How to build a hedgehog shelter
PUBLISHED: 09:30 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
Cotswold Life has teamed up with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to give a practical view of how we can all appreciate and celebrate the wildlife and landscapes in the Cotswolds area each month.
With its spiky coat, long nose and endearing little face the hedgehog is one of the most easily recognised wild animals in Britain.
A grown hedgehog can have up to 7500 spines, which come into their own when it feels threatened and curls up into a ball. Anything foolhardy enough to try and get a grip on it will end up with a mouth full of spikes.
Few people know that hedgehogs are very agile climbers, capable of scaling high walls which they get down off by rolling into ball and dropping down to the other side. They can also squeeze through extremely small holes, so if you think your garden wall is too precipitous for a hedgehog to climb, why not cut a small hole at ground level - it will become quite a thoroughfare for all manner of small creatures.
Now is the time when hedgehogs are seeking a winter nest. They often choose sites close to homes and gardens, gathering together dry vegetation in quiet corners where they're not likely to be disturbed such as under hedges, beneath or in sheds, under compost heaps and even in garages!
Gardeners should love hedgehogs, as their favourite snack is fresh slugs. You can encourage them by putting out food and water throughout the year. They like to eat minced meat, fresh liver, dog or cat food (not fish based) or even scrambled eggs. Don't give bread and milk as it will upset their digestion - clean fresh water is better, given in a shallow bowl.
Slug pellets are a great threat to hedgehogs, so try using beer traps or sprinkling fine sand around the plants you want to protect (though with hedgehogs in your garden your slug population should be under control anyway). Ponds are another hazard, needing a couple of bricks or a wire net installed to help hedgehogs get out if they fall in. Litter is also a killer, as hedgehogs frequently get their heads stuck in tins, plastic drink can binders and discarded yoghurt pots, so do dispose of rubbish properly.
Here's a great way to recycle some old bits of wood, piping and autumn prunings to make your very own hedgehog house where they can hibernate through the winter months.
1. Use strong untreated wood at least 2 cm thick to make a 40 cm square box.
2. Fix the lid using hooks (so you can remove it to clean the box).
3. Cut a 10cm square hole in the front and fit in an entrance tunnel, also made from untreated wood and measuring 10cm deep x 10cm wide x 60cm long).
4. Ventilate the box by inserting a 2cm diameter piece of pipe, with wire mesh on the box end to stop blockages. It should slope downwards to let water run out of the box.
5. Now furnish the interior with lots of dry leaves for bedding. Camouflage it with lots of prunings and leaves.
6. The best place to put the box is in a quiet part of the garden, but where you can see the comings and goings of your new neighbours!
7. For a simple 'end of terrace' version, lean a wooden board up against a wall and fill with dry leaves - a simple and snug shelter
Remember, remember the fifth of November ... do check your heap of cuttings destined for the bonfire before striking the match or better still, shift the pile before you set it alight so anything inhabiting it is disturbed and finds somewhere else less hazardous to curl up.
Wildlife garden diary
Hedgehogs aren't the only critters heading into hibernation in your garden at this time of year. Toads and newts will also be looking for winter nests under pots, stones or piles of bricks. If you have some rubble about to go to the tip, why not leave a small amount of it in a corner of the garden for your local amphibeans, at least until the spring?
Meanwhile, if you have a pond, frogs will be getting ready to overwinter buried in the mud at the bottom of it. Leaving a tennis ball or football to bob about in the pond for the winter it will help ensure oxygen levels stay reasonable by stopping it from completely freezing during any cold snaps.
Finally, throw some rotting fruit out into your garden and you could get some international visitors such as redwings, the UK's smallest thrush. These are migrant birds which love fruit and will be arriving in the UK from Scandinavia for the winter right about now, often joining with flocks of fieldfares.
There will be lots of woodland management going on through November with lots of felling, thinning and coppicing going on now the growing season is over, so it's a good time to look for local sources of firewood. Always look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo when buying wood to make sure it's been sustainably produced.
There's also lots of woodland 'fruit' around at this time of year such as sweet chestnuts, acorns and conkers - great fun to forage for on a family walk.
Every autumn we're treated to a visual feast as temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn. Right now there's a multitude of colours sweeping through our woodlands, which makes it a great time to explore and enjoy them.
The annual leaf drop is in fact an ingenious strategy of Mother Nature's to recycle and reuse. What's actually happening is that all the good chemicals in leaves are absorbed back into the tree to be stored and used again next year.
Chlorophyll, which makes leaves green, is one of the first components to be absorbed allowing other colour pigments to show through before they are absorbed as well. This is why there are so many colour phases even in individual trees through the autumn. This process complete, the stalks detach from the trees and we're left with a thick carpet of leaves underneath.
Places to visit:
Anywhere in or around the Forest of Dean is lovely to visit at this time of year, with all the beech and oak trees now providing a riot of colour and lots of walking opportunities on nature reserves and elsewhere. Lancaut Nature Reserve is well worth a visit, on the east bank of the spectacular Wye Gorge just north of Chepstow.
My Favourite Place - Painswick Beacon
by Pete Bradshaw, Stroud Nature Reserves Manager
Painswick Beacon can be seen for miles around, with the summit rising up above the fringe of woodland that hangs along the Cotswold escarpment. Its topographical importance wasn't lost on the ancient Britons of the Dobunni tribe who built a hill fort here - in use from 400BC to AD43 the year the Roman's successfully invaded Britain.
I grew up in a small wooden bungalow on the eastern edge of Painswick Beacon and as a child had the most amazing back garden! Standing on the top of the Beacon next to the trig point stone you can see for miles across the Severn Vale to the Forest of Dean and into Wales. A clear day also allows views down the River Severn where both bridges can be seen.
When the Severn Vale is covered in thick fog, the view from the summit reminds me of an old 1940's prehistoric monster movie with the tops of Robinswood Hill and Chosen Hill poking out eerily above the fog like islands.
Because of its importance for wildlife, particularly wild flowers and butterflies it was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1954. Although the central part of the Beacon is managed as a golf course the fringing grassland still produces a fine display of orchids including beautiful fly and bee orchid. The rare musk orchid can also be seen on the south facing slopes.
Sheep once grazed the beacon and a number of local residents who had commoner's rights could also graze some animals. I remember in the 1960's seeing a few cattle and one of our neighbours would tether their goat!