgehogs to thrive, such as collections of urban gardens and less manicured parks.
Surprisingly for such a well-loved animal, details of the hedgehog’s life are little known – even whether they have one or two sets of up to five hoglets each year is not certain. It is known that individuals can travel up to 2 miles a night looking for food so need plenty of space to roam. They are also happy to eat snacks left outside for them – though not milk because they are lactose intolerant. There is currently a welcome fashion for providing hedgehog houses in gardens where they can hibernate in winter and nurse in spring.